“But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'”

Luke 10:29

This Sunday’s Gospel we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It begins with the question of a scholar of the law, “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answered his question with another question, “What is written in the law?”  The scholar answers by quoting the two great commandments:  to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus confirms his answer and says, “You have answered correctly.”  But because he wants to justify himself, he asks a further question.  

My first reaction to the word justify in this verse is to think that the scholar is trying to give himself some “wiggle room” — perhaps knowing how hard it can be to fulfill these commands, he seeks to avoid the demands of “loving my neighbor as myself” by limiting who he considers a neighbor. But in the spirit of the Catechism, which challenges us to presume the best intention of another unless we have clear evidence otherwise (para. 2478), I took a deeper look at the question.  Perhaps the scholar is not attempting to minimize his response, but is genuinely desiring a greater clarity about what this command means practically speaking.  His question may be, “Just what does fulfilling this command look like in my daily life?”  I know this is a question which arises often in my life and in my prayer. When this happens, I find myself saying:  

“Yes, Lord I want to follow you.  Yes, Lord I want to do your will.  But today, or in this situation, just what does that look like?”

I have shared before that I have found Pope St. John XXIII’s Decalogue a helpful tool in answering this question.  Today, I was reminded of another gem I keep tucked in my prayer journal.  This comes from Servant of God Elizabeth LaSeur.  Elizabeth was a married french lay woman who had a deep and profound love both for God and for her husband who was well-known for his atheism and anti-clerical writing.  She prayed fervently for reconciliation between these two whom she loved and, as she was suffering from terminal cancer, offered her life for the conversion of her husband. After her death, her husband discovered her journals and correspondence, read them while in Lourdes, and experienced a profound conversion.  He returned to Catholicism and eventually became a Dominican priest.  Elizabeth offers us this advice:

  • Pray fervently for those you love.
  • Do all the good that can be done humbly each day.
  • Relieve misery when you see it.
  • Cultivate a lively affection for everyone. 
  • Do all for the Glory of God.
  • Show that christian life is great and beautiful and full of joy.
  • Cultivate your mind to show God’s intelligence.
  • Know that in order to give, one must first receive.


Both of these resources are helpful to me as I strive to imitate Christ. They are helpful tools which offer concrete things that Jesus’ disciples do, but, on their own, they aren’t enough. I have several friends whom I admire for their ability to see God’s will with clarity and a common attribute I see with each one of the them is fervent, consistent and lengthy time in quiet prayer. The witness of these friends remind me that, ultimately, the closer we follow in the footsteps of the Master, the more the “dust from His sandals” lands on our own feet, the more confident we will feel that we truly are doing His will. For the steward, for the dedicated disciple, examples of concrete actions are helpful, but intentional, planned, consistent and honest prayer is essential.


  1. As I sit in a home in County Donegal, a home well over 300 years old, your reflection brought me to the present. The beauty of the past pales in comparison to the glorious hope of the future… and the joy of today is found in the love we share with our neighbors that we encounter along the road.

  2. I believe it is a way of life that all Catholic Christians have to confront themselves with at different stages of our pilgrimage to the end time.


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