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Bible Reflections View Comments

Our Neighbors Aren't Always Like Us
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 14, 2013
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Our summer is still marked by reminders of the Boston Marathon bombings, just three months ago. One of the side stories that emerged was the difficulty in finding a place to bury the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother suspected in the bombings. Martha Mullen, in Virginia, heard about the problem and contacted several Islamic funeral organizations in her area and they agreed to work with her to see that he was buried properly. They, too, had been concerned.

In an interview with NPR, Mullen said, “Jesus tells us to—in the parable of the Good Samaritan—to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. That was the biggest motivation, is that, you know, if I’m going to live my faith, then I’m going to do that which is uncomfortable and not necessarily what's comfortable.”

Jesus’s listeners would have considered Samaritans to be enemies and heretics. The Samaritans, for their part, would have resented the Jewish majority. They reflected an ethnic and national bias that colored their perspective and their expectations. Both sides most likely caricatured the other. For Jesus to make a Samaritan the hero of is parable was unthinkable. But he did it to make the point that to be a neighbor to others, to love our neighbors as ourselves, we need to show mercy and compassion to anyone in need.

If the Samaritan is the last person the audience would have expected to be the hero, the priest and the Levite, committed to serving God, might have been the first. Scholars have long speculated about why they passed by the beaten man without stopping to help. Generally, the conclusion is that they were on their way to the Temple and were concerned about maintaining ritual purity. Touching an injured or dying person would have kept them from their duties according to the law. This drives home the point Jesus makes again and again the Gospels: Compassion always trumps legalism. Elsewhere in the Gospels, he quotes the prophet Hosea, “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.”

We can say that we don’t want to reach out to the neediest among us, but we can’t say that the Gospel does not call us to do exactly that. We can list reasons why terrorist and murderers should be outside the bounds of common human decency, but we do not have the right to place them outside God’s infinite mercy. Whether we fear for our safety, our reputations, our health, or our pocketbooks, we have to live with the knowledge that in so far as we are unable to overcome that fear, we will be limited in our growth toward holiness.

For most of us, our parish communities are filled with people who look like us and talk like us and share our social and cultural values. We avoid certain parts of town, the places where “those people” live. We judge people on the news, especially if they’re not “one of us.” It can be difficult to break out of this comfort zone.

Maybe the place to begin is to make an effort not to look the other way. As we learn to see the need and the suffering around us, we will discover ways to help alleviate that suffering. Our first efforts to help may seem small and insignificant. But if we persist, we might be surprised at where the Spirit leads us.



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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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