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Reflection on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time/Opening of Loretto’s Assembly 2021

Posted on November 14, 2021, by Helen Santamaria SL

“Seeing with the Heart”

Let me share with you my own personal Good Samaritan story. Some of you are very aware that for the past 20 years or so, my ministry has included being of service to persons experiencing homelessness in El Paso, Texas. As a matter of fact for the past eight years, 12 Ignatian Volunteers and I have been offering religious services at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless. We prepare meditations, say the rosary with elderly residents and offer scripture studies. We also provide Reconciliation and Communion services and a Healing Mass is celebrated at least once a month. On a daily average, this emergency facility and its surrounding houses serve about 400 persons. However, the number attending the services averages less than 100 per month.

Well, one fine morning as I approached the Center of Peace at the OC where I offer my services of spiritual accompaniment, I noticed a commotion going on in front of the building. On arrival, I could see that there was a young man all wrapped up in a blanket, lying on the ground blocking my front door. To unlock the door and enter the building, I would have had to step over him. I also became aware that there was blood all over the sidewalk around him. However, since the fire and emergency services had been alerted and were already arriving and several staff members arriving for work had surrounded the young man and were tenderly ministering to him, I decided that I wasn’t needed and I walked around the building and entered it by a side door. Now I was a little annoyed that I couldn’t open the front door because it hindered anyone from coming in to see me, and I was also hoping that the blood would be washed away by someone before my 1 p.m. monthly meeting with the Ignatian Volunteers.

Now, I don’t know about you all, but in the past many times I have heard Jesus’ Parable about the Good Samaritan, I have easily related to it with some guilt because, for example, the times I have passed up someone stuck on the highway with a flat tire and felt guilty that I couldn’t stop to help. Today, we and they all have cell phones so it’s much easier to pass them by, isn’t it?

In my personal Good Samaritan story, did you notice that my first concern was that I would have to step over the body in front of the door to get into the building. Really, Helen? And then to be agitated that as long as the body was blocking the door, who could get in to see me? And that blood all over the sidewalk! What would people think? In my personal Good Samaritan story, I ask you: Who am I? Am I the Rabbi? Am I the priest? I know that I’m not the Good Samaritan, but I am a pretty good example of someone not seeing with her heart.

One of the things that I always stress with the Ignatian Volunteers is that we are not in this ministry for the numbers. It is our presence that matters most and not what we do. So even if only one person shows up for a service, we will honor them and conduct the service that we have conscientiously planned just for them.

Many of the persons we minister to are either elderly, abandoned or alienated from family. A large many of all ages and genders have serious mental health challenges. So on occasion, I have sat in my cozy, little Center of Peace by myself with no one requesting my services or conducting a service with great enthusiasm to a moderately filled room of blank stares. And even though I feel passionately that I am where God wants me to be at that time, I have seriously questioned at times whether I was just wasting my time.

Perhap you might not be aware that my primary ministry is spiritual direction, and I have a very healthy number of men and women who visit with me monthly to talk about how God is working daily in their lives and how sometimes they don’t think God is working in their lives at all. But they are on fire to deepen their relationship, their intimacy with the Lord. A very different population from those whom we minister to at the OC.

Just recently, sitting alone in the Center of Peace, I questioned again, “Am I just wasting my time? I got my answer the next morning loud and clear. Our dear Loretto friend Thomas Merton (we called him Father Louis when he visited us in the novitiate 60 years ago) was quoted in the reflection I was reading during my morning prayer, and he spoke directly to my heart, and I quote:

As Thomas Merton wisely wrote to a young peace activist: “Do not depend on the hope of results.. … Concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. … The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.”

And so the author of the reflection continues and asks you and me today: What are the hidden ways God might be making something good out of our less than perfect work?

Isn’t it amazing how someone like Thomas Merton, someone cherished by Loretto and, actually, by the whole world; someone who has been deceased for over a half century, continues to pop in and out of Loretto lives just in time.



Helen Santamaria SL

Helen Santamaria SL is founder of Villa Maria, a homeless shelter for women in El Paso, Texas. She also is sacristan at Loretto Academy in El Paso.