The Deeper Meaning of the Good Samaritan

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This morning’s Gospel reading is the famous story of the Good Samaritan. After mentioning that we must “love our neighbor as ourself” a scholar asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells the story of a man who was beaten by robbers and left by the side of the road to die. A priest and a Levite see him but stay away. But a Samaritan man has pity and helps him.

Jesus then asks the scholar, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37.)

The thing most people get from this parable is that we should help people in need. But there’s a deeper meaning that Jesus is communicating.

The context of the parable is, “who is my neighbor?” The Law said you were to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18.) Look back at the question Jesus asked the scholar. The neighbor was the one who “treated him with mercy.” Jesus is the neighbor we are to love as we love ourselves.

And then, by telling the scholar to “go and do likewise,” Jesus shows that the poor are our neighbors also. And by loving those in need, we are also loving God.

The Catechism says, “There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God” (CCC 1878.) It later emphasizes that the Ten Commandments, “must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law” (CCC 2055.)

We begin by the one on the side of the road, helpless and dying, and are saved by Jesus, the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd. This is our love of God. Then, once healed, we are to “go and do likewise” by helping those in need. This is our love of neighbor. And Jesus tells that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40.) Which brings us full circle back into the love of God.

This is what I was attempting to convey in the latest VCAT video, “Love God, Love Each Other.” I know my previous post was about who made it, this post is about the “why” it was made.

May we all “go and do likewise” today!

Bob and Bob Strike Back

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I’ve had the blessed opportunity of collaborating with my friend Bob Lesnefsky, aka “Righteous B”, for almost 15 years now. We first met while he was helping with the Steubenville Youth Conferences. He became a youth minister in a neighboring parish to where I was doing youth ministry and we often ran combined retreats and events. For many years we travelled around the country doing improvisational comedy (some of the best memories of my life!) We’ve also collaborated musically. I’m proud to have been a part of his first studio recording when we wrote “Set Free” together, the theme song for the 2002 Steubenville Youth Conferences (back when we had theme songs). He and I were also in a band, albeit briefly, called “Backyard Galaxy”.

So when I wrote a hip-hop song to go along with the first “Morality” video of the VCAT series, he was the first person I thought of doing it. Of course, he did more than record it. He took the lyrics I wrote and, well, made them much cooler. Look, I listen to bluegrass, okay? I play the friggin’ accordion. Rap is not my thing. But he is awesome at it and he took my idea and ran with it. He also brought Born, who is one of the teens who is a part of his Dirty Vagabond ministry. You can hear him laughing at the end. I invited Taylor, who sang with me this summer, and the next thing you know we had a pretty cool song.

Dan Bozek recorded it at his studio and brought a friend of his, Harrison Wargo, who made a great beat. And then it was sent off to Cory Heimann at Likable Art who put it all together to make this:

Call Waiting: Discerning Your Vocation

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I’m excited to say we’ve come to the end of another year of videos in the VCAT series. Last year we had twelve videos on the creed, this year twelve on the sacraments. We’re half way there! As I travel around the country, it’s great to hear how many people are using these in ministry.

This last video took a look at discerning a vocation to the priesthood. There are a number of “vocation” videos out there already, so I wanted to do something different.  I tried to capture the kinds of fears and distractions that I’ve known teens to have over the years. My hope was to be subtle: have the audience figure the message out, even though the main character didn’t. It’s always tricky with these catechetical videos to not be too preachy and yet still have solid content that’s helpful. Did I hit the mark? I’ll let you tell me :)

Kudos to my friend Bob Perron who came up with such a great name for the video!

Get Up and Walk

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Sometimes I write scripts and something special happens.

I originally wrote this script to introduce the “sacraments of healing”: Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. We decided to tell the famous story of Mark 2:12 because it includes both the forgiveness of sins and a physical healing. This Gospel story beautifully shows how the two go together.

I wrote it as a period piece. The film’s producers were going to try to recreate the look of Galilee 2,000 years ago. Quite a challenge!

But then the movie, “Son of God” came out. And the fear was that the script I wrote was going to look too similar to that film. So Becky Groth took that script and modernized it to be a contemporary look at the Gospel story. I think the end result is pretty cool and more fun than a “straight” retelling of the story, especially because those versions already exist. This is something new, makes you look at the story from a different way, and I’m proud to share the story credit on it.

I like this video because it’s punny

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Puns make me happy. Why else would I release a CD titled, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice”? Truth is, I get excited when I come up with a pun because I don’t think of myself as a very good “punster”. This script I wrote has some good ones in it. The kind that make you hurt.

More importantly, it also has a good message. I wrote this for the VCat series on sacraments. Its an overview of the sacraments of service: marriage and holy orders. Its a challenge to write scripts like these because you have to find the right blend of entertainment and education. I think it really came together well and is one of my favorite videos Outside Da Box has made so far. Great job, guys!

Feel free to share with your friends or anyone you know who could use it for ministry. That’s why we’re making them!

The Mercy of God

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Though I’ve been delinquent in updating the site, Outside Da Box and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston are doing a great job by creating new videos every month to help teens understand a different element of the Catechism, and I’ve the honor of writing the majority of those scripts. I really loved this last one they did. It’s a “whiteboard” video about how to go to Reconciliation, and the emphasis is that it’s not just about confessing your sins—it’s about what you do before and after that is equally important. I hope you’re blessed by it!

But one of my favorite scripts ever brought to life was the “Palm Sunday” video I wrote for Outside Da Box a couple years ago. And since that’s coming up this Sunday, it seems a good time to re-post that as well.

Feel free to share these around the Interwebs! And have a blessed Easter!

Crazy. Busy. Good. (With cool video at the end!)

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Life. Is. Crazy. But in many ways, crazy good. Bobby just got out of surgery yesterday for his leg. Those who have followed by blog might remember that in February he broke his femur because of a weakened bone. So they put a rod in his leg to augment it. Not fun, but we’re grateful that the surgery went well, and thanks for all your prayers.

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I’ve also gotten back on the road. I had the chance to speak to the youth ministers in Arlington and Richmond. I shared the Gospel with the folks at St. John the Apostle in Virginia Beach, VA and at Holy Spirit Parish in Kennewick, WA. And I spoke at a men’s conference in Greensburg, PA. Hello to everyone I’ve seen over the past three weeks! It was a blessing to be with you!

School is back in session, and I LOVE teaching at Franciscan. But that keeps me busy, as you can imagine.

“The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice” is getting nearly done and it sounds AMAZING. I can’t wait for you all to hear it! Thanks to the over-the-top generosity of my Kickstarter backers, I was able to fly Katie Rose from California to help with the vocals. What a difference she made! And it’s always fun hanging out with her.

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Aidan is over two months old and is COMPLETELY adorable. If you doubt me, take a look:

And, in all my spare time, I’m still writing video scripts.

 
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This is the latest video in the VCat series, “Forgiveness of Sins.”

I wrote it as a spoken word piece and originally I was going to be the one doing it. But then someone knew of Fr. Anthony, a priest from New York who also does hip-hop. When you see how well he does it, you’ll laugh thinking of me doing it! He owned the material so well, my first impression was that he must have ad-libbed some of it to fit his style and personality. But then, as I pulled up the script I wrote, I realized that it was almost verbatim to what I had written.

I was pretty humbled by that, as I’m sure this guy could improv stuff better than I could write it (and you can hear some of that at the end of the video.) As always, I’m just grateful to be working with the amazing people at Outside Da Box who make such great films.

So life is crazy busy, but also crazy good. Hope you enjoy the video.

Hey, Youth Ministers!

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SowerLast week was the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference and it was such a joy to see people from America, Canada, England, Ireland, and even Australia come together to celebrate the faith and be equipped to pass it on more effectively.

Of course, the group I got to hang most with are the youth ministers, and my gratitude for all of you who endured the difficult schedule. It was a blessing to share what little time I could amid the numerous workshops, worship music, and baby at home.

The conference made me realize that I’ve been a bit deliquent on putting articles I’ve written for the “Sower Magazine” on my website—hadn’t updated that since last year! So here are the most recent ones, and if you’d like a full list of articles, you can check them out HERE.

“Proclaiming the Bad News to Teenagers,” April 2013. Talking about hell can pose a challenge for those who work with young people today. But if young people don’t understand the horrors of hell, they can never appreciate what Christ went through to bring them to heaven. Or to put it another way, the Good News isn’t really good unless the bad news is really bad.

“Thinking Win/Win with Your Volunteers,” October 2012. Attracting volunteers to your ministry is a daunting challenge, but it can be done. One way of doing that is to think “Win/Win.” A ministry that is as concerned with the positive experience of its volunteer as it is with it’s ministry to young people becomes a dynamic and enticing environment that attracts both youth and adults alike.

“Will You Love Me?” April 2012. When St. John Bosco famously said, “Love, and they will follow you anywhere,” he wasn’t talking about relational manipulation. He was speaking the truth. Teenagers, then and now, desire true friendships and respond to real love. One thing is sure: postmodern teenagers feel more than they think.

“Not Young Adults, but Emerging Adults,” January 2012. What is a “young adult?” Christian Smith, author of Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, suggests the term young adult is a misnomer. He proposes we call this age group emerging adults.

“Saints and Superheroes,” October 2011. Movies and stories about superheroes are all the rage with young people today. As catechists, we can use those stories to point them to the real superheroes—the saints.

In other news, the Kickstarter campaign is going great! Thanks to everyone’s support, we’ve gotten past the minimum goal and are pushing towards an even better product. More on that (with new music video) tomorrow.

The Historical Reality of the Resurrection

There is an important difference between religious respect and religious relativism. The former demands a charitable attitude that acknowledges the movement of God in every human heart; the latter shrugs its shoulders and says that every religion is really the same. Showing respect gives dignity to the believer; religious relativism is patronizing.

The New Atheist movement, allegedly unbiased because those involved don’t believe in any religion (which is the worst bias off all,) argue other religions should all get along with one another because there’s no way to say that one religion is more valid than another. Essentially, we should see our religious beliefs as our opinion and we should respect other people’s opinions, just like we might differ on tastes in movies and food.

Should people of different faiths find ways to charitably live with each other? Of course. And since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has been a world leader in gathering people of different faiths together and has been one of the strongest  advocates for religious freedom in every continent. But we don’t do that because we think what we believe is just our opinion. We do it because of our love for all humanity, no matter what they believe. We do it because of our faith, not in spite of it.

Though we share many things in common with other beliefs, we also acknowledge important differences. Those differences help us define our faith. And at the heart of Christianity is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

This historical event makes Christianity unique among other world religions. With the exception of Judaism, the many of the doctrines and stories of other faiths have come from private revelations. An angel spoke to Muhammad (Islam.) One also spoke to Joseph Smith (Mormonism.) And though private revelations are a part of our Deposit of Faith, the historical reality of how God revealed Himself to the world is what they are grounded on. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

Those who are Jewish acknowledge that Jesus existed and, though he taught many good things, He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet, but also say He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. There are many core values and beliefs that Christians share with Jews and Muslims, and the Catholic Church teaches that we all pray to the same God, though we have a different understanding of Him. But that’s not to say that one religion is the same as another.

There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. There was an historical event that has to be accounted for. This is more than a parable or a fictitious story. History records that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by Rome and then the body disappeared. His believers claimed to have seen Him risen from the dead, and almost all of those were tortured and killed because of their belief.

Alternatives for the resurrection don’t make sense. Was the body stolen by His followers? Unlikely Rome would let that slide without more crucifixions. Perhaps Jesus didn’t die, just fainted? This is known as the “swoon” theory and is even more unlikely than the “stolen” one. It seems impossible that a man who underwent such torture could wake up, roll away the stone himself, and then… overcome Roman guards?

And what of the martyrdom of His followers, who underwent painful deaths vowing that Christ had risen? If you were lying about something like that, at what point do break? None of them did.

In the wake of the resurrection, Christianity was persecuted by sects of Judaism and Romans. If either of these two groups could have produced the body of Jesus that would have ended the argument. But they didn’t. They couldn’t.

Because there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

No matter how much we might agree with people of other faiths or people of good will, we believe that it is a fact that Jesus Christ, Son of God, rose from the dead. That defines who we are. And it divides us from other beliefs.

Jesus Christ either rose from the dead or He didn’t. This isn’t a matter of opinion that we can “agree to disagree” on. To raise the stakes even higher: it means that Christianity is either right, or it is wrong.

There is a reason why Easter is the highest holy feast of the Church. Everything in human history led to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and everything has followed from it since. It was the moment that made us who we are. This was the moment that revealed the depths of God’s love for us. This was the moment that made salvation possible. Sin and death were conquered. The Church perpetually participates in this moment at every Mass. The Sacraments all flow from this event.

So if we shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, I think it happened, but maybe it didn’t,” then Christianity is replaced with, “Jesus was a good teacher who taught us to love each other.”

The Jews would agree with this. The Muslims would agree with this. Even the atheists would agree with this. There is a lot of pressure for those who follow Christ make that the “Good News” and to stop focusing on the divisive issue of the resurrection.

But there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

The Good News of Jesus Christ was not just to love each other. It was also about how much God loves us and what He did to save us from our sin. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that through Him we might be saved” (John 3:16-17.) Jesus Christ, second person of the Trinity, Word of God made flesh, came to die for our sins. “For this is proof of God’s love for us: that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8.) And as we say at Mass, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory!”

The historical reality of the empty tomb points to another truth: Jesus will come again in glory. And at that time, there will be no “opinions” about God. We will know Him as He is.

For now, however, we only know Him partially. We know Him by what He has revealed. We know Him by what He has done. Some would claim because we don’t fully know Him then we don’t know Him at all—but that is absurd. It would be like suggesting a couple who are engaged don’t know anything about each other because they’re not married yet.

Let us unite in Christian charity with people of other faiths or those who have no faith at all. Let us work together for the common good to build a civilization of love. But let us not forget there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem, and that Christ will come again. Let us not be afraid to tell others this “Good News,” and engage in respectful dialogue about what we believe.

For what we believe isn’t just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of fact. And if it’s not, then it’s not worthy to believe in at all.