Thursday 21st February 2019

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The Divine Samaritan: The Church’s Knight In Shining Armor

October 8, 2018 Featured Today No Comments


We have all heard and read countless times our Lord’s Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) with its obvious message of duty to those in need, a message that has made the expression “Good Samaritan” a household word even among non-Christians. Clearly our Lord intends us to understand from this parable that in attending to the needy and the suffering we are attending to Him — that the dying man by the side of the road in the parable is Christ Himself.
Yet there is another less obvious dimension to this narrative by which our Lord reveals His own mission to us — that the Good Samaritan is Christ and the dying man by the wayside is each one of us, and in a wider sense, the Church.
More than once in the Gospels, the Evangelists speak of Christ being moved with compassion. At the sight of a crowd coming to hear Him, St. Matthew tells us, He was moved to pity because they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). At the sight of Mary the sister of Martha weeping for her deceased brother Lazarus, Christ was moved to tears (John 11:35).
And at the sight of the widow of Nain, a woman who, prefiguring the fate of the Blessed Virgin, was grieving the death of her only son, He “had compassion on her,” stopped the bier of the funeral procession, and raised her son to life (Luke 7:11-15).
We see this divine compassion in the Old Testament as well. When on Mount Horeb God reveals Himself to Moses in the burning bush, He tells the patriarch, “I have seen the affliction of my people. . . . I know their sufferings” (Exodus 3:7).
Particularly striking in this regard is a passage in the Book of Ezekiel that has parallels with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Speaking of Jerusalem, God tells of her first as a newborn babe cruelly discarded: “No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you; but you were cast out on the open field” (Ezek. 16:5).
God then reveals His compassion for her: “And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live, and grow up like a plant of the field.’ And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood” (Ezek. 16:6-7). Like the Good Samaritan who poured oil and wine upon the dying man’s wounds and bound them (Luke 10:33), God speaks of bathing Jerusalem with water, anointing her with oil, and then dressing her in the finest garments of silk, linen, and embroidered cloth, making her “exceedingly beautiful” (Ezek. 16:9-13).
The rest of chapter sixteen of Ezekiel tells of Jerusalem’s subsequent descent into a life of horrendous sin and infidelity, described in terms of sins of the flesh and idolatry, but concludes with the promise that despite all this God would remember His covenant with Jerusalem and “forgive you all that you have done” (Exodus 16:60, 63).
The reclamation of the People of Israel is described very beautifully in another place in the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, wherein God declares Himself to be the loving “husband” of His people, who after forsaking her for her infidelity pledges to take her back: “For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off…but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:5-8).
The image of God as the protective Bridegroom of His people in the Old Testament prefigures the image of Christ as the Divine Bridegroom of the Church that we find in the New Testament. Across the centuries the latter image has flourished. In the Middle Ages it interacted with the concepts of Christian knighthood and chivalry. In her letters St. Catherine of Siena (+1380) repeatedly speaks of our Lord as the divine Knight.
In this context the duty of a knight to defend and protect the Church as prescribed in medieval texts can be seen as imaging the promises that Christ has made to His Church — that He would always be with her and by His might prevent the gates of Hell from ever prevailing against her.
In his famed treatise on chivalry, the Spanish scholar and Third Order Franciscan Blessed Raymond Lull (+1316) states, “The office of a knight is to maintain and defend the holy Catholic faith” (English translation: The Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry or Knyghthode: Westmynstre, William Caxton (1484), The English Experience, n. 778, Norwood, NJ, Walter J. Johnson, Inc.; Amsterdam, Netherlands: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd., 1976, sig. b3v).
Similarly, the rite of conferring upon a new knight his sword in the late thirteenth century Pontifical of the Roman prelate and bishop of Mende, France, William Durandus (+1296) expressly identifies the knight as a defender of the Church:
“Receive this sword, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and may you employ it for the defense of thee, and of the holy Church of God, and for the confutation of the enemies of the Cross of Christ, and of the Christian faith” (text in Msgr. Michel Andrieu, ed., Le Pontifical Romain au Moyen-age: Tome III: Le Pontifical de Guillaume Durand, Studi e Testi 88, Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1940, p. 449).
The opening words of the Divine Office, “O God, come to my assistance / O Lord, make haste to help me,” can indeed be seen as the daily impassioned cry of Holy Mother Church, the Bride of the Lamb, beseeching her Divine Bridegroom to come to her rescue. She is the ultimate “fair maiden in distress” yearning for her Divine Champion, her “Knight in shining armor,” to come to her defense.
Numerous Scripture passages recited in the Divine Office reiterate this plea: “Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down! Touch the mountains that they smoke! Flash forth the lightning and scatter them, send out thy arrows and rout them! Stretch forth thy hand from on high, rescue me and deliver me from the many waters, from the hand of aliens, whose mouths speak lies” (Psalm 144:5-8).
The Church likewise cries out to God with the Psalm verse, “Exsurge, Domine,” “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thy hand” (Psalm 10:12). It is with these words that Pope Leo X (pontificate, 1513-1521) began his papal bull of June 15, 1520 condemning the heretical teachings of Martin Luther.
Our Lord’s supreme response to the anguished cries of His bride has already come — His death for her on Golgotha. This is why in both the liturgical rites of Palm Sunday and of the Easter Vigil the Church hails Him as her mighty Champion.
On Palm Sunday, she expresses this by singing Psalm 24 during the procession of palms: “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (Psalm 24:7-8).
At the Easter Vigil the Church recounts as a prefiguration of the Paschal Mystery the mighty intervention of God at the Red Sea to rescue the people of Israel from the Egyptians, the latter realizing all too late that it is futile to fight against God (Exodus 14:15-15:1).
Following this lection the Church sings of her Divine Hero with the Canticle of Moses: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously….The Lord is my strength and my song….The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name….Thy right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, thy right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy” (Exodus 15:1-3, 6).

Sing Praises To His Name

In the response to the dire crisis now afflicting the Church, the importance of invoking the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel in the epic battle against the powers of darkness has frequently been mentioned, for he shares in a singular manner in the holy warfare of Christ, as St. John reveals:
“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. . . . And the great dragon was thrown down . . . and his angels were thrown down with him” (Rev. 12:7-9).
There is a majestic orchestral evocation of this decisive battle in a work of the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) — the second movement of his 1926 tone poem, Church Windows. Built around a Gregorian Chant melody from the Roman Gradual played by the low brass instruments, the music brings to mind the sweeping turmoil of the battle, the hurling down of the demons, and the sublime serenity that follows.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite who pass by the dying man and do nothing serve as a reminder that there will indeed be times when even the Church’s shepherds can fail her and leave her “half dead” (Luke 10:30-32).
But Christ will never desert her. She lifts her eyes to the vision that St. John saw, of Christ, her Knight in shining armor, mounted on a white horse, in blood-stained vesture, at the helm of the armies of Heaven, charging into battle against Satan and his wicked cohort (Rev. 19:11-21).
And she will trust in her Lord to raise up shepherds who will have the valor to fight for her and keep her pure, to live by the words of Psalm 67 that in the late thirteenth century Pontifical of Durandus accompanied the prostration of the episcopal candidate at the end of the preparatory rite on the eve of his consecration:
“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him!…Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds; his name is the Lord, exult before him!” (Psalm 68:1, 4 — Andrieu, Le Pontifical Romain au Moyen-age (volume 3), p. 377).

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