How few of us, brethren, are really naturally of a self-sacrificing disposition! How few actually enjoy, for example, the offices of the sick-room, or so much as a little visit of condolence to an afflicted friend!
That is why our Blessed Lord, in this day’s Gospel, has given us the beautiful parable of the good Samaritan. Although a heretic and schismatic against the law of Moses, he is chosen as a model because he had a tender, compassionate heart, and was willing to put himself to trouble and expense for his neighbor s welfare.
The corporal works of mercy, brethren, are the easiest of the ways to the love of God. People are fond of admiring the members of religious orders, who, for the love of God, serve the sick and the aged, the insane and the orphans; often forgetting that if this is good as a life-work for them, it is not bad as an occasional practise of virtue for us living in the world. All around us there are shoulders bending under weary burdens and hearts breaking with insupportable cares: yes, even in one s own household. How often do men deny their wives the pleasure of their company; when Sunday comes, going off with any chance companions and leaving the poor mother to mind the children, to miss Mass, and sit lonely at home the livelong day. How very often do young men think of taking anybody’s sisters to some respectable place of amusement rather than their own sisters! I think that if a spiritual thermometer were dipped into such men’s hearts they would be found pretty near the freezing point.
But, brethren, the sick-room ah! that is the place on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho where men and women are of tenest found lying in the direst distress. Have you ever been very sick? If so, you know the value of a little good nursing. A man who was just recovering from a very dangerous sickness told me once that when his head was burning with the fever he would willingly have given a hundred thousand dollars for the cooling, restful relief he enjoyed every time the nurse rearranged the pillows for him.
And if you cannot be a regular nurse for the sick, there is no reason why you should not pay an occasional visit to the sick-room. You can spend a pleasant quarter of an hour in cheerful conversation. You can relieve some poor, weary watcher, so that she or he may get a little rest. You can take the ailing child from the worn-out mother s arms and let her lie down and rest her stiffened limbs, or go to church to refresh her anxious soul. You can bring some little delicacy to soothe the sick person’ palate. You can read some prayers beside the sick bed morning or night; for we all know that in time of illness it is almost impossible to pray one s self. You can lend a hand to set things to rights, to cook a meal of victuals, or wash the dishes, or run an errand to the drug- store or grocery; and ever and always you can say a word of comfort, of hope, of resignation to the divine will words cheap to give but precious to receive.
And when at last death is come your presence may be of the deepest comfort. Then is the time to come forward promptly and help to lay out the Christian corpse; to set up for a night beside that strange, silent guest in the coffin; and, when YOU find two or three gathered about it, to have the courage to lead in reciting the rosary for the soul’s happy repose. (Note: this sermon dates from a time when it was common to have the deceased lay in state in his/her home, or the home of a relative).
I know, brethren, that there are many kind hearts who zealously practise these lovely virtues. But there are others, especially among the men, who nearly quite forget them. And others still who do them grudgingly, and only after many entreaties. To obtain a kind act from an unwilling heart, and after encountering many excuses, is like blowing a dying fire: before you see the bright coals your face is pretty well covered with ashes and cinders.
Brethren, let us not be put to shame by the Samaritan. When confronted with persons suffering from poverty, sickness, death, or any misfortune, do like the Samaritan: forget all about their nationality, or acquaintanceship, or religion. Say something or do something in charity and for the love of God; your
neighbor’s deepest gratitude and God’s sure reward will amply repay you.