Vatican Radio has this report today on the Pope’s spiritual exercises. The Pope is on retreat outside of Rome through Friday morning.
All true Christians should embody the compassion of the Good Samaritan, offering caring witness towards those who suffer: this is the message at the heart of Fr. Ermes Ronchi’s Lenten meditation for Pope Francis and the Roman Curia on the fifth day of their spiritual exercises in Ariccia, in the hills outside Rome.
His reflection draws on the tears shed by Mary Magdalen after finding Jesus’ tomb empty. She is stopped by a voice which asks “whom are you seeking and why are you crying?”
The risen Jesus, Fr. Ronchi explains, “is the Lord of life” and he cares about Mary Magdalen’s tears. In his last hours on the Cross on Good Friday, Jesus was concerned for the pain and anguish suffered by a thief, Fr. Ronchi observes. And in the early hours of Easter, he was concerned about Mary’s pain and her love.
“Jesus is the man of encounter,” the priest says: “he never looks for a person’s sins, but always focusses on their suffering and need.”
We too, can learn from Jesus’s concern and from the compassion of the Good Samaritan, Fr. Ronchi asserts. They “saw, stopped and touched” – three verbs which lead to compassion and to action to ameliorate suffering.
Compassion: a physical “kick in the gut”
There are many scenes in the Gospel in which Jesus feels compassion after witnessing human suffering. This word, says Father Ronchi, in the Greek text alludes to “a cramp in the belly.” True compassion, therefore, is not an abstract or noble thought but a physical kick in the gut. It is this visceral reaction, he stresses, that causes the good Samaritan not to “pass by” the suffering man as do the priest and the Levite.
“The real difference is not between Christians, Muslims or Jews – the real difference is not between those who believe and those who say they do not believe,” Fr. Ronchi notes. “The real difference is between those who stop and those who do not stop to help the injured…If I spend an hour simply shouldering a person’s pain, I get to know him better; I am wiser than the most well-read of people. I am full of the knowledge of life.”
Mercy is never shown from a “distance”
Fr. Ronchi ponders the third verb, “to touch:” “Whenever Jesus is moved, he touches,” recalls the preacher of the exercises. He “touches the untouchable:” a leper – among the most despised of human waste. He touches the son of the widow of Nain and “violates the law, does what one cannot do: he takes the dead boy, raises him up again and gives him back to his mother”:
When we look upon those who need our mercy, says Fr. Ronchi – the refugees, migrants, the poor – we should be impelled to stop, to touch.
“If I see, I stop and I touch. If I wipe away a tear, I know I am not changing the world; I cannot change the structures of iniquity, but I have injected into it the idea that hunger is not invincible.”
“Mercy,” he concludes, “is all that is essential to human life…And God forgives thus: not with a document but with His hands, a touch, a caress.”