May 10, 2019

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Make time to be a Good Samaritan, innkeeper to those in need

David Bethuram

It was Ernest Hemingway who once said, “Time is the least thing we have of.” And he was right.

How quickly time passes—and how often we lament this. If only we could add an extra 25 or 30 years to the usual lifespan. There is so much more we want to see, to celebrate, to do. So many places to go, so much to enjoy, to feel, to read, to talk about, to participate in, to encounter. Yet, for each of us, this thing called time is in such short supply.

Our frustration is compounded by the numerous unimportant things that steal our minutes and siphon the significance of our hours. Things like getting gas or a haircut, standing in the endless line at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, doing the laundry, washing the dishes after a meal, mowing the lawn and a dozen other time-consuming things that have to be done. But they keep you from doing the things that make life so invigorating and fulfilling.

Since “time is the least thing we have of” and because there is no way we’re going to escape all the time-traps that accompany our earthy existence, it seems to me that we’re left with two choices: either we can fuss and whine about lengthy stop lights and months trying to find our keys, or we can take the time we’ve got left and spend it wisely—really wisely—with our priorities in right order.

In 2015 during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, he continually invited us to promote a “culture of care” and compassion. He asked us to be especially attentive to the cries of the poor.

The Holy Father echoed the same message in a video message to Catholic Charities at our annual national gathering in 2014. We are all connected to one another, and we encounter the face of God through the people whose lives we serve. He added, “The compassion of the Gospel is what accompanies us in times of need, that compassion of the Good Samaritan, who ‘sees,’ ‘has compassion,’ draws near and provides concrete help” (Lk 10:33).

At Catholic Charities, we are called to be both Good Samaritans and good innkeepers, attending to those who are beaten down, the legions lying on the sides of roads of discrimination, neglect and disdain in our society. We must be ever-new and compassionate samaritans as well as fair and attentive innkeepers.

That dual obligation comprises our response in mercy and justice on behalf of those who have been consigned to life on the margins. The samaritan fully enters into the world of our suffering neighbors with a heartfelt vision, strategic awareness and a well-conceived action plan. The innkeeper remains proactively vigilant in supporting people’s return to a sustainable life.

If we are called to use our time wisely and look to the Good Samaritan as a model on how to be vigilant in both engaging and supporting those who are vulnerable and in need, then let’s encourage one another to cultivate relationships, building memories that will help lift the load of future trials, and deliberately pursue activities that will yield eternal dividends.

The pillars of true charity are deeds and the gift of self. Maybe Hemingway wasn’t right after all. You and I have more time than we realize—once we get our priorities in the right order.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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