Sunday, July 7, 2013


This Sunday, it's two for the price of one.  You'll see why...

The gospel words we repeat at Mass keep ringing in my mind: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof..."

   Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (#2)    

At 4:00pm Mass yesterday
I gave a carefully-crafted and well-researched homily
on the importance of forming community:
about how, in modern society,
communal care and concern for one another
have given way to a consumer culture—
and how this shift has even resulted in “retail religion,”
where we’re focused more on what we have to gain
than on what we have to give. 
As has been lost in many a city
but preserved in many a small town,
we need to get back to a genuine sense of community in the Church. 
It was a pretty good homily;
I only say so because some of the folks who heard it
said so after Mass. 
If you care to read it, I’ll be putting it up online—
as I do all my Sunday homilies.

You’ll be getting a different homily this morning. 
Because Jesus came to dinner last night.

Let me explain…

Immediately after 4:00pm Mass,
as we were getting ready to lock up for the night,
a concerned parishioner told me
that a young man had sat down at the piano. 
I went to investigate. 
I found a fellow of about 20-years-old
with an extraordinarily kind face,
but who looked a little rough around the edges. 
I introduced myself, and learned his name is Reuben. 
He’s homeless, and in the midst of a long distance bike ride
from Michigan to Maine. 
He asked if there was a local shelter where he might stay;
I told him we could arrange for a hotel for the night. 
I asked if he had anything to eat,
and—when he said no—
promised to get him some food for supper. 
Reuben then asked if he might play the piano
while we finished cleaning up;
he commenced to flawlessly play—completely by memory—
a couple of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.

You can’t make this stuff up.

It would have been very easy for me
to send Reuben off to the hotel with $20 or a voucher
and simply wish him a good night. 
But how could I do that
after so passionately preaching the importance of community? 
Wouldn’t that have been just another example
of consumerism in Christian clothing:
giving someone exactly what they asked for,
but in the way that would least trouble either him or me? 
Another service provided to another satisfied customer…

Just a few days ago,
I was reading a meditation
by a relatively obscure medieval monk. 
He noted how, when a simple word would have sufficed,
Jesus instead chose to heal a leper
by reaching out and touching him. 
From this tender gesture the monk concluded,
“You should show kindness not in the easiest,
but in the most loving way possible.” (Blessed Isaac of Stella) 
And so I invited Reuben to the rectory. 
And so Jesus came to dinner. 
“I was hungry and you gave me food,…
a stranger and you welcomed me…. 
Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine,
you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 35, 40)
When Jesus said that, it wasn’t merely a figure of speech.

This Sunday,
we find Jesus giving some pretty peculiar advice.
Speaking to seventy-two disciples—
disciples who stand in for all of us
who claim to be his friends and followers—
Jesus rather predictably sends them out
to spread his message far and wide. 
Yet he quite surprisingly instructs them
to bring no money, no luggage, no footwear,
and tells them repeatedly to stay in one house,
eating and drinking whatever is offered,
rather than to shop around for better food or accommodations.

Reuben—while not a professed believer at this point in his life—
is really living after the pattern
which Jesus sets out before us. 
And his visit with us helps me to see
two important lessons here.

One is that, lacking such apparent essentials,
a would-be-missionary isn’t going to get very far. 
And that very well may be Jesus’ initial point. 
When it comes to bringing others to know and to love him,
it’s indispensable that we sit still for a spell
and truly get to know one another. 
We must fully invest ourselves.  
This isn’t about the consumer’s concerns
around cost or convenience—theirs or mine. 
It’s about caring and commitment
and honest-to-goodness conversion. 
It’s about building community.

But the second lesson is that,
when true community is formed
and where true community is found,
such essentials will be provided
and the Gospel can then be carried
to the next place the Lord intends to visit. 
Reuben didn’t get this far on an empty stomach,
and he didn’t set out with an unlimited supply of food. 
In the words of Pope Saint Leo the Great:
            “In acts of giving, do not fear for lack of means. 
            A generous spirit is itself great wealth. 
            There can be no shortage of material for generosity
            where it is Christ who feeds and Christ who is fed. 
            In all this activity there is present the hand of him
            who multiplies the bread by breaking it,
            and increases it by giving it away.”

We did talk religion at the table with Reuben last night—
but only because he asked us to. 
He’s a spiritual seeker,
with lots of questions and not a few doubts.   
I wouldn’t be much of a Catholic—and even less of a priest—
if I didn’t hope Reuben comes to believe in Jesus. 
And while I’m quite sure we didn’t convert him on the spot,
I’m even more certain that if we had any positive effect,
it was through the cake I had baked
and the steaks we threw on the grill
more than any convincing arguments. 
Actions—after all—have always spoken louder than words.

If we want to see our parishes not only survive but thrive,
we must work less on providing programs
and more on connecting people:
building a genuine community centered on Christ. 
We need to really get to know one another—and him. 
For these, there can be no substitute.

The Lord’s harvest of souls is abundant,
and far, far too precious to be lost for lack of laborers. 
Are you ready to get to work? 
Because you’re already standing in the middle of the field! 
You just never know when or how
Jesus might drop by for dinner. 
Yes, the Kingdom of God is that close at hand.

1 comment:

Tracy said...
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