You are on page 1of 3

:...,'t'r'':'::li-rtlt .irlve'' .

rs tlrt' ;rrac-
(.i, 1i' rr\rrcv. Rec;rll s.hy Jesus
tr:iis this prrablc. ['[.. has just given
llre love commandment, and ih re.
spcrnse, one of the Scrjbes asks
him, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus
JAMES F. KEEFTAH tells the parable. A close reading
of it gives a very surprising an-
Is there something about Cathoiic foundations of moraliq' throrrgh- swer to the question. Aren't we
morality that distinguishes it from out ihe Western worid, still, i thinJcing at the beginning of the
the morality of other religious be- must say unequivocally: We story that the answer to the ques-
lievers? This is a vexing question. Cathc,lics have defined oursel'r,,:s tion, "who is my neighbor?" will
Ifs not a question about superiori- distinctively in our moral Ives. be the manlytng wounded along
ry. It's simply a question aborrt ihat distinctiveness is found in the road. But ifs not. The answer
<iistinctiveness or uniqueness. lt's the virtue of merry. is the Samaritan. The neighbor is
a question about identify, about the one who sftoars mercy.
what identifies us as Catholic in lVhile Protestants recognize the
our moral lives. extr"aordinary importance of Given the sto4/s surprising end-
merry as the basic stance of our ing, many of us forget that it is not
The question is vexing because it Cod toward us, still we Catholcs primarily a moral parable. Many
is difficult to find any one thing have taken that insight further jrr great preachers and theologians
that belonlgs to Catholics as terms of a long legary of the cor- see in it the fust story of our re-
Catholics- Iror instance, we poral and spiritual works of demption, told by Christ. For in-
Catholics erppreciate the natural mercy. Those works have distirr.- stance, Venerable Bede wrote that
law, but, irr Romans 1, Saint Paul guished us, for if one dimension of the wounded man who lies out-
writes that the natural law is writ- the Christian tradition different i- side the gates is Adanr, wotrnded
ten in everyone's hearti by that ates Protestants from Cathoiics, it by sin, lying outside the gates of
law, people can tell right from is precisely, "'rnrorks." Eden. The priest and the Lerrite,
wrong. Many Catholics believe representing the kadition and the
(rightly) what is right for As I have written in this colurur Iaw, are unable to do anything for
Catholics is right for everyone and on the virtues and the commanci- Adam. Along comes the Samari-
w'hatever is wrong for Catho[cs is ments, two extraordinarily imp'tr- tan (Christ) who tends to Adam's
equally wrong for everyone. tant influences on Catholic wounds, takes him to the inn (the
rrorality, now I want to begin a,1- church), glves a down payment
Others root our nroralify in the d.ressing the influence of the ftis ti.fe) for Adam's healing or sal-
Scriptures. Here we think, nabr:'al- w<lrks of mercy both on our tra{il vation, and promises to return for
ly, of the Ten Commandm€nts" iion an,l on our conteurporary him (to pay in fuli the cost of re-
which are shar^ed with Jews, [ves. i do this because the tradi- demption).
Protestants., and the Orthodox. tion of the works of mercy is pc''w-
That's not terribly distinctive. erfrrlly rich, yet considerably lost Understood in this wan the para-
Moreover, the commandments are to the modern mind. If we ra'ar,f bie is less a story about how we
pre$,v comprehensive. From them tcr know more about what Cod should treat others than it is the
we receive morai guidance regard- asks of rrs today then, assuredly it story of what Chrjst has done for
ing the sovereignry of Ccd and is the practice of merry. us. We are called to follow the ac-
God's name; worship; honoring tions of &e Good Samaritan, not
parentsl cherishing hfe, our bod- Mercy in Catholic tradition because the parable is atbactive
ies, and the'truth; respecting 'I'amlkt rny caxfor the distincliae but because it is a retelling of the
neighbors, their farnilies, and their ness of ffiercy, I want tct caaer four entire gospel. In it, we are cailed
properfy. The commandments topics. In my next column I will giue to go and do likewise. Nor is the
cover most moral toPics. a brief histoical ooentieu of the tra:ii- parable simply one among many
tian of the work of merry and in sub- thatJesus told. Rather, it serves as
Despite the fact that the nahral sequent columns I will discuss each. of the foundational explanation of
law provides all humanbeings ac- the worls belw. Jesus' commandment to love.
cess to the same moral standards
and that the Ten Com,mandments lvIerry the sto4y of our salvatiol Mercy: the condition for salvation
offer those of us in the judeo- . Like Jesus, we must become o To be saved we must exercise
Christian tradition a fundaarental the mercy of God. The Good rnercy" My second point is that the
morality that has affected the Sanaritan parable definitively de- Scriptures definitively emphasize

Fall2004. Ctnncx.4l
mercy as the cotrdition for salva- must be saved. How? One c,f three variety of ways, financially secure
tion. This is made dear in the [,ast persoru will enter inte our lives to Christians welcomed the newly ar-
Judgment (in Matthew t5), where keep us all from falling intr: tl'e rived immigrants.
those saved are saved simply if abyss of hell, itself pure chaos.
they performed what we later Moreover, Chdstianify was new.
called tlie corporal works of Mercy: Christianity's self- While ethical demands were im-
mercy*-feeding the hungry, cloth- definition posed by the gods of the pagan re-
ing the naked, visiting the sick, etc. Early Christianity defined itself in ligions, these demands were
terms of mercy.ln his wonderful substantively ritualistic, not neigh-
The parable of Matthew 25 is sfrik- wurk ?1e Rise of Christianity,R-td- bor-directed. And, while pagan
ing in that everyone is surprisecl by ney Stark argues that "Christianiry' Ronnans knew generosity, it did
the iudgment. The sheep never re- lvas an urban movement and the not stem from any divine com-
alizd that in feeding the hungry, New Testament v/as set dor,r,n by mand. Thus a nurse who cared for
they were feeding the king. Nor ur-banites." But those urban areas a victim of an epidemic knew that
did the goats realize that by not were dreadful. Stark describes the her iife might be lost. If she were a
visiting the sick, theywere not vis- conditions as "social chaos and pagan, there was no expectation of
idng the Lord. But for the Gospel chronic urban misery," partiy be. divine reward for her generosity;
writers, our recognition of tb,e im' cause of sheer population densify*. if she were a Christian, this life
portanc': of mercy is inconsequen- At the end of the fust cenhrry, Arr. was but a prelude to the next,
dal Ihat is also the "moral" of the tioch's population was 150,000 where the generous were united
story of the rich man who never within the city walls.--117 persons with God.
sees po(lr Lazarus at his gate. We per acre. New York City today has
vrill be judged by whether we are a dersify of37 persons per acre Although the Romans practiced
merciful (see Luke 6). overall; Manhattao with its high- generosity, they did not promote
rise apartrnents, registers 100 per- mercy or pity. Since merqy im-
Mercy: How God enters our sons Per acre. plied "unearned help or relief," it
chaos to rescue us was considered contradictory to
. We show mercy by entering Contra-A to early assumptions, justice. Roman philosophe$ op
the chaos of others. Otrr entire Greco-Roman cities were not set- posed mercy. According to Stark.
theological Eadition is expressed tled places, the inhabitants de' ?ify was a defect of character un-
in ternu of mercy, which I define scended from previous worihy of the wise and exorsable
as the rn.iliingness to enter into the generations. Given high iniant only in those who have not yet
chaos of others. lndeed, like the mortality and short life expectancy" gror4rn up. It was an impulsive re-
Good Sirmaritan stopping for these cities reqirired "a constant sponse based on ignorance." He
wounded Adam, attending to and substantial stream of ne*'couv' concludes:
someone in need is no simple af- ers" simply to nraintain popuJatio* This was the moral cfimate
fair. It means entering intothe en- levels. As a result, the cities were in which Christianity taught
tire "prrrblem" or "chaos" of that made up of sbangers. They were that mercy is one of the pri-
person's particular sjtua tjon. well rreated by Christians, who. mary virtues-that a merci'
again contrary to assumptions, ful God requires humans to
Understood in such terfirs, the cre- rnrere anything but poor. Through a be merciful. Moreover, the
ation is an act of mercy that bdngs
order ir,to the chaos of the uni-
verse. The lncarnation is God's
entry into the chaos of human ex-
istence. And the redemption is
brin;zing us out of the chaos of our
slavery to sil. Every action of God
is aimecl at rescuing us.

One of rny favorite understandings

of God's rescue of us comes from
the meditation on the Trinify in the
Spiritual Exucises of Saint lgnatius.
The thrr:e persons of the ble.ssed ity are considering the chaos of
the world wherein most peonle are
going to hell; They decide that we

-!..l,: ...;:r;.1., i_l.rl

C;)l'r)ll.:r..., tri'i'.ir:y st.iff. irrrlt:.:..j, it,..vas
lot cs i:r-r1..::.:' ., ilrr.:lli,l:s cultur;rl b.r-ris ior thc re-
nl.i-,' .-lot :-llil je C.ld ,.rrrlrss
111,''.r iiri.r' otit nrtti!!:tr \\.as e:1-
',,iializrtion oI I Ron.ran
rvorlcJ grolning unrler a host
tircly new. Perhaps even of miseries.
more revolutionary was the
principle that Christian love In our own day. rnercy makes n0
and charity must extend be- less a claim-
yond the boundaries of fami-
ly an'J tribe, that it must
exteld to "all those who in Reverend James F. Keenan. s.;., i,r
every place call on the narne associate profusor of moral theoiogy
of our Lord Jesus Chrisf' (1 at Weston lesuit School of Theology,
Cor. l:2)... This was revolu- C arnts id ge, Mas sa c hu se t t s.


For more than thirty years I have diacesan professional organiza-

rvorked in catechesis, eighteen of tions on a national suryey he had
those years as a director ofreli- coinpleted, profiling directors of
g-ious education. My early years as religious education. He asked us
director were mostly spent organ- to respond to one of the questions
izing the fornal religious educa- on the survey: "llfhich of the fol,
tion dasses. That task was never lowing terrns most accurately de-
easy, but textbooks, set sr-ricu- scribes your actual functions as
lums, and scope'and-sequence director of religious education?
charts girve it some definition. There were eight choices; director,,
Much has changed over the years. aclministrator, catechetical leader,
c{rordinator, pastoral minister" edu-
Today we find ourselves at the be- cator, facifi bator, and programmex.
ginning of a new millennium with
a renewed vision of catechesis that I had to think about my answer for
realizes education is formational awfule. I knew I was a djrectoc it
as well as instructional. Our job Ls lsas vr"ritten on nly office door:
not nearly as dear-cut or foe'used. "director of religious educafion""
If the chrrrch is to flourish, howev- 'Yet
I spent much of my time coor-
er, we have to accept the new ciinatin g and programming classer;
challenges and reshape the way and activities for the dilferent age
we catechize. Directors of reli- grclups in the parish. I aiso knew I
gious education need to aggrcs- was an administrator, since I drew
sively model their role as up the budget, ordered the sup
catechetical leaders in the parish, plies, kept hack of catechists' certi-
highlighting the formational as fication, and so on. I had tr,yo
well as i:rstnrctional dimensions degrees that told me I was an edu-
of catechesis. cator. Certainly I was responsible
for training catechists, teaching
What's irn a Name? sacramental preparafion classes,
This shift in emphasis has taken and leading adult education. I
place gradually. For me the tr;usi- liked being a pastoral minister,
tion began in 1984 when Dr. Tom lending a sympathetic ear and of-
Walters gave a talk to our arch- fering simple advice to the young

Fa{24t0,._Cnwn '-ng