As the unrelenting Spirit of God continues to “re-Lent” us this season, I offer a brief lesson from St. Maximus Confessor (Letter II):
[N]othing is so dear and loved by [God] as when men turn to him with true repentance. … [God in Christ] said, did, and suffered those things which were necessary to reconcile us, while we were yet enemies, with God the Father, and to call us back again to the life of blessedness from which we had been alienated. … [He came] to restore in men the royal likeness which had been lost by the evil-smelling filthiness of passions. …
He taught it when he brought relief, with oil, wine and bandages, to the man who had fallen among thieves and had been stripped of all his clothing and left half-dead from his injuries [cf. Luke 10:25-34]. Having placed him on his own beast, he entrusted him to the innkeeper; after paying what was needed for his care, he promised that when he came back he would repay whatever more was spent. …
He taught it when he found the sheep which had strayed from the divine flock of a hundred, wandering over hills and mountains. He did not drive it or beat it but brought it back to the fold. In his mercy, placing it on his shoulders, he restored it, with compassion, unharmed to the rest of the flock.
He taught it when he cried, ‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’, and ‘Take my yoke upon you.’ By ‘yoke’ of course he meant ‘commandments’ or a life lived according to the principles of the gospel; by ‘burden’ he meant the labour which repentance seems to involve. …
Again teaching divine righteousness and goodness he commanded, “Be holy, be perfect, be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful”….
Allow me to add a few brief comments of my own.
1) Are you aware of your passions? Are you checking them? When is the last time you made an examen of conscience?
2) The “beast” in Christ’s parable alludes to His human nature, which bore the burden of our sins on the cross, by which he “paid everything” to restore us to the Father. The “innkeeper” is the Church, and the medicaments which Christ pays him to administer are the sacraments. Note well that the good Samaritan did not set up a medical shelter in the ditch, but, rather, lifted the fallen man out of the ditch, renouncing it, as it were, and translated him as from a kingdom of darkness into a kingdom of light (cf. Colossians 1:13).
Better yet, take that in again in the words of Haydock’s Commentary:
This is the allegorical meaning of the parable: The man that fell among robbers, represents Adam and his posterity; Jerusalem, the state of peace and innocence, which man leaves by going down to Jericho, which means the moon, the state of trouble and sin: the robbers represent the devil, who stripped him of his supernatural gifts, and wounded him in his natural faculties: the priest and Levite represent the old law: the Samaritan, Christ; and the beast, his humanity. The inn means the Church; wine, the blood of Christ; oil, his mercy; whilst the host signifies St. Peter and his successors, the bishops and priests of the Church. (Origen, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and others)
3) “Begin with the end in mind.” Seeking the lost sheep is intended to bring them back into communion with the triune God, under the wings of the Church. True mercy does not affirm others in their separation from the one true flock–does not, so to speak, “enable their lostness,” but, rather, uses the salve of mercy to ease their return, while employing the hammer and chisel of truth to carve grooves for them to follow in the right direction.
4) Everything good goes beyond itself (Bonum est diffusivum sui; cf. ST I, 27, 5, ad 2). This is why true mercy goes beyond any number of mere saccharine “caressing” and “encouraging” and extends itself to the higher lands of virtue, self-recollection, and crucified-union-with-Christ in “a life lived according to the principles of the Gospel.” In the face of this temptation, are we letting our witness as Christian Catholics remain mere “niceness”, mere civil decency, or are we willing to remind others that going off the junk-food diet of passions and vain cravings–onto a life-diet of sobriety, restraint, sacrifice, labor, and prayerful transcendence–is not only the path to eternal life, but also the path to true and joyous life? In other words, are we allowing an over-emphasis on joy and peace to drown out the other ‘lung’ of the Gospel: righteousness and virtue? Are we, in a word, balancing goodness and righteousness?