Paradoxically, to be “inn” one must go out. I learned that from Pope Francis’ General Audience this week. The Holy Father, continuing his teachings on the sacraments, spoke about Anointing of the Sick. He compares this sacrament to the parable of the Good Samaritan, drawing several interesting parallels.
Obviously, the Good Samaritan takes care of the man who had been beaten. He pours wine and oil in his wounds. “Oil makes us think of that which is blessed every year by the Bishop in the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday, precisely in view of the Anointing of the Sick. The wine, instead, is the sign of the love and grace of Christ that gushes forth from the gift of his life for us and is expressed in all its richness in the sacramental life of the Church.”
Then he spoke about the innkeeper. I have to admit I have never paid attention to this character in the parable. I did not know I was the innkeeper.
I am not a professional theologian. I have always been around theologians and have studied a fair bit on my own, but I really need to take a class on the Gospels. I asked a few theology students here at Benedictine College out of the blue, “Hey, who is the innkeeper in the Parable of the Good Samaritan?” I got the same answer every time: “The inn is the Church, so we are the innkeeper.” First of all, hats off to my colleagues in the theology department. On Wednesday, Pope Francis gave us all some needed theology:
“Now, who is this innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community; it is we to whom every day the Lord Jesus entrusts those who are afflicted, in body and spirit, so that we continue to pour on them, without measure, all his mercy and salvation.”
As a teacher of classical languages and general word nerd, I know that inns offeredhospitality, of course, which included medical care of suffering wayfarers, which is where we get the word hospital, but that is a far cry from a five star hotel. Hotels cater to wants; hospitals care for needs.
Perhaps the root of many misunderstandings of the Church today is this. People look to religion as a hotel with a spa, as therapy to feel good (Philip Rieff’s prophetic 1966 classicThe Triumph of the Therapeutic makes the case admirably.) Why can’t the Church, which is supposed to take care of me, have a mini-fridge stocked with my favorite things? Why can’t I have the pastor I prefer, the homilies I want, the music I like, and have the staff make my bed and leave a complimentary mint on the pillow?
The reason is that it’s not that kind of inn. It’s a place where the weary can rest, for sure, but it’s a place for the afflicted. It answers our deepest needs, not our momentary whims. That is the role of the Church in the world, and the role of each member of the Church. We must care for the afflicted, those in deep need of body and soul. And so very often we may chafe when our true needs are addressed. It always hurts when the wound is touched, even when it is for healing.
On Thursday, the Holy See issued a press release about its participation in the world Expo in Milan in 2015. The theme of the Expo is Feeding the Planet – Energy for Life. The theme of the Holy See’s pavilion will be Not by Bread Alone. While the Expo’s website speaks about Italy’s fame for food and “living well,” the Church reminds us that we are not in fact living well. Creature comforts alone cannot remedy the ills of fallen creatures.
The Good Samaritan did not bring the unfortunate man a Happy Meal and an iTunes gift card. There are so many who need the bodily basics: clean water, shelter, sufficient food. And there are many more who need the spiritual essentials: truth from sound teaching, counsel, comfort, prayer.
Perhaps this Lent we could all, as we give up some creature comforts, make a resolution to “go all inn.” We can be like the Samaritan, who is Christ, and the innkeeper, the Church, and pick one of the material or spiritual works of mercy to practice each day. (The theology students at Benedictine have fulfilled their obligation today since they instructed the ignorant, me.)
To go all inn, we have to go out. We have to be on the lookout for those in need around us. And we must bring them to the Church, and check back on them, and take care of their expenses.
Mary and Joseph, in a time of need, found no room for them at the inn. May it never be said that, because of us, the inn of the Church was closed to someone in need.
Edward Mulhollandis Assistant Professor of Classical and Modern Languages at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.