Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The young couple who were my hosts in Trani, Italia, former parishioners of mine from Macon, commented on some of their new Italian friends. Matt told me that many of them do not practice the Catholic faith, in terms of knowing the content of the Faith or attending Mass, but they have hearts of gold.

We both agreed that while many, many Italians do not practice the Faith, they live it out in their personal goodness. This must be attributed to the ancient Catholic culture here that they inherit from their families and the culture in general. But of course all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and we all have God's goodness imprinted in our very being. Thus this awareness, this positive teaching of the Church on the goodness of God's creatures, we human beings, was elucidated by Pope Francis in his Monday morning homily at the chapel of his place of residence at the Vatican Motel 6:

(Vatican Radio) “Open up your heart and listen to what God is saying to you. Allow your life to “written” by God”. Just as the Good Samaritan did when he stopped to help the stranger, we must all listen to God’s voice and sometimes put our own projects on hold to do his will.

Speaking to those present for morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta on Monday, Pope Francis pointed out that it can happen that Christians, Catholics, priests. Bishops and even the Pope sometimes turn away from God!

Not to listen to his voice, not to take heed in our hearts of his proposal and his invitation– the Pope said – is a daily temptation. And he said there are many ways in which one can turn away from God, polite, sophisticated ways… And to better illustrate his message, Pope Francis recalled the parable recounted in the Gospel in which there is a half-dead man lying in the road. A priest walks by – a zealous priest wearing a cassock and on his way to say Mass. The priest looks at the man and says to himself “I will be late for Mass” and goes on his way. “He didn’t hear the voice of God” – Pope Francis pointed out.

Then a Levite passes by – the Pope continued – and perhaps he thinks “If I get involved and the man dies, then tomorrow I will have to before the judge and give testimony…” so, the Pope continued “he too goes on his way. He too – Francis points out - “turns away from the voice of God”…

Only the Samaritan, a sinner, someone who habitually turns away from God had the capacity “to hear God and to understand his request”. Someone – the Pope observes – “who wasn’t used to participating in religious rites, who didn’t lead a “moral” life, who was theologically “wrong”, because – Pope Francis explained – Samaritans believed that God should be adored elsewhere, not where the Lord had said”. And notwithstanding,“the Samaritan understood that God was calling him and he did not turn away. He went to the man, bound up his wounds, poured on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him”. He gave up his whole evening for him.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis said, the priest was on time for Mass and the faithful were happy; the Levite’s schedule was not upset…. And the Pope asked: “why did Jonah run away from God when the Lord asked him to go to Ninevah and he boarded a ship to Spain? Why did the priest turn away from God? Why did the Levite turn away from God? Because their hearts were closed, and when your heart is closed you cannot hear the voice of God. Instead the Samaritan - said - “saw and was moved with compassion”: his heart was open, he was human, and humanity brought him close to God.

Those – Pope Francis said – who have a design for their lives, who want to map out their own stories – do not allow God to write their lives.

“I say to myself, and I say to you: do we let God write our lives? Or do we want to write it ourselves?” And he exhorted those listening “to be docile to the Word of God. To have the capacity to hear His voice and to listen to it.

MY FINAL COMMENT: We also spoke of why so many Italians are no longer engaged with the institution of the Church, especially their parishes. For a very large number it is because the Catholic Church in Italy, all the way from the Vatican to the local bishops involve themselves in the politics of Italy too much. There is and has been for
decades resentment toward the Church because of this and a very powerful anti-clerical attitude in many Italians.

I know this to be true of my Italian relatives here, most of whom do not practice the faith either. They do not like the Church meddling in Italian politics.

I would say the strength of the USA up until President Obama is the respect the state had for the Church and the Church for the state in the sense of the so-called "separation of Church and State." However, as our politics have become more divisive and the our culture more intimately involved in promoting the "culture of death" and disdain for Orthodox Judaism and Christianity, there is more involvement by the clergy of the Church, especially bishops, in terms of politics. This may have a deliterious effect on USA Catholicism in the long run making us more like our Italian counterparts. But I am not clairvoyant or am I?


Gene said...

And Jesus said unto them, "If you have a heart of gold, you will get into Heaven."

John Nolan said...

The Pope's analogy is flawed. The temple priest's reason for passing by on the other side was a serious one - contact with a dead body would have left him defiled and unable to conduct the rites without having to undergo lengthy purification. The idea of a zealous Catholic priest acting likewise for a trivial reason is fairly preposterous. But wait - the priest is wearing a cassock, so we can infer that he is a traditionalist, which makes him a Pelagian, and the Mass he is about to celebrate will be a Latin one ... Gosh, I'm becoming paranoid - Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me! [Time for a stiff G&T].

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

But John, Jesus' precisely challenges the "purity" laws because of the absurd limitations it placed upon being a good neighbor.

The cassock could be used as a devise to say to Catholic priests that if they are preoccupied by what they are wearing, acting like princes, then will they stop and get dirty to assist someone. Of course, we get the most dirty when we hear their sins don't we and wash them away with absolution (not Absolute). I don't think it is entirely a commentary on traditionalists. He could have said a priest in a fine coat and tie, maybe a tuxedo.

Joseph Johnson said...

About a month ago, my "progressive" pastor preached the same as the Pope: her referred to him as a passing Catholic priest rather than a Jewish temple priest. What gives?

Fr. McDonald,
If you check Fr. Z's blog, you will see that he just arrived in Rome. Maybe you can meet up with him and have your picture made with him (and give him a rats in the rectory update!).

rcg said...

This is one of the few things I have read that I disagree with our Pope. He implies the Samaritan didn't need Church or even respect for God to get into Heaven. Only the good works of a Pelagian. I do not think that was the Samaritan's problem. Rather the Samaritans were unclean and could not be allowed to enter synagogue. Yet they loved "that which they did not understand" and did God's will and were good in His sight.

John Nolan said...

There is nothing 'princely' about the cassock; it is the plain, everyday sacerdotal garment. Traditionally-minded priests wear it because they are not ashamed to be identified as Catholic priests. It is a sign of witness. As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger was frequently seen in a plain black cassock with a beret (not a biretta) on his head. He was, of course, a prince of the Church. A bishop in his diocese must be priest, pastor and prince.

Incidentally, the terms 'prince' and 'princely' do not have pejorative connotations for those of us who are fortunate enough to have a monarch (although in an ideal world he or she would be Catholic).

rcg said...

My parish priest wears his cassock to the deanery meetings, much too the discomfort of the other priests. He told us once in a homily that it was, therefore, easy for people to see that he is Catholic and for us it was a little more difficult for we had to actually live and do things so people could see our faiths. This guy is a Boss.

Dave Z said...

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus is challenging our institutional habits and structures when we abuse them or devise them for the purpose of hiding our sin. He says in a sense, "love mercy more than duty," especially duty that is installed to hide sin. Where do we hide our sin in institutional structures?

Unknown said...

In re the Church and Italian politics: a similar phenomenon seems to exist in Spain and Portugal, where the Church's involvement in politics has turned people way from the Church, especially when they were heavily entangled with Franco and Salazar.

John Nolan said...

In Italy the Church did support the Christian Democrats, but let's not forget that the Italian Communist Party was the largest in the Western world, gained 34.4% of the popular vote in 1976, and although its ideology was tempered by pragmatism, it was funded by the Soviet Union right up to 1991.

In Spain, it wasn't Franco who persecuted the Church, massacred priests and religious, and razed convents and churches. I know which side I would have been on.

Gene said...

Well, John, I have often said that this country needs about ten years under someone like Franco...and, since we have already shown ourselves willing to elect a dictator, Franco would be a far better one than Obama.