Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Praying for our neighbors

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

On Sept. 3, I joined families and loved ones of those who died from COVID-19, along with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other religious leaders for a memorial service at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago. I share with you here my remarks:

Brothers and sisters, America is suffering. We are suffering from the devastating loss of life and the untold pain caused by the coronavirus. We are suffering from the economic hardships the virus and the efforts to control it have unleashed. And we are suffering from the pain of long-standing inequities and injustices, which have been intensified as this virus disproportionately impacts our Black and brown communities.

It is hard to imagine a path forward, but in such times, people of faith turn to their sacred texts and traditions, and they pray. And pray we must, but so too, must we act.

Personally, in moments when the road ahead seems to be uncertain and there is a need for a wisdom this world cannot provide, I turn to the parables of Jesus. Parables are stories designed to shake us loose from our comfortable assumptions, upend our long-held convictions and open a new pathway to consider how we should live our lives together.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind in this moment. An expert in the law asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In reply, he tells the story of a traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and threw him in a ditch, leaving him for dead.

A priest comes down the same road and passes by on the other side when he sees him. So too a Levite avoids any contact with the injured man and moves to the other side of the road and passes him by.

But a Samaritan, whom Jesus’ audience considered at best an alien and at worst an enemy, comes along and, seeing the man lying in the ditch, takes pity on him, bandages his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He puts the man on his own donkey, brings him to an inn and takes care of him overnight.

The next day, taking out two coins, the Samaritan tells the innkeeper. “Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Notice that the Samaritan makes a series of decisions, which only draws attention to the choices the priest and Levite made.

And so Jesus asks the law expert: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” He replies, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

This parable reveals how easily we accept as normal a blindness to the sufferings of others that is intentional. It takes a foreigner, a Samaritan, to challenge what we consider normal. Jesus calls out his audience, in effect saying, “Your neighbor is the suffering person right in front of you whom you choose not to see.” 

The road ahead for each of us is to change what so many consider the acceptable normal, to reject an intentional blindness to the sufferings of others and to make a conscious decision to open our eyes and become part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem.

So many of our brothers and sisters have been left suffering in the ditch by the virus, by an economy that does not work for them, by a health care system that excludes them and by racial inequality that robs them of dignity. Let’s not pass them by, but take up the task of healing and caring for them, staying by their side, so they can know the comfort of our presence in their pain, our participation in their healing.

And as we gather to pray for those who have died from the various plagues that afflict us, a deadly virus, racism or violence, let us honor those we mourn by making a commitment to never leave anyone for dead in the ditch, but to be neighbor to those who suffer, for they are our neighbors. 

With this hope, I can pray:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

And let perpetual light shine upon them.

May they rest in peace.

Amen.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed

Through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Amen.

 

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