GOD IN OUR MIDST
The Good Businessman
By Gregory F. Augustine Pierce

"A man was traveling on a business trip from Jerusalem to Jericho when he came upon someone who had fallen among robbers."

This might have been the opening to Jesus— parable of the Good Samaritan.

Yes, the hero was a Samaritan, perhaps the most hated ethnic group in Israel at the time. And yes, he was a layperson—not a priest or a Levite like the other two travelers on the road. Both of these facts about the main character are important elements of the story, because Jesus was clearly trying to get his listeners to think outside the box.

Remember, this parable was Jesus— response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" When the master told a story about a member of a despised minority who was more kind and generous than the Jewish priestly class, he was obviously intending to provoke a reaction in his audience.

But it is also possible that Jesus was using a person in the midst of his daily work to demonstrate what it means to love our neighbor. It doesn—t involve a big stretch to imagine the hero as a businessman. He is traveling on a rough stretch of road, by himself (not with friends or family). He—s got a donkey, and he just happens to be carrying olive oil and wine. He—s also got enough money to pay an innkeeper to take care of the man, and he promises that he will be coming back soon. This certainly sounds like a person on the first leg of a business trip. Perhaps he was actually a dealer in olive oil or wine. Maybe he was a buyer for a clothing chain. Or, he could have been a book publisher like me or a director of human resources for a big corporation like my brother.

Values in the Workplace

In any case, the Good Samaritan was most likely "at work" when he did his "Good Samaritan-ing." That is, he was probably on his job when he was called upon to help someone less fortunate than he was.

Work and the workplace in our culture are given a pretty bum rap. (If you don—t believe me, just read the "Dilbert" comic strip for a few days.) The workplace is most often portrayed as an awful setting where people constantly put others down, where the competitive spirit is exclusively and excessively rewarded, where dog eats dog and only the strong survive. Many assume there is very little time or tolerance in the midst of work for things like compassion or generosity or going out of your way for others as the Samaritan did.

In many ways, work deserves some of the criticism it receives. We often lose our focus on what is truly important in life as we strive to make our jobs or careers successful. We get so preoccupied with the bottom line, the next promotion, getting a leg up that we forget that people are more important than profits, prestige or power. We forget that we are but stewards of the resources we have been given.

Loving Thy Neighbor

The Good Samaritan recognized all that, however, and he did so in the midst of going about his business. He was on the road that morning precisely because he was working at the time, but he kept his perspective even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of his daily work. He ran into somebody who needed assistance. He stopped. He helped to the extent he could, given his time and resources. He then went about his business, returning later to see how things were going.

It is precisely that kind of openness that Jesus is asking of each of us. When asked to identify what he meant by a neighbor, Jesus described a regular guy going about his daily work, who somehow had time to love someone who needed his help.

What did Jesus say about this man? "Go and do the same," he told all of us, no matter what our occupation or profession might be. That good businessman—in the midst of doing his own job and using resources from his own workplace—was Jesus— example of what "love thy neighbor" looks like.

Next: The Workers in the Vineyard

Questions for Reflection:
•Talk about a time when someone has been a Good Samaritan for you.

•What keeps you from being a Good Samaritan at home, work or school? What will it take to get beyond any obstacles?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from “God in Our Midst.”

FAMILY CORNER
Loving Our Enemies
By Judith Dunlap

January 16, 1991, the day the Persian Gulf War began, was the first Wednesday night meeting of our parish—s winter religious education program. The TV and radio began announcing the bombing a little after 6:30 p.m., just as our children were heading out the door for class. I remember their coming into the parish looking wide-eyed and scared, little ones holding onto their parents— hands. We all went into the church proper, 150 youngsters and 20 or so catechists, and began to pray.

I used a globe to show the children how far away Iraq was. (We realized the littlest ones were afraid the bombs were just a suburb away.) We prayed for our own men and women who were fighting and we also prayed for the Iraqi people. Every time winter session met (Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings) we began together in church. We talked about the war, tried to become more familiar with the people of Iraq and prayed together. And we prayed for an end to the war.

The outbreak of war was a catechetical moment. It was an opportunity to teach our children that the people we may see as the enemy have a face, a life and ideals of their own. Even if we don—t like them or oppose their belief system or lifestyle, we are called to love and pray for them and to work for peace. It—s a good lesson for "enemies" far away in other lands as well as "sometimes enemies" closer to home in the neighborhood or classroom.

The bombing stopped on the night of February 27, the last Wednesday night of winter session. When we assembled at our final gathering the following Saturday, our youngsters took personal credit for ending the war. We didn—t tell them any different.

For Family Response:

Love is a decision, not just a feeling. It's a bond that recognizes our connectedness. Discuss the difference between loving and liking someone.

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
The Pianist
By Frank Frost

At the beginning of The Pianist we see black-and-white documentary footage of Warsaw city traffic in 1939, a director—s device for saying nonverbally, "What you are about to watch really happened."

The film then proceeds in rich color, introducing Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), playing the piano at a Warsaw radio station. When explosions rock the radio station and his life, this Jewish pianist cannot imagine how bad things will get. Nor can we, the audience.

It is a gradual descent into hell. At first Wladyslaw, his parents, brother and two sisters are determined to preserve their dignity and their family, only to see it systematically stripped away. They say they will refuse to wear an armband with the Star of David, but they do.

The family is forcibly resettled to a newly created Jewish ghetto, walled in from the rest of the city, living six in two rooms in circumstances they could never have contemplated. They observe humiliations and cruelty all about them but are helpless to do anything about them.

Much has been written and filmed about the Holocaust, but this film forcefully gets the audience to experience the uncertainty of what to expect next and the growing dread of what lies ahead. When the ghetto—s residents are herded together and marched to the train station, we know they are being shipped to their deaths. They know only that it will not be good.

At the last minute Wladyslaw is pulled from the march by a guard to be among the last workers in the ghetto. With the help of a resistance fighter he eventually escapes the ghetto and begins a long period on the run. At first he is helped by Polish admirers of his piano playing and is shunted from one hiding place to another. Eventually he is left to fend for himself, sick and starving. Szpilman is not a hero, only an unwilling survivor.

Visually the movie slowly becomes more and more monochromatic until, near its end, we watch a ragged Szpilman hobble woefully away from us down the remains of a wide avenue, a tiny figure in a vast landscape of gray, bombed, burned-out buildings.

Director Roman Polanski tells a visceral story about survival and the evil that humans do to one another. Not every German in The Pianist is evil, and not every Jew or Pole is good. In the end the piano player is caught in an abandoned building, pathetically clutching a can of pickles, by a German officer. As the officer listens to Szpilman play the piano we sense that he too seeks solace in beauty from the ugliness of war.

The Pianist is not a pretty movie, but it is compelling and ultimately uplifting—a testimony to hope. It is not for young children, but for older teenagers and adults it provides important testimony.

 

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

Blessed Damien of Molokai (1840-1889)

"We lepers...." Father Damien always used those words to begin the homilies he delivered to his congregation on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. It was his way of assuring his community of outcasts, who had been segregated on the island after being diagnosed with leprosy (or Hansen—s disease), that he was in solidarity with them.

But when he uttered those same words one day in 1885, he was saying something more. The man who had been living and working among his people for 12 years as priest, pastor, doctor, engineer, master builder, legal advocate and even coffin-maker and grave-digger, had become one of them. Father Damien had been diagnosed with Hansen—s disease himself.

At first, the news rocked the Belgian-born priest. He was especially worried about what would might happen to the members of his beloved flock. Who would care for them? Who would wrap them in love and assure them of God—s tender mercy? Who would see to it that their physical and material needs were met? How would the joyful community he had built continue?

He was soon at peace when, in quick succession, a layman, another priest and three Franciscan nuns came to the island to continue his work.

For the next five years Father Damien, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, continued to minister among his people even while his body gave way to disease and disfigurement. His sufferings weren—t only physical. He experienced bouts of loneliness and the absence of regular access to the sacrament of Confession. He died during Holy Week.

Blessed Damien—s feast day is celebrated on May 10 in the United States.

Brother Philip Wilhelm, O.F.M.

It was 1970, but it may as well have been yesterday. That—s how clearly Franciscan Brother Philip Wilhelm remembers the first patient he ever visited at the Tala leprosarium 20 miles from Manila. She was a shy 16-year-old in the invalid ward. Unable to coax any words from her, he carried on a one-way conversation for a few moments and then prepared to leave.

"When are you coming back?" she asked softly. "Next week," Brother Phil assured her.

He kept his word, and has. Since 1970, the 66-year-old Ohio-born missionary has become a regular at Tala. "At first I wanted to bring a gift with me, but now I know that being present, just being there is what—s important. —You just come out and see us,— they tell me. They like to tell their stories!"

They also teach Brother Phil, who first went to the Philippines in 1966. "They are castaways," he told Every Day Catholic during a recent visit home to the States, "but their faith is deep. They believe that God is taking care of them."

Indeed, things have improved for them over the years. There—s a cure for persons newly diagnosed with Hansen—s. As for those patients who were diagnosed long ago, leprosy isn—t the dreaded disease that it once was, though they still struggle with jobs, housing, education, loneliness.

Through his full-time ministry—he—s spiritual assistant to nine Third Order fraternities in the Philippines—Brother Phil finds new ways to help his friends at Tala. A secular Franciscan he knows, an optician, has offered 500 pairs of free eyeglasses.

"Isn—t such generosity amazing?" Brother Phil asks. Of course the same can be said for him.



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