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A reason for our routines

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, October 25, 2012

At Mass a couple of Mondays ago, we read the Gospel of the parable of the Good Samaritan. As I proclaimed it during Mass, I did so with some worry. We have all heard this parable so many times that I feared the congregation would tune out as soon as I read the parable’s well-known opening line: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was attacked by robbers.” I was afraid others might become distracted, mainly because I found myself doing the same as I read that morning! My mind quickly summarized the remainder: two men pass him by because they’re too busy, then a Samaritan, who doesn’t get along with Jews, sees him and takes care of him. “Got it, we need to be more like him.”

Then, as is often the case when reading the Scriptures, I was surprised to find that a little phrase caught my eye. The Samaritan takes the beaten man to a local inn, gets him medicines, room and board to heal and then, as he is leaving, says to the innkeeper: “If you spend more than I have given you, I will repay you on my way back.”
“On my way back” grabbed hold of me. On his way back? So, he travelled this road often. For only someone trusted by the innkeeper could have run a credit line at the inn. “I’ll pay you the rest of it later.” The road to Jericho was the Samaritan’s turf. He probably walked it monthly, maybe weekly. He probably knew every turn, every ditch and every establishment along the way. This road was part of the Samaritan’s routine.

My interaction with this Gospel had come full circle. I began reading the Good Samaritan with the worry that there was nothing new to be gained. But, I ended with this insight: only because I had read it so many times could my mind and heart grasp something new, something unexpected in it, a surprising little revelation. It all got me thinking …
The routines of our life, the roads and pathways we walk week after week, can have two, totally opposite effects on us. They can become so repetitive, so well-known, so comforting or so boring that we become deadened to the dynamics that unfold in them. We hardly pay attention to them. If something unexpected happens, it is quickly perceived as something to be avoided.

Like the first two men, a priest and a Levite, in the parable who encounter the beaten man on the side of their well-trod road. They too, as Temple functionaries, walked that road to the Temple as a matter of routine. And when something out-of-the-ordinary appeared on that road – a man, beaten, in a roadside ditch – they did what perhaps we all sometimes do when the unexpected enters our daily routine. They moved quickly to the other side, and kept their comforting or deadening routine uninterrupted.

The Good Samaritan, on the other hand, reveals a quite opposite insight about the remarkable opportunity that lies latent in our routines. Precisely because the Good Samaritan travelled this road so often, he knew every inch better than anyone else. He knew the perils of the road, and so was travelling with oil and bandages. He had established networks along the road, and knew exactly the innkeeper who would watch over this man. Routines can be opportunities for extraordinary love.

We understand our routines better than anyone in our existence. Who knows your family, your best friends or an issue you have been researching better than you? Yes, our over-familiarity with these routines can deaden us to the dynamics trying to unfold within them. But what if it has not been randomness, but God’s Providence, that has led us to these very people, places and issues? Our intimate understanding of the routines also empowers us to love in utterly extraordinary ways.

What and who are your roads from Jerusalem to Jericho? As November rolls in, and the routines of our semester start to calcify, beware! They can lock us up, dull our vision and deaden our hearts. Or, our daily routines can sharpen our understanding, deepen our gaze and surprise us by calling us to extraordinary acts of love. Perhaps God has been leading us down this road, over and over, for a reason.

Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, is a campus minister and the Director of Pastoral Life for the ACE Program. He can be reached at Louis.A.DelFra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.