When I was in seminary at Seton Hall University in Newark NJ, we went to a soup kitchen in Patterson to volunteer some time at a soup kitchen….I am an upstate New York guy who had some exposure to the needs of the poor, so I had an idea of what we were walking into. Getting there, we divided ourselves up to do the tasks and talked with the person who was in charge……toward the end of the line, I think we all were feeling pretty good about helping the hungry,,,,Isn’t that what Mt 25 says……we also were talking about stopping at Burger King on the way back to the university to get something to eat…..when the sister in charge announced to us…..Now, you all fill a plate and find a table and eat with our guests……I was ready to run out the door…..one, the food didn’t look appetizing( most of it was donated) and some of the guests, were a little ripe. What I learned was that I really was the guest in their house. They were the Christ who welcomed me…this upstate New York white middle class do gooder and shared their bread with me. I was the Other…..I was the stranger, I was the hungry one and they fed me.
I go to CDPC once a month to celebrate Mass with the people there…I also am available if the chaplain has someone for confession or the anointing of the sick…..I have a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Social Work and I am licensed in New York State as a clinical social worker…..so I felt I could walk in and “help” these people and I would know what their lives were like. I rarely go on Sunday, but one Sunday I rearranged things, got someone to take the second Mass for me (It was before I came to this side of the river) and celebrated Sunday Mass. At the end of my homily, they applauded. I remarked “Wow, they never do that at St Clare’s); one person piped up and said “Father you really belong here with us”. Again, I was the Other in their house, I was the one who came to “help” and they welcomed me and they continue to every third Friday of the month. I often remark I feel more welcomed and accepted by them than I have in some Catholic Churches I have gone to. Me, with all my knowledge and all my skills really knew nothing about them until they opened their hearts to me and changed mine
Jesus didn’t create a church that builds walls and classifies people according to their mental health; he didn’t look at their visas or green cards, he didn’t ask to see their bank statements or if they had a criminal record; He embraced the leper, the woman caught in adultery, the little child who made noise in the crowd, the surley teenager, Dismas the thief, the centurion at the foot of his Cross and the soldiers who crucified him…..and He commanded the Church to go make disciples like these;…what he didn’t tell us was that when we went to make disciples, the new ones would change us and call us to a more radical way of life. The mission of our communities is not be isolated groups of believers who are myopic with blinders on and miss the other right next to us. We are all good at seeing the issues in Africa, we have mission trips to Appalachia, we build houses with Habitat, but do we really see the other right here? Do we see the other who walks into our churches on Sunday? Do we allow them to make us better Christians, are they truly a brother or sister in Christ and not our project or “one of those people”
In the book we have been reflecting on, Bishop Willimon offers 10 things to do. When I read them I came up with a couple of ideas: • If we spend one hour in Church..maybe we need to spend one hour a week with Colleen at Concerns U or some other agency that needs a volunteer • I need to look for the new person on Sunday morning and say hello and talk and explicitly say you are welcome and needed(by the way, we all better be ready to welcome and people with tattoos and piercings, a person who wears head phones as a way to deal the auditory hallucinations of schizophrenia, the person who may not smell good or have clean clothes • Who is the one person we will get to know, and invite them into ministry and know we will have to sacrifice the most sacred phase in the Church. “We have never done it that way or we did it that way and it didn’t work” • Who do I exclude and how will we in our own communities create an opportunity to listen to people who feel excluded and unheard
Thanks be to God this is not our Church, but God’s….. and as Mary said to Gabriel: All things are possible with God