I was sitting in my office this last week when I heard the office door bell ring. I heard the secretary greet someone, who in a very loud voice announced: "I want to talk to the head hog at the trough!" Puzzled, the secretary said, "Excuse me sir?" He repeated; "I want to talk to the head hog at the trough!" She then realized the man wanted to talk to the pastor. Somewhat indignant she said, "Sir if you want to talk to our pastor, you will have to address him properly. You should call him Father, Pastor, or Reverend, but you certainly cannot refer to him as the Head Hog at the Trough!" The man then said, "Oh I just wanted to donate $100,000 to the church." The secretary promptly replied, "Can you hold on please, I think the big pig is in his office!"
OK—maybe this didn’t happen, but it’s a classic story! So this didn’t happen, but can we deny that we can tend to treat people differently according to their social status, fame, or power? For example, how would we act differently if President Obama walked in the Church and sat down next to you, or if an unkempt, homeless man did the same? How about seeing the singer Beyoncé at the grocery store, or instead a mother with a child singing to the top of his lungs in an angry cry? How about Bill Gates in his limo driving by or family driving past in an old, rusty pick-up truck?
The fact is, we do not treat all people the same. You might say, “it’s not reasonable to expect that we’d treat the President the same as a homeless man.” In this, you’d be right. It’s not reasonable. It’s Christian. The Christian faith is not always reasonable by worldly standards—instead it is loving. That is, our Christian faith demands that we treat persons with the same dignity, regardless of their social status, fame, power, or any other quality.
You might have noticed that our fine lector read a different second reading than what was printed in the missalette. This alternate reading was also from the letter of James, but from an earlier chapter, preceded and was heard at Mass just two weeks ago. There, the scriptures insist upon the “unreasonable” yet loving obligation to welcome every person, rich—poor, famous—common, powerful—humble, virtuous—sinful. St. James taught: “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please ” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?”
Last week, I spoke about the first value highlighted in our pastoral council’s strategic plan—fidelity: fidelity to the gospel of Jesus and His Church. Now, the second value that must characterize our parish community: HOSPITALITY
The word “hospitality” has its origin in the Latin word hospes, meaning guests. One offers “hospitality” to someone treated, not as a stranger, but as a guest. When we say our parish is to be hospitable, we are saying each person whom we meet here is to be considered a treasured guest. As our pastoral council said in our strategic plan, hospitality is “a foundational virtue for building Christian community. It is essential that each member of our community, and each guest of our community, feel welcome and comfortable.” In other words, inasmuch as a Catholic parish we are welcoming & hospitable, we are more ourselves.
Two ways our parish can be more hospitable, be more itself. FIRST: Our prayer here is not in its essence private, my time to be with God. It is public, it is our prayer together, our gathering as the body of Christ, praying as the Body of Christ. As such, we come here to be attentive both to Christ, the very center of our prayer, and our sisters and brothers with whom we gather for prayer. There should be no one who comes to our parish family who feels like a stranger. This means greeting each others, introducing ourselves to someone we don’t know, and then praying actively and fully as an encouragement for others.
SECOND: Our parish must be a place where no one is excluded or feels excluded. For example, no one should be barred from gathering for a parish dinner because they are disabled or elderly and can not make it down the stairs to our only parish gathering space. OR, no one should be barred from serving as a reader or Eucharistic minister at Mass because they can not climb the stairs into the sanctuary.
To be a Catholic community means HOSPITALITY—welcoming each person as a guest and doing what we can to remove any obstacle to anyone’s full participation in the life of our parish. Our Catholic faith demands us to be hospitable, because each human person is created in God’s image and Christ has come to restore the lives of each human person. Lord, come to us now, change us to be more like you, so we might welcome and love each person in our parish community and each visitor as a treasured guest, as you have taught us—for there are no distinctions among persons before your loving mercy.