Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2014
R/ O God, let all the nations praise you!
All are Welcome
This weekend, all of the readings remind us that our loving God seeks a relationship with everyone. Not just the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not just the people who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry but everyone. This may seem like a modern idea but as we can see from the Old Testament readings, it’s been around awhile.
Much to the dismay of the apostles, Jesus builds on this idea when He helps the Canaanite woman. You can imagine, the great love she has for her daughter, helped her to overcome the social practices of that time and begged Jesus for a cure. Jesus challenges the woman’s faith, but shows us that her humility and perseverance are more important than where she was born and the history of her people.
Depending on your perspective, the idea that everyone is welcome in God’s plan of salvation can be a challenge. It’s easy to interact and share with a group of people we are comfortable with. But God challenges us to get outside our comfort zone and be welcoming to everyone. The homeless, people fighting addictions, people with different faith traditions and others. God’s ever expanding circle of grace is there to welcome them and we need to stretch ourselves to be welcoming too. This doesn’t mean that we should change our values to accommodate everyone, but we need to be aware of our own prejudices and misconceptions so we can leave them behind and truly learn that God’s love and mercy have no limits.
Fortunately we have a pope, an archbishop and a pastor who have all embraced these ideas in their ministry and will continue to challenge us to live by their example.
When I think about a complex idea like this, it always helps me to visualize and compare it to something I’m familiar with. You may have also heard of this comparison:
God’s Church on Earth is like a big tent. There are lots of different kinds of people both inside and outside the tent. The people inside the tent are a combination of saints and sinners with very diverse backgrounds. We all bring different perspectives but we are one in our commitment to Christ and His plan of salvation.
Some of the people outside the tent are there by their own choosing, some don’t realize there is a difference and many are there because they are searching. They are searching for something to fill an emptiness they have inside them. They haven’t found the path into the tent yet and could really use a personal invitation and to see living examples of people, who have found an inner joy and peace from their life with God. St Peter told us we should “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…”
There are many paths that lead into and out of the tent. For some people living on the edge, it doesn’t take much to pull them out. As you can imagine, the devil has many distractions that can lure people out of the tent. Once a person is outside the protection of the tent, it’s easy to lose hope and be overwhelmed each day by misery and despair. Coming back inside the tent may seem impossible and may depend a lot on the willingness of other people to lend a helping hand to pull them back in.
The faith that keeps us inside the tent is a gift from God. For many of us, we were born into faith filled families who baptized and educated us in the ways of the faith. You don’t have to look very far into history or current events to understand what a blessing we have. It’s an incredible blessing to live in this time and place with so many opportunities for living and growing in our faith.
The important thing to remember is that God can give that same gift of faith to anyone living anywhere. In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter said: “God shows no partiality…every nation who fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
As we come to the start of another school year, let’s pray for the students, teachers and educators in our lives. Educating our children in the faith is one of our biggest responsibilities. We need to make the most of the opportunities around us and especially remember those going off to college. By some estimates, up to 80% of Catholic kids will fall away from the Church when they are in college. In addition to these young adults, non-practicing Catholics who have drifted outside the tent make up one of the largest groups of people in this country. So let’s be conscious of the life we live and be a welcoming presence for those living along the edges of the tent. Let us pray like the woman in the Gospel with humility and perseverance that all may be open to God’s gift of faith and respond to that gift in their lives.