In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
Photo: Fox News
By David Came (Feb 23, 2010)
Most of us are familiar with the horrific account of how the pilot Andrew Joseph Stack III, a software engineer who was harboring a vendetta against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), slammed his plane on Thursday, Feb 18, into the Echelon building in Austin, Texas. The building houses offices for the IRS.
In a statement posted on a website, Stack claimed that the government had robbed him of his savings and ruined his career.
The 'Mercy Lining' in a Dark Cloud
The silver lining, though — or, should I say, "mercy lining" — to this suicidal attack is that only Stack himself and one IRS employee lost their lives.
One of the reasons for the low number of fatalities is the immediate, merciful action taken by Good Samaritans like Robin De Haven, an employee of Binswanger Glass.
Here is De Haven's story, as reported by the Associated Press on Feb. 20:
Robin De Haven was driving the company truck to a job when he saw something that didn't look right — a small plane flying extremely low over a heavily congested area of Austin.
The 28-year-old Iraq war veteran recalled Friday how he then saw black smoke billowing from a glass building and rushed to the scene. There, where the plane had exploded into flames in a suicide attack fueled by anti-government hatred, De Haven found five people trapped on the second floor of the burning office housing Internal Revenue Service employees.
"I wanted to go help," said De Haven, who works for a glass company. "I thought, 'I'm going to go ahead and do it.' I thought my boss would understand."
He quickly hurled his 17-foot ladder onto the building, climbed up and went inside to help the workers escape.
Authorities have credited stories of heroism like De Haven's for keeping the death toll so low in Thursday's crash.
'Struck by the Lightning Flash of Mercy'
As I read this account in my local newspaper on Saturday, Feb. 20, I thought of Pope Benedict XVI and his amazing insight into the parable of the Good Samaritan, which I share in the book Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate (Marian Press).
In sharing this insight, let me set the scene. Then I'll share the key quote that illustrates it.
A man has just been beaten and robbed, and he is lying by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite pass by on the other side of the road. Will anyone stop to help?
Benedict picks up the narrative here, writing in his book Jesus of Nazareth:
And now the Samaritan enters the stage. What will he do? [Unlike the expert in the Law who had just been questioning Jesus] he does not ask how far his obligations of solidarity extend. Nor does he ask about the merits required for eternal life. Something else happens: His heart is wrenched open. The Gospel uses the word that in Hebrew had originally referred to the mother's womb and maternal care. Seeing the man in such a state is a blow that strikes him "viscerally," touching his soul. "He had compassion" — that is how we translate the text today, diminishing its original vitality. Struck in his soul by the lightning flash of mercy, he himself now becomes a neighbor, heedless of any question or danger. The burden of the question thus shifts here. The issue is no longer which other person is a neighbor to me or not. The question is about me. I have to become the neighbor, and when I do, the other person counts for me "as myself" (Doubleday, 2007, p. 197).
In this light, can't we say that Robin De Haven was "struck in his soul by the lightning flash of mercy"? He was driving his company truck in Austin, Texas, when he "saw black smoke billowing from a glass building and rushed to the scene." Notice when he arrived, he didn't stop and think about what to do. "He quickly hurled his 17-foot ladder onto the building, climbed up and went inside to help the workers escape."
Because of this quick action, this Good Samaritan is credited with saving five lives.
What about the Rest of Us?
What about us? Do we have eyes to see those who are in immediate need in our homes, neighborhoods, parishes, and places of work? Or are we literally passing them by?
It doesn't have to involve a major, life-threatening incident like the one in Austin. Consider this everyday example that I share in Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate:
I'll never forget a couple of years ago when I got a flat tire on my way home from work. I had pulled off the side of the road and was just getting ready to change the tire while dressed in a sports coat, tie, and slacks. Noticing me fumble with the car jack in my nice clothes, a couple of workmen in a pick-up truck pulled over and offered to change my tire. They had hearts that saw me in my need.
So, inspired by Pope Benedict and Robin De Haven, let's open the eyes of our hearts to recognize those who are in immediate need in our own lives. Even when it's inconvenient for us — perhaps, especially when it's inconvenient for us — let's open the eyes of our hearts to really see those in need.
Jesus will be pleased.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. His book is Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.