Fr. George Smiga
July 14, 2013
Today’s gospel is more about actions than motives. We see what all the characters do, but it is not clear why they do it. Why for example do the priest and the Levite pass the man who has been attacked on the road and do not stop? Could it be that they were on their way to an important appointment? Were they perhaps afraid to become involved in this violent scene where a beating took place? Or did they have just something else on their minds? The parable does not tell us.
The Samaritan stopped because he was moved with compassion. But the parable does not tell us the reason for his compassion. The story does not disclose the motives of the characters because its main emphasis is on their actions. The priest and the Levite do not stop. The Samaritan does. The priest and the Levite do not show compassion. The Samaritan does. Clearly we are meant to follow the example of the Samaritan. We are not to pass people by. We are not to ignore their presence. We like the Samaritan are to stop and connect with people who are journeying with us on the road of life.
Now of course, when we stop, if they need help we should try to help them. But the example of the Samaritan is much larger than helping people in need. The Samaritan also gives us an example of welcoming the stranger, of recognizing the presence of someone we meet, of welcoming another into our life.
I would like to apply this trait of welcoming to our parish here at St. Noel. From the time I became pastor here I was always, and continue to be, impressed by the welcoming nature of our community. Indeed, as new parishioners register most mention how welcomed they feel when they first came to St. Noel. This characteristic of welcoming was so important that our Parish Pastoral Council included it as part of our mission statement. We are “a community committed to gracious welcoming.”
A few months ago we passed out a survey that allowed people to respond to the mission statement. The overwhelming majority affirmed the characteristic of being a welcoming community. But interestingly enough there were a handful of people who mentioned that when they first came to St. Noel they did not feel welcomed. For whatever reason, no one said hello, no one greeted them, no one made them feel at home. Now the fact that a few people did not feel welcomed does not mean that we are a cold community. But it does calls us to do a better job of welcoming, to focus on how to increase this characteristic in our community.
This is what the Pastoral Council discussed for several months this spring, looking at a variety of opportunities and possibilities of increasing the welcoming nature of our community. We discussed at length whether we should establish a Welcoming Ministry, a group of people who would stand at the doors of the church and welcome people as they came to Mass. But the more we discussed that possibility the less we like it. Welcoming others cannot be relegated to a small group within the parish. All of us need to be people who welcome one another regularly and openly. It is an essential part of being a parishioner. We are all called to follow the example of the Samaritan, to stop and recognize the presence of a brother or sister and welcome others into our lives.
So this is my appeal to you today. I would like you to welcome the people around you, and I mean that literally. Look at the people who are sitting around you. Some of them you know. Some of them you don’t know. I ask you, after mass today, to say hello to someone around you, especially someone you might not know, to welcome one another as fellow parishioners of St. Noel.
Now if this is a little embarrassing, you can put it on me. You can go up to someone and say, “You know, I’ve been sitting next to you for ten years and I don’t know who you are. But Fr. George told me to ask you.” It’s fine. Be like the Good Samaritan. Stop. Reach out. Connect with someone who is making the journey of faith with you. Now of course, at the end of mass, you can throw your hymnal into the rack and run out to your car, passing by everyone on the way. But then you would be following the example of the priest or the Levite. That is not what Christ asks of us. He asks us to stop, like the Samaritan. The Samaritan is the one who welcomes. The Samaritan is the helper. The Samaritan is the disciple and the neighbor. This is why Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”