Friday, August 19, 2011

All Are Welcome

The lines of one of our contemporary Christian hymns says:  All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.  How welcoming are we to others who come to our places of worship each week?  Do we welcome strangers as Christ would welcome them?

In this past weekend's Roman liturgy we heard the story of the Canaanite woman who approached Jesus with a request to heal her daughter.  (Matt. 15: 21-28)  Jesus at first seems to spurn the woman and only after his disciples plead with him to send her away does he make the statement that his mission is to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and he should not be giving the food meant for the family to the dogs.  This sounds like a pretty harsh and unwelcoming statement coming from the compassionate Jesus.  Why would he treat her this way?  Is he being prejudiced?  The passage ends with Jesus' praise of the woman for her great faith.  In a sense, this woman spoke up for her rights and was not afraid to challenge this wonder-worker and preacher.  Jesus recognizes and praises her faith and her strength of character.  We know that Jesus respected the rights and the dignity of women and welcomed them into his circle of discipleship, something not known among most rabbis of the time.  Perhaps this strong Canaanite woman helped shape Jesus' recognition and acceptance of women and the role they would play in bringing others to the faith.

We see in this Scripture reading how the mission of Jesus developed within his own thinking.  With his human knowledge he had to grow in understanding just like each of us and he may have been at the point where he was determining what his mission was.  Was it just to the house of Israel or did his mission reach further?  We know that when he was ready to ascend into heaven after his resurrection he told his disciples to go and teach all nations.  (Matt. 28:19-20)  There were to be no exclusions when it came to God's mercy and compassion and all of us are the ones who have inherited these gifts.

How, then, are we to respond to others who come among us?  Do we restrict our welcoming to those we know and with whom we are comfortable?  Do we welcome strangers among us as Jesus would?

There is a story told about the great Mahatma Gandhi who, when we was a young attorney living in South Africa, went to a Christian church one weekend.  Gandhi was interested in Jesus and his message and wanted to find out more about it.  He was turned away at the doors of the church because of the color of his skin.  He would make the statement:  I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

We must be open to welcoming all who come among us especially to worship.  There should be no lack of welcoming because someone is of another race, nationality, or sexual orientation.  All of us are children of our heavenly Father and all are loveable because he has first loved us.  May we always be able to sing:  All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Plenty and Hunger

A little over a week ago we heard the story in the Gospels about the multitude being fed by Jesus and his disciples starting with just a few loaves and fishes.  It is a story of a miracle that is found in all four Gospel narratives and like all Gospel stories it is meant to teach us a lesson.

As I attended liturgy that weekend I was privileged to hear a very provocative homily from our Parish Life Director (one of the best homilists I know!).  She began by pointing out some very interesting statistics which I would like to share with you.

In the United States EVERY DAY we consume 75 acres of pizza, 53 million hot dogs, 167 million eggs, three million gallons of ice cream and 3,000 tons of candy.  EVERY DAY!!  Another statistic:  five billion people in the world try to make it on just 20% of the world's goods while one billion consume 80% of the world's goods.  Pretty disproportionate wouldn't you say?

In addition, seven million children in the world die from starvation every year; even in the United States there are 3.8 million families who experience hunger daily (and it isn't getting any better with the economy in the state it is in).

Jesus had compassion for the several thousand men, women and children who gathered to hear his message that day.  He told his disciples to feed them.  He tells us the same thing today.  I believe that Americans and American Catholics are quite generous when it comes to alleviating the suffering that we hear about or see on television throughout the world (such as is currently the case in Somalia).  We need to continue to show that generosity when we who have so much given to us by our God come forward to share what we have with those in need.

We all have many obligations to meet especially within our own families.  But when we can, we need to be like the widow in the Gospel who gave all that she had to put something in the temple treasury and was blessed by Jesus for it.  (Luke 21:1-4)

May God shower his compassion on those who are suffering for want of the world's goods and may God inspire us to continue to bring bread to the hungry wherever we find them.