painting of The Good Samaritan

Is the Good Samaritan an endangered species in our “throwaway world”?

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, reads like a good series of sermons. They open up the words of Jesus and invite us to a life of joy and fulfillment that can only come from a life that is generously given away for the sake of the greater good. None of us can stand on the sidelines, or walk on the other side of the road, when we witness a person who is in great need. Jesus’ own parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us of this.

Embracing the leper: Francis displayed the conversion of his heart.

Pope Francis amplifies that “sermon” with an analysis of our own times, this pandemic and beyond. He speaks of our times as a “regression” and “deconstructionism” that “leaves in its wake the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism.” He says this leads to a “throwaway world” where people are “no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’— like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’— like the elderly.” (#18) He also calls out our treatment of immigrants, those outside our nation or of a different ethnicity. He says, “There are only two kinds of people: those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by.” (#70)

His solution? To see and treat all people as brothers and sisters of the same human “fraternity”, a family. He is definitely influenced, as he states at the beginning, by his namesake, and our founder, St. Francis. Francis saw the whole created world as sister and brother, and discovered joy by embracing the most repulsive person he knew, a leper. St. Francis called this conversion of his heart as “what was formerly bitter became sweet”.

Love is expressed best in practical ways. We used to have regular formation classes on Thursdays in Chicago. I remember a young brother in formation, trying to sum up some erudite teaching of Blessed Duns Scotus on love in simple words by saying, “I guess it all comes down to, would you take a bullet for your brother?” There was utter silence as each young friar looked from one to another. One of the older friars who had sat in on that class said, “I don’t know about a bullet, but would someone please take out the trash for a brother?” Everyone, including the young friar, laughed. Love comes down to practical action that is often unnoticed. But when it comes from a deep sense of being loved by God ourselves, it can bring joy, even sweetness, to someone in need who is our sister or brother.

(The full text of the pope’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, is available at: content/francesco)