Today's gospel is about inviting the lost and lonely to our tables rather than those who can repay the invitation. Sometimes the readings just fit with what is going on in the parish and today's reading is one of those times. Several weeks ago I was watching the CBS Morning Show on Saturday, the musical guest that day was Gregory Porter a Grammy winning jazz artist. Mr. Porter sang the title song from his new album"Take me to the Alley" and told the story of growing up watching his mother minister to the people in the Alley. I sat listening to him sing transfixed by not only his voice but the words of the song. I have been deeply affected by it and when I listen can actually see Jesus walking through the alley being with the least and the lost.
Please follow the link to watch a clip of Porter singing "Take me to the Alley" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj5z4SbrH20
I have also found much profit from reading JD Vance's book "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Country in Crisis. In it Vance's tells the story of his own troubled family and how he rose out of poverty to attend Yale Law School. What I found most eye-opening was the final chapter of the book and how we place our own value system on others. I recommend it to everyone I meet for the simple reason those of us who want to do good, have to understand how to do that good in the community in which we find ourselves. My idea of a good life is just that, mine and I need to remember that when I am doing God's work in the world.
What Does It Mean?
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about what it means to be a Christian. We hear the worded bandied about, glibly rolling off the tongues of the media, friends, politicians perhaps even yourself. It is a word for some which is filled with all kinds of preconceived notions and feelings. Perhaps you have found this to be true in your own life. Now as a transplant from the North, I know the term is not quite as loaded here in North Carolina. In fact, it is just a way of thinking and being. It is a given we all attend church and I have yet to meet someone who looks down his or her nose at me because I do.
In the past, when I lived in Michigan, my occupation was greeted with phrases such as, "Oh, good for you!" or "Isn't that nice!" Like I was some sort of freak or had just learned how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. I felt uncomfortable because I know I made others feel uncomfortable. The thought that pervades our world seems to be that Christians judge everyone and everything. In my experience, I have found that to be anything but true. Yes there are people who proclaim to be Christian and are harsh critics of others; but for the most part, the people I know and love, are too busy judging themselves to have time to judge others. We are all just trying to do the best we can with what God has given us.
So what does it mean to be a Christian? It means we follow one man, Jesus, and attempt to pattern our lives after his. It means we are changed by having a relationship with him and accepting him as our Lord and Savior. It means we see the world through his eyes, a world that is broken and hurting and we do our best to be his hands and his feet, to bind up the sick and save the lost. I know I am a better person for having Jesus as my friend and I know you are too.
I really find meaning in Fr. James Martin's writings and in particular this one. I wanted to share it with you.
Dear friends: Like many of you, I've been thinking about the violence that has gripped our country this week. And today I spoke with a friend about how to keep hope alive in the midst of so much darkness. How can we believe that we can move towards peace and justice in the face of such violence and division? One of the most helpful prayers for me in that regard is called the "Romero Prayer." It reminds us that we are called to plant seeds that may not flower for many years. And that we may never even see those flowers. God is using what we do in ways that we cannot possibly predict or understand.
Ironically, the "Romero Prayer," was not composed by Blessed Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador. Instead, as the USCCB website notes, the prayer was written by the wonderful Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, who drafted it for a homily by Cardinal John Dearden in 1979 for a celebration of departed priests.
As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included it under the heading "The Mystery of the Romero Prayer." One mystery is, as the USCCB says, "the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him."
Even that strange story is a reminder of how the work we do might flower in a way that we might not entirely understand.
I hope the prayer helps you continue your work for peace and justice in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
"The Romero Prayer"
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Bishop Ken Untener