A Samaritan called Vincent de Paul

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

The samaritan attitude, a means that enables us to make the gospel effective

by: Juan Julián Díaz Catalán, CM


[This article first appeared in Hacer efectivo el evangelio y mundo actual, XXVII Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2002, p. 213-241].


Introduction

There is a common opinion that is accepted by many, namely, that the person who best lived in the manner of the Good Samaritan was Vincent de Paul [1]. In this presentation we attempt to explain this common belief in such a way that we who follow his example may be compelled by his constant charity to continue the Mission of Jesus in the world [2].

Let us begin with an explanation of the words in the title of this presentation: the samaritan attitude is a means that enables us to make the gospel effective.

The attitude of the Samaritan

When we speak about "attitude" we ought to think of something that goes beyond an isolated action. An act is a singular action while an attitude is a disposition of the soul. Marciano Vidal states that “what in scholastic morality was seen as ‘virtue’ should today be revised and viewed from the perspective of the concept of ‘attitude [3]’”. Moralists are inclined to view particular acts within the framework of attitudes.

The adjective “samaritan” which qualifies the word “attitude” refers to the parable of the Good Samaritan and expresses the fact that the manner in which the Samaritan acted has become a normal disposition in those persons who possess the attitude of the Samaritan.

To speak about a “samaritan attitude” is to speak about an option and yes, here we speak about one of the most enriching options of our life as sons and daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul. Furthermore, this attitude is one of the dispositions that best prepares us to live to the fullest our vocation as evangelizers of the poor and our vocation to make the gospel effective.

As a means that …

In this context the word “means” implies some task or action that is undertaken in order to achieve some objective. "To make effective" implies that we carry out some action or engage in some work in order to achieve some effect [4]. When we say that we have some available means in order to obtain something, what we are saying is that we have used those things in order to obtain what we had intended. In this case we want to say that the samaritan attitude, that is, the manner in which the Good Samaritan acted, is one of the means that enables us to make the gospel effective. In this same line of reasoning we can also see that the samaritan attitude is one of the most effective means to live the fullness of our vocation as sons and daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul.

To make the gospel really effective

In this case “effective” implies something that is real and visible as opposed to something imagined and nominal. "To make effective" means to put into effect, to carry out and put into action. Since we are dealing here with the gospel, we, therefore, refer to accomplishing and living in accord with the gospel [5]. Because of the consequences that can result from giving the same meaning to the words “effective” and “efficient”, I want to point out here a fundamental difference. To make the gospel effective is an obligation that is imposed on every Christian. Efficiency, as it is understood today, implies triumph and/or success. Therefore to make the gospel effective is not the same as to make it efficient … efficiency does not depend on us. Let us remember here the words of Saint Paul: I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Jesus Christ, our Lord, through his life, made the gospel effective and yet, from the perspective of efficiency, his life was a failure.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

A short commentary [6] on the parable will help us to understand better what we mean when we speak about a samaritan attitude.

The Parable

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply [7], “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? [8]” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down [9] from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead [10]. A priest [11] happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler [12] who came upon him was moved with compassion [13] at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back [14].’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy [15].” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Precisions and clarifications

We could describe the samaritan attitude by the following four movements: [1] approach and see, [2] moved with compassion, [3] make our assistance effective as we provide for the wounded individual, and [4] continue our journey.

Approach and see

The first movement is to approach the individual and not circle around said person. If the Samaritan had not approached the wounded man he would never have seen that the man was still alive. He could have thought, like the priest and the Levite, that it was too risky to approach the individual because he might be dead and therefore there was the risk of ritual impurity. This shows that the simple action of approaching those persons in need is to live with that attitude that we have referred to as the samaritan attitude. The samaritan attitude does not allow one to serve others from afar, like the Levite and the priest who would not dismount their horses in order to approach the wounded man. We must approach others while recognizing the fact that we run the risk of having to lend “our own horse” to those who are wounded[16] .

After we have approached the other we must “see”. We live at a time when people prefer not to see painful realities. It seems as though we have embraced the words: “eyes that do not see and hearts that do not feel” … and so dead people are brought to funeral homes and the infirm are brought to hospitals where strict visiting hours are enforced … we are disturbed at the sight of poor people on our streets (even though we tolerate this reality but then lose ourselves in the viewing of television). “To approach others” and “to see” are actions that precede the act of being moved.

Moved [with compassion]

We have pointed out that here the Greek verb is only used when referring to God the Father and Jesus Christ. Since we have been created in the image and the likeness of God, our wholeness consists in becoming “like our Father”, that is, to live according to our very nature [17]. Therefore, contrary to what one might expect, things are seen more clearly when one’s heart is touched. In fact one begins to be a neighbor at the very moment that one is moved with compassion. Even though Jesus’ words, go and do likewise, refer to the whole process, nevertheless, to be moved with compassion is key to the process.

Bent down and helped the wounded man

The Good Samaritan poured oil and wine over the wounds of the man on the road and bandaged those wounds. As Vincentians we should be able to understand the significance of this gesture. Dismounting his horse and bending down to assist the wounded individual reveal the Samaritan as one serving the other with an attitude of humility. In fact, the Samaritan provides us with an example of how to serve the neighbor while adoring God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Centuries later Vincent de Paul described this attitude of dismounting the horse in order to bend down before the wounded man as turning the medal (CCD:XI:26) … Jesus Christ is hidden in the suffering faces of men and women (Matthew 25:40). The attitude of the Samaritan is one of putting aside self in order to reach out to another … in order to serve and love the neighbor in an effective manner. This, then, is the road that the Samaritan must travel … this is the road that leads people from God to an encounter with the neighbor, the road that leads people from the neighbor to an encounter with God. Jesus Christ traveled this road for the sake of humanity. Therefore, just as we read in the legend of Saint Demitri [18], the Samaritan encountered God in the wounded man on the road. We can say that the Samaritan helped this individual but even more important is the fact that the Samaritan is helped.

We also point out here that the assistance provided by the Samaritan is both personal and institutional … the inn representing the institution. The Samaritan does not use the institution as an excuse to do nothing and he also does not want to take on unnecessary burdens that would exclude others from providing assistance. He helps the wounded man and then moves on.

Continued on the way

In order to love the neighbor we may have to put aside our service. Jesus said: Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here immediately and take your place at table?” Would he not rather say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished.” Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do” (Luke 17:7-10).

To love the neighbor means that we view other things with lesser importance. With much wisdom Vincent spoke about humility and simplicity. We ought to be hesitant to speak about our many good services. It is good in this regard to remember the parable of the publican and the sinner … the words, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves with be exalted (Luke 18:14) … those words are still valid today. To love the neighbor means that we respect their freedom and therefore, we know when to move on and go about our business. This demands that we know how and when to cut the bonds created by service … bonds that, if they are not cut, can lead us to glorify ourselves and make those whom we serve dependent upon us. We are not saying that we should abandon these people or attempt to free ourselves from them, but rather we must provide them with good care and then entrust them to others … and perhaps we should “pay” these individuals in some manner.

To leave the neighbor out of love means that we will not allow our own comfort to distance ourselves from them nor will we allow our need “to feel good” make them dependent on us [19].

Vincent and the samaritan attitude as a means to act according to the gospel

Writings of Vincent de Paul

In the writings of Vincent de Paul that was edited by Coste and later augmented and translated into Spanish and English, there is no reference to the Good Samaritan … Vincent never commented on this parable. On one occasion Vincent used the word Samaritan [20] and that was during a conference to the Daughters of Charity on the topic of the obligation of striving for perfection. There the use of the word had nothing to do with the theme that we are speaking about.

With regard to the phrase to make the gospel effective, this expression appears only once in the published writings of Vincent: First, the Son of God could have been asked, “Why have you come? It’s to evangelize the poor. That’s your Father’s order; so why do you create priests? Why do you give them power to consecrate, to bind, and to loose, etc.?” We can say that coming to evangelize the poor doesn’t simply mean to teach them the mysteries necessary for their salvation, but also to do what was foretold and prefigured by the prophets to make the Gospel effective. You know that, in the old days, God rejected the corrupt priests who had profaned holy things, he considered their sacrifices an abomination and said that he’d raise up others who, from East to West, from North to South, would make their voices and words heard: In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum [their sound has gone out through all the earth]. And by whom did he fulfill this promise? By his Son Our Lord, who created priests, taught and trained them, and gave them power to ordain others: Sicut misit me Pater et ego mitto vos [as the Father has sent me, I also send you]. And he did so in order that, through them, he might do for all ages what he himself had done during his lifetime, to save all nations by teaching them and administering the Sacraments (CCD:XII:75).

In Vincent’s writings, however, we find multiple references to this attitude as a means to engage in the process of evangelization. In the Rule for the Confraternity in Joigny we find the phrase the effective intention of the association [21]. We can imagine that Vincent was involved in writing those words. And because charity toward the neighbor is a work pleasing to God and on Judgment Day we will be judged on that, and because the intention of the association is, in fact, to practice in a special manner this commandment of charity toward the neighbor, for this reason we exhort the faithful Christians of Joigny and the other places dependent on it to enroll in the association and to practice the works it includes (CCD:XIIIb:64)

One of the privileged places where we can come to a better understanding of the samaritan attitude as lived by Vincent de Paul is the letters that he wrote to his primary collaborators. For example, let us look at one of letters that he wrote to Antoine Portail (CCD:I:38, footnote #20): I think you are aware of the losses we are suffering, not only of the wheat we had in Orsigny and at Saint-Lazare but also the deprivation of all our income. This is forcing us to empty Saint-Lazare and the Bons-Enfants, where there are now no more than seven or eight priests, eighteen or nineteen students, and a few Brothers. The rest have been sent to Richelieu, here, and elsewhere, and they, too, will be obliged to leave when there is nothing left of the little wheat there is, three or four setiers are distributed every day to two or three thousand poor persons. This is a great consolation and joy to us in our present extremity and causes us to hope that God will not abandon us, especially in the Marseilles house, although we are in no position to offer it any assistance. Yes, Monsieur, to my great regret, I have already told you this, and you can see it for yourself (CCD:III:413).

Vincent knew how to choose his collaborators, individuals who informed him about the needs of the people and the different possibilities of assisting those men and women. Vincent was pleased to read the letters that these collaborators wrote to him … they became Vincent’s arms when the time came to make the gospel effective.

Certainly, Brother Mathieu Regnard y Jeanne Parre [22] qualify as good practioners of this samaritan attitude. We are familiar with the somewhat novel, apostolic travels [23] of Brother Mathieu [24], events similar to the adventures of Zorro which we read about in novels and the comic books and that are now shown on television. Vincent chose him as a collaborator because he knew how to read the heart of this Brother: Last Sunday, as I was leaving for the city and from there for the country, I received your letter of the tenth of this month. As I returned the evening before last somewhat exhausted, my mind was not functioning well enough to take care of sending someone to assist good M. Mouton. I am doing so this morning and sending you Mathieu, who is filled with zeal and charity (CCD:I:455-456)[25].

We know of Jeanne Parré from the ninety letters that he exchanged with Vincent de Paul, the majority of which refer to situations and individuals that need some form of assistance. Vincent was so satisfied with this Brother than on one occasion he felt obliged to ask for the community’s forgiveness for his own self-satisfaction. Let us look at the complacency for which Vincent asked forgiveness: Ah, you’re right! So then, here’s what happened to me. It’s customary to read to the gathering of the Ladies of Charity what’s being done to help the poor people in the border towns of Champagne and Picardy from letters sent to us by Bro. Jean Parre, who sees to the distribution of the weekly alms those good Ladies send there. Today, a letter was read in which mention was made of the good God is doing through this good Brother. Reference was made to a group of the most notable women in the town of Reims, whom this good Brother had brought together to take care of the needy poor people and orphans of the town and its environs; he then did the same thing in Saint-Quentin, where the Ladies are not yet as numerous as in Reims. Now, since Mme Talon had returned here from that area with her son, who was recalled in order to resume his duty of Solicitor General in the Court of the Parlement of Paris, she came to the meeting today, and when she saw that they were talking about the good being done there by that good Brother, she took the floor and began to tell them everything she had seen and heard there, the good that good Brother is doing, and how God is blessing his way of acting and his projects, such as establishing those meetings of the Ladies I just mentioned, for the assistance of poor persons, the assistance the poor orphans are receiving, and how he found for the assembly of the Ladies of Reims a good priest, a Canon from Reims, whom he judged most suitable to direct and accompany it in order to encourage it in this holy work. Now, when one of those La- dies from the assembly here heard Mme Talon telling this today, she exclaimed and said, “lf the Brothers of the Mission are so successful in doing the good we’ve just heard, what will the priests not do!” That, my dear confreres, is what caused me, wretch that l am, to give in to that self-satisfaction l have just mentioned to you, instead of referring it all to God, from whom all good comes (CCD:XI:306-307).

The conferences in which Vincent spoke about the virtues of Louise de Marillac (CCD:X:569-591) and Barbe Angibouse (CCD:X:511-523) are very significant from the perspective that those conferences reveal the ways in which those individuals listened to Vincent and imitated him in clothing themselves in the attitude of the Samaritan.

Writings of contemporaries about Saint Vincent

The persons who wrote about Vincent de Paul saw him as the incarnation of the Good Samaritan. On November 23rd, 1660, nearly two months after Vincent’s death, Henri de Maupas [26] preached a sermon in the church of Saint Germain-l’Auxerrois … a sermon dedicated to Vincent de Paul’s practice of charity and humility. In the second part of this sermon there is a paragraph about the disinterested charity of Vincent that reads: How many pleasing stories could I share with you, if there were time … stories that reveal the charitable assistance that Vincent de Paul provided for so many people afflicted with various infirmities and diseases, individuals whom he placed in his carriage in order to bring them to a place where they could be cared for. Vincent, in his humility, referred to his carriage as his ignominy.

In light of all of this we can conclude that the great century in France led to a better situation: the samaritans of that century placed their wounded neighbor in a carriage rather than on a horse.

Louis Abelly, the first biographer of Vincent de Paul, used the word, samaritan, twice when referring to our holy Founder. The first reference describes the organization of the Confraternity in Mâcon: Since the fire of charity burned ever more brightly in the heart of Monsieur Vincent, God provided other opportunities for the development of this virtue. Once, passing through Macon he became aware of the many poor people who suffered even more in soul than in their physical needs. What is worse, they seemed to have no sense of the deplorable state of their spiritual welfare. They were unaware of the most elementary things concerning salvation and lived in a spirit of irreligion and horrifying impiety. No one seemed able to bring about any relief to this problem. These doubly stricken people walked the streets or frequented the churchyards, begging alms, unmindful of the laws of the Church or even the commandments of God. They almost never went to Mass. They did not know how to confess their sins or to receive any of the sacraments. They passed their lives in profound ignorance of God and of what concerned their salvation and descended to lives of filth and vice. Monsieur Vincent had such great sympathy for these suffering people that even though he had not planned to stop in Macon, he decided to stay. As a good Samaritan, he looked upon these poor people as travelers robbed and beaten by the enemies of their salvation. He hoped to bind up their wounds and provide some sort of help to them. He set up a system whereby the men of the town helped the poor, while the women looked after the sick (Abelly, I:87).

The second use of this word refers to the correction of faults (Abelly, III:303) and that theme is beyond the scope of this presentation.

Other significant writings for us

The Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission present the person of Saint Vincent and compare him to the Good Samaritan: Following Saint Vincent, who like the Good Samaritan of the gospel parable (Luke 10:30-37), gave effective help to the abandoned, provinces, and members should earnestly strive to serve those rejected by society and those who are the victims of disasters and injustice of every kind. We should also assist those who suffer from forms of moral poverty which are peculiar to our times. Working for all of these and with them, members should endeavor to implement the demands of social justice and evangelical charity(Constitutions #18).

The Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission also refer to the idea of making the gospel effective when it is stated: The love of Christ, who had pity on the crowd (Mark 8:2), is the source of all our apostolic activity, and urges us, in the words of Saint Vincent, to make the gospel really effective (CCD:XII:75) (Constitutions #11).

This reference is very important because it relates the charity of Jesus Christ to his heart being moved as he looked upon the multitude of people … thus the samaritan attitude becomes a Vincentian paradigm.

The attitude of the Samaritan for the sons and daughters of Saint Vincent

The sons and the daughters of Saint Vincent can view the attitude of the Samaritan from different perspectives: from a social/charitable perspective; from the perspective of a desire to serve in an effective manner those men and women in need; from a perspective of identifying the wounded individual with Christ.

Institutional social assistance and personal charity

Opposing institutional charity and personal charity was certainly foreign to the mind of Our Lord when he presented this parable to the people. In fact, given the twist of the parable, we probably have to put that aside in order to speak about the attitude of the Samaritan. It also seems that Vincent saw no conflict between the public-private dimensions of charity because he always had his eyes focused on helping those who were poor.

The formulation of social policy is one of the primary obligations of the State and yet those policies impact the citizens of the State. When we speak, however, about the samaritan attitude, we are referring to a merciful heart that can be life-giving to both structures and individuals … life-giving because this is a quality that is proper to God and proper to the sons and daughters of God.

Strategies with regard to the administration of charity can make the samaritan attitude more efficient, but that is a different matter. We must continue to ask for that which Vincent de Paul referred to during the repetition of prayer when he spoke about the good things that the Daughters were doing. We have a beautiful presentation of God’s mercy which at the same time seems to summarize Vincent’s thoughts on this theme: In short they practice mercy, that beautiful virtue of which it is said, “Mercy is the distinctive feature of God.” We practice it, too, and must do so all our lives: corporal mercy, spiritual mercy, mercy in the rural areas and in the missions by hastening to meet the needs of our neighbor, mercy when we are at home with regard to the retreatants, and with regard to the poor, by teaching them the things necessary for salvation, and in so many other circumstances God presents to us (CCD:XI:328).

To serve those in need

The teacher of the law approached Jesus with the intention of being able to know with certainty the object of his love, that is, whom he must love. Jesus responded to him and told him that love does not arise from the object that is loved but rather arises from within the subject who loves. Love discovers the wounded men and women on the road because someone approaches these individuals and sees them. Therefore, the samaritan attitude does not consist in finding the right object but rather consists in finding a subject with a merciful heart. Yes, sound discernment is always beneficial but social efficiency should never be seen as a replacement for a merciful heart.

Therefore Vincent said: Missionaries, above all other priests, must be filled with this spirit of compassion, since they are obliged by their state and vocation to serve the most wretched, the most abandoned, and those most weighed down by corporal and spiritual suffering. First of all, they must be touched to the quick and afflicted in their own hearts by the sufferings of their neighbor. Second, this suffering and compassion must be apparent in their exterior and in their expression, after the example of Our Lord, who wept over the city of Jerusalem because of the disasters with which it was threatened. Third, they must use compassionate words, which make the neighbor see how they share his feelings, interests, and sufferings. Lastly, they must do their utmost to rescue and assist him in his needs and sufferings, and try to free him from them in whole or in part because, as far as possible, the hand must conform to the heart (CCD:XI:69-70).

We must also listen to Vincent as he speaks during a conference on the theme of charity and encourages the Missionaries to cultivate this attitude of compassion and to allow themselves to be moved and touched by the painful situations that the neighbor must endure: To be Christian and to see our brother or sister suffering without weeping for them, without being sick with them! That is to be lacking in charity; it is being a caricature of a Christian; it is inhuman; it is to be worse than animals (CCD:XII:222).

The wounded individual is Christ

An attitude of mercy encounters the Lord of mercy. The parable of the Good Samaritan cannot be fully understood unless it is read together with its compliment, the discourse on the judgment of nations (Matthew 25:31-45).

The people of the Old Testament worshiped the Lord in the Temple, the place of God’s presence. Jesus Christ proclaimed the destruction of the temple made of stone and the construction of another temple, the temple of his person, a temple not made of human hands … and in this temple all will worship the Father in Spirit and truth (John 3:23). But it would be a mistake to think that the temple, the person of Jesus Christ, has become an invisible reality as a result of his ascension into heaven. Saint Matthew explains this clearly when he states: Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). The temple, which is Jesus Christ, is also the neighbor. The samaritan attitude leads us to bow down before the neighbor who is wounded in order to assist that person … but this same samaritan attitude also leads us to bow down before God in order to worship God who, through Jesus, identifies himself with the wounded individual.

Conclusion

But none of this would be understandable or believable without a heart that is touched and moved. We can only worship the Lord when we have begun to serve the neighbor. The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity state:

When we are not motivated by love we must then ask what kind of worship has our life become?

Yes, the Samaritan attitude consists of those four movements that we spoke about before: approach and see, moved with compassion, make our assistance effective as we provide for the wounded individual, and continue our journey. This is a good way to live out the gospel.

Yes, the man beaten by robbers obliges us to bow down before him … this bowing down is also the posture of adoration and thanksgiving.

This is the necessary posture of adoration because the wounded individual is Jesus Christ. Vincent de Paul was serious when he said that we must serve the poor with kindness, compassion, cordiality, respect and devotion [27]. There can be no devotion unless there are things that are holy … Vincent asked that we serve the poor with devotion because such activity places us in the presence of God.

This is also the necessary posture of thanksgiving because we are privileged. To serve and to love the poor is the greatest dignity and most unmerited honor that we can aspire to. Vincent said that the poor are our lords and masters and one of the things that the poor teach us is to fill the very depths of our being with mercy: to expand our hearts so that they become like the heart of Christ.

And yes, we are confronted with the task of making the gospel effective, but we must remember that if we possess all knowledge and have faith so as to move mountains, if we give away everything we own and hand our body over to the torturers, but do not have love … then we have gained nothing and our activity is meaningless.

Footnotes

[1] Among the Vincentian writers who have addressed this issue we mentions here: Celestino Fernández-José María Ibáñez, Vicente de Paúl: Historia de un buen Samaritano, p. 217; Honorio López Alfonso, Los puentes del samaritano: mucha gente te necesita!, México: Ediciones Misión XXI, 1999, p. 64

[2] Roman Missal, Opening Prayer¸ Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, September 27th. (the actual words in the Spanish text refer to a former prayer which is no longer in use: may we love what he loved and practice what he taught.

[3] Marciano Vidal, Moral de Actitudes: Moral fundamental personalista, Madrid, 1974, p.60.

[4] DLE de la Real Academia, Efectivo, Efecto, Hacer.

[5] DLE de la Real Academia, Efectivo, Efecto, Hacer.

[6] Besides the general commentaries on the Sacred Scriptures, I have utilized the following in a special manner: Joachim Jeremías, Las parabolas de Jesús, Estella, 1962, 10th edition; José María Rueda, El Buen Samaritano: Meditaciones ante una pintura del Codex Aureus y un grabado del siglo XVI, Madrid, 2000; Alphonse Maillot, Las paraboles de Jésus anjourd’ hui, Fides, Paris, 2000.

[7] The response of the scholar of the law combines two texts of the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18. The Jerome Biblical Commentary states that this same procedure was done by some rabbis such as T. Isacar (5:2; 7:5). But the fact that these texts had been previously combined does not diminish the strength of those words that Jesus uttered … Jesus placed the love of neighbor on an unusual and unheard of level.

[8] The scholar of the law asks a new question: who is my neighbor? This is really a question for the classroom because the response must be well thought out since there are multiple answers. Luke began this passage by pointing out that the scholar of the law wanted to test Jesus and, supposing that this is true, his question about God was not difficult to respond to but his question about the neighbor was like extending bait. Even though this question was not asked in good faith, it was nonetheless, a serious question and the Jewish teachers did not agree in their response. For the average Jewish person the question was answered in the law: the neighbor was everyone who was part of God’s people (Exodus 20:16-17; 21:14, 18, 35; Leviticus 19:11-18), and no one else. But this answer was not accepted by everyone and in fact that answer motivated much discussion. The Essenes hated the children of darkness and some Pharisees believed that their neighbor was limited to other Pharisees. Some rabbis taught that evil doers could not be considered as neighbor and therefore such individuals, since they could not redeem their ways, should be put into a ditch from which they could not escape (cf., Joachim Jeremías, Las parabolas de Jesús, Estella, 1962, 10th edition).

[9] This word indicated that we are dealing with a road that goes downhill. In fact the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is about twenty-five kilometers long and goes downhill … Jerusalem is 750 meters above sea level and Jericho is 250 meters below sea level. This was a road that was constructed by the Romans and therefore it can be presumed that it was in good condition since we know that the Romans were concerned about maintaining this means of communication that joined the two cities. Flavio Josefo described the countryside in that area as “dry and rocky”. (Cf., Flavio Josefo, De bello judaico, IV,8,3, #474).

[10] This word “half-dead” is key to the narration. We remember here that the Bible states: everyone who in the open country touches a dead person, whether he was slain by the sword or died naturally, or who touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16). Ritual impurity was not related to morality or sin. Rather, ritual impurity, that which is impure, is that which contains within itself or that which can unleash mysterious powers which in turn means that the person effected ought to have some special treatment of purification. Thus even good actions (burial of the dead, Leviticus 21:1ff) and desirable good actions (the conception of a child, 1 Samuel 1:6) create a state of impurity for those involved in such actions. The ritual impurity of a priest or Levite was more serious than that of a normal Jew since these individuals had to stand before God and pray for the people … therefore, they should live in a state of ritual purity.

[11]Even though this might not be the same situation, we should remember, however, that even now priests have a canonical impediment with regard to the practice of medicine. This impediment always existed. Father Edme Jolly wrote about this matter to Vincent, who asked for more information: You asked me if it is appropriate during a mission for someone who knows how to prepare remedies for certain illnesses to be allowed to do this. You should have explained that more fully to me because I assume from the question that someone has already done this in the past. It is advisable for me to know who it is, what remedies he concocts, and for what kinds of illnesses. So please send me this information before I give you an answer (CCD:VI:420). Finally, Vincent opted to seek permission from Rome: Please seek counsel to find out if there is any danger in priests getting involved with dispensing remedies to the poor for certain diseases they have. I, for my part, see none, and I think that if others find none in it you will do well to allow M. d’Eu to exercise his charity in such circumstances, provided these bodily remedies do not keep him from his spiritual duties and do not cost him too much trouble and expense (CCD:VII:41). This, however, did not eliminate the obligation to serve the poor corporally and spiritually. Vincent explained that the Congregation of the Mission had been founded to provide for the corporal and spiritual needs of the poor: Our little Company has given itself to God from the beginning to serve the poor corporally and spiritually; consequently, at the same time it has worked for the salvation of the poor through missions, it has also established a means of solacing the sick through the Confraternities of Charity. The Holy See has approved this by the Bulls of our foundation. Now, as the virtue of mercy is operative in various ways, it has led the Company to use various means to assist the poor; consider, for instance, the service it renders convicts on the galleys and the captives in Barbary. See also what it has done for Lorraine in its great devastation, and later for the ruined border towns of Charnpagne and Picardy, where we still have a Brother continuously engaged in the distribution of alms. You yourself, Monsieur, are a witness to the relief it has given the people in the environs of Paris, overwhelmed by famine and sickness in consequence of the armies that are camped there. You had your share in that great work and thought it would be the death of you, as it was of many others who have given their lives to preserve that of the suffering members of Jesus Christ. He is now their reward for this, as He will one day be yours. The Ladies of Charity of Paris are also so many witnesses to the grace of our vocation through our collaboration with them in the many good works they do both inside and outside the city (CCD:VIII:277-278).

[12] This antagonism between Jews and Samaritans began in the history of the Old Testament and has continued to the present time. In 721 BC, Sargon II (721-705 BC) successfully completed the siege of the city of Samaria that was begun by Shalmanesar V (726-722 BC) and destroyed the proud city that was founded and fortified by Omri, the king of Israel (885-874 BC) The second book of Kings (17:5) speaks about the deportations and the establishment of foreigners in Samaria that resulted in many religious adaptations and the mixing of races. It is true that with the seizure of Ninnevah and the fall of the Assyrian Empire (620 BC) at the hands of Nabopolasar (625-605 BC) and then the fall of Babylon (539 BC) at the hand of the king of the Medes and Persia, Ciro (555-529 BC), the Jews were finally able to return from exile. Zorobabel did not want the Samarians to join in the work of rebuilding the Temple because he considered them to be non-Jews. Some of the priests at the Jerusalem Temple were not in accord with the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (433-424 BC) believing that those reforms were too austere … these individuals joined the Samaritans. They brought with them the Torah and thus the Samaritans became aware of the precepts of ritual impurity. Under Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) the Samaritans built a temple on Mt. Gerizim (this temple was destroyed in 128 but people still continue to worship at that place). In Jesus’ time the Samaritan spread human bones over the floor of the Temple in Jerusalem and this heightened the tensions between the Jews and the Samaritans. In this context Jesus’ parable takes on even greater authority.

[13] We point out that the translation of this word rather than stating that the Samaritan had pity on the injured man, it is stated that his heart was touched and he was moved with compassion … moved in the same way as the father of the prodigal son when he welcomed his lost son back home. Luke does not use the verb eleeo which means “to have pity” but uses the verb splagchnidsomai which translates the Hebrew verb meaning “to have a compassionate heart” … a characteristic that is applied to God in the Old Testament and applied to Jesus in the New Testament. When the evangelists use this word (from which the word esplacnología is derived … the science that deals with the internal systems and organs of the human person (digestive, circulatory, lungs, heart, etc.) ... they want us to understand something about “the heart of God”, “the heart of Jesus”. They also want to describe how the human heart should be conformed to the heart of God the Father who is rich in mercy. The following passages in the gospel use this verb in order to describe the emotional state, the attitude of Jesus in various situations: Matthew 9:36; 14:4; 15:22; 18:27; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Luke 7:13; 10:33; 15:20.

[14] The relationship between the person moved with compassion and the institution is important even though a reflection on this reality would be beyond the parameters of Jesus’ thinking when he proclaimed this parable.

[15] The Jewish people were not allowed to pronounce the word, Samaritan, without first stomping their foot on the ground in a gesture of trampling upon those people. That reality is providential because the scholar of the law gives us the best definition of the neighbor, namely, one who is moved to the core when encountering another person in need.

[16] The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity express this idea very well when they speak about “attention”:

[17] Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

[18] Albert Camus changes the legend and gives it a different meaning in order to adapt it to his thesis which is explained in The Just. See, http://www.segnbora.com/justes/

[19] It would have been better not to have asked this. It is enough that God knows what has been done, not to mention the poor themselves, without any need for more testimonials (Abelly, II:318).

[20] It's one of the most difficult things to do well. Out of a hundred persons sometimes scarcely a dozen will be capable of it. One must be so prudent, so gracious, so gentle, so faithful to confidentiality --- as secret as in the confessional! Let's just say a few words on this. In the first place, Sisters, it must be made in view of God alone and as the Blessed Virgin made it when she went to visit Saint Elizabeth, that is, with the greatest gentleness, charity, and love. She didn't reprimand anyone, but by her example taught Saint Elizabeth and her whole family what they should be doing. Don't ever rebuke anyone. Our Lord spent thirty years on this earth before reproving men, and he had come expressly to make a visitation. He never reprimanded a priest, a Pharisee, a Samaritan, or a Jew during all that time, yet he saw them behaving very badly. Oh no, never give a rebuke, never! If a Sister tells you her failings, listen to her and encourage her gently, "Oh well! that's nothing, Sister" (CCD:X:204-205).

[21] Translator’s note: obviously the French phrase is translated differently into Spanish and English … in Spanish we read: la intención efectiva de practicar la caridad while in English we read: intention to practice charity.

[22] Born in Châtillon-en-Dunois (Eure-et-Loir), Jean Parré entered the Congregation of the Mission on April 16, 1638, at twenty-seven years of age, took his vows in 1643, and died after 1660. Parré and Brother Mathieu Régnard were two of the most intelligent and active instruments which Divine Providence placed in Saint Vincent’s hands. Parré traveled all over Picardy and Champagne assessing and remedying needs.

[23] Father José Maria Román, CM, St. Vincent de Paul: a biography, Translated by Sister Joyce Howard, DC, Melisende, London, 1999, p. 520. Heroic deeds and willingness to work were not enough. It would have been impossible to bring aid to Lorraine if there had been no communication link --- service between that region and Paris. Given the dangerous conditions of those times, one could come upon bands of soldiers lying in ambush at any bend in the road, waiting to set upon any unwary traveler. To deal with such dangers you would need to be very astute and cool-headed. Br. Mathieu Regnard had both these qualities. Vincent appointed him his emissary and he soon became famous. The story of his adventures spread from mouth to mouth and Anne of Austria summoned him to her palace to hear the accounts at first hand. Some incidents could have cost him his life. Br Mathieu wrote an account of his exploits which is now lost but Abelly made a very good summary of it (Cf., Abelly, The life of the Venerable Servant of God: Vincent de Paul, Volume II, p. 316). People called him The Fox, a pun on his surname, because of his proverbial astuteness. There were 18 incidents that Mathieu described as extremely dangerous but the total number of journeys he made was 54 and each time he carried with him twenty or thirty thousand livres. One can imagine the temptation his satchels must have been for bands of marauders but he always managed to escape them.

[24] CCD:I:456 - BroIher Mathieu Régnard was born in Brienne-le-Château, now Bricnne-Napoléon (Aube), July 26, 1592. He entered the Congregation of the Mission in October 1631, pronounced vows October 28, 1644, and died October 5, 1669. He was the principal distributor of Saint Vincent's alms in Lorraine and during the troubles of the Fronde. He was a great help to the Saint because of his daring, composure, and savoir faire. His biography is in vol. II of the Notices, pp. 29-33.

[25] In a letter dated March 17, 1638 that was written to Father Leonard Boucher in Montmirail we find the first reference to Brother Mathieu. In this letter Vincent described Brother Mathieu with certain qualities that would make him one of his most trusted collaborators, filled with zeal and charity.

[26] Henri Cauchon de Maupas de Tour, a member of the Tuesday Conferences, was bishop of Le Puy (1641-1661), and then of Evreux from 1661 to August 8, 1680, the day of his death. He was a renowned orator and preached the funeral panegyrics for Saint Jane Frances de Chantal and Saint Vincent. He also wrote biographies of Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane Frances and was one of the two Bishops who approved of Abelly’s life of Saint Vincent (CCD:III:226, footnote #5).

[27] Constitutions of the Daughter of Charity 1.7 (cf. CCD:????)


Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM