18 Jul Sixteenth Sunday in ordinary Time
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – July 17, 2016
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
Our scripture readings today extol the virtue of hospitality… both as a duty and a work of mercy. Hospitality is one of the foundational virtues found in all of Scripture. In both the Old and the New Testaments a host is automatically expected to provide hospitality to the visitor, be they known or a stranger, and the visitor could expect to receive hospitality, whether they were known to the host or not. It is a virtue that we are in danger of losing in our increasingly technical and violent world.
As we see with Abraham and Martha the good host automatically makes a feast for his/her guest unlike any that is ever prepared just for his own family.
Today’s first reading from Genesis 18 presents Abraham as the model of the generous and hospitable host. Hospitality is an art form that requires careful staging! Abraham and Sarah welcome the heavenly messengers with open arms. As the host, Abraham brings water for the washing of feet and provides the shade of a tree for their rest. The meal is a banquet, humorously described as “a little bread”: a bushel of flour, curds, milk, and a choice calf! Sarah remains in the tent; society’s customs forbid her from mingling with the male guests. She does the cooking. The strangers come to dinner to deliver a message: God promises Abraham and Sarah that, even in their very advanced years, they will not remain childless and in nine months Sarah will give birth to her son, Isaac. (A quick aside…. the Hebrew word Isaac means laughter…… which is exactly what both Abraham and Sarah did when the divine messenger announced they were to have a son in 9 months’ time. Laughter is often our response to what God is asking of us when what he is asking seems impossible but is only possible if we depend on Him. )
Abraham’s hospitality may appear to us to be a bit too lavish and excessive, but we must never forget the demanding tradition of the Middle East from which springs the Christian conviction regarding hospitality: in the guest, Christ is seen. In our every conversation, he is the silent listener. (repeat) In the guest, Christ is seen. In our every conversation, he is the silent listener.
The Greek word for hospitality is philanthropia, literally meaning love of human beings, another translation could be simply…kindness. The virtue of hospitality is praised over and over again in the New Testament and it is enumerated among the works of charity by which we will be judged (Matthew 25:35ff) . Hospitality is the key underlying virtue in the Corporal works of Mercy. Remember the Last Judgement seen in Matthew 25…For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Today’s Gospel is the delightful story of Martha and her sister Mary in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). This gospel points out that God doesn’t just look at how well we carry out our duties. We shouldn’t lose ourselves in busyness. Mary of Bethany understood that. Martha is so caught up in the many demands put upon her by societal and cultural rules for serving guests that she loses sight of the most important aspect…her guest Himself. In reality, there is little that is needed – or rather, only one thing. Much of Martha’s anxiety and concern in serving has more to do with conforming to society’s demands or with the desire of the host or hostess to shine as a model of accomplished and generous hospitality.
Verse 39 presents us with a unique image: Mary sitting at the feet of the Master. Against the backdrop of first-century Palestinian Judaism, that a woman would assume the posture of a disciple at the master’s feet is nothing short of remarkable (cf. Luke 8:35ff. Acts 22:3)!
Mary of Bethany, a disciple of the Lord, has chosen the most important thing required in welcoming others – her presence and full attention, so that it is her guest who shines. It is her guest who is the focus. Martha and Mary stand forever as symbols of the two modes of life between which we continually oscillate. Activity can become a shield against facing the issues and questions and truths that must be allowed to surface if we are to survive. There are times when we simply must contemplate, must step back, must think, must pray.. if we are to be capable of returning to meaningful activity.
The key of the Gospel story is not found in the tension of activity versus passivity… the key of this gospel story is…receptivity. The one necessity in welcoming others into one’s home or community is being present to them – listening to what they have to say, as Mary does in today’s Gospel. The Alpha course we will be running in the Fall is geared to do specifically that…to listen to what people have to say as we discuss our foundational Christian beliefs.
At the dinner party in Bethany, Martha learned a profound lesson: perhaps a simple pita bread was better than a full Middle Eastern feast, if it got her out of the kitchen and in the company of such an important guest as was sitting in the living room with her sister, Mary. Perhaps Martha was finally able to sit down and grasp the full impact of what was unfolding in her very home – that her own sister was behaving as a true disciple of Jesus.
And hopefully Martha discovered that the meal was only the scenery, not the script!… Much of the busyness in our own lives is scenery and not the essential script. Like Martha it is so easy to overload our agenda with so many activities and commitments – good and beneficial as they may be – that we lose sight of our goal; of what is essential; to know, love, and imitate Christ more each day. Remember: the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. Only that will give meaning to our lives; only that will fill us with the joy we long for; only that will equip us to help others find meaning.
The crucial sign that we may be following Martha’s footsteps a little too closely is a waning life of prayer. When we skimp on our prayer life, on that precious time that we spend, as Mary did, “at the Lord’s feet listening to him speaking,” we need to stop and check our spiritual vital signs. Maybe we have allowed ourselves to become so “distracted with all the serving” that we have forgotten why we should be serving in the first place.
As we, as a parish, here at St. Mary’s, move out of maintenance mode, meaning doing things as we have always done them…moving from maintenance into the more missionary stance of being intentional disciples… hospitality must be one of the key virtues we focus on developing. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling barriers.
As I mentioned two Sundays ago …..I have a dream for us here at St. Mary’s. My dream is that every member of this congregation, in this upcoming year, grows in maturity as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Each one of you and myself also…. that we all grow in our maturity as disciples of Jesus Christ. You already know that part of my dream for this parish is that we grow in our love for the Lord, that we grow in our love for each other…that we grow in knowing each other…that we grow in caring for each other…that we grow as intentional disciples …and we will be using the ALPHA course in the fall as the key tool of evangelisation to assist us in bringing that about…In today’s world, many people find it difficult to build relationships especially in their church community. Alpha offers an environment where people come together, get to know one another, and build trust and friendships. Dialogue flows naturally as trust and friendships grow. Alpha is not all about transfer of information but about building lasting friendships.
Part of my dream also is that we become a more hospitable parish…that we know each other…and many by name…that we pray for each other…that’s why we greet each other at the beginning of Mass and get the name of one person around you that did not come with you…that we generously welcome visitors …and that we become so deeply aware of the treasure we have here in the celebration of the Eucharist that we invite others to come and participate in it with us…this is the aspect of intentional discipleship that is truly hospitable… we want to invite others to share it…In today’s gospel Mary realized the treasure she had before her and she focussed on the one thing…Martha did not…and therefore was distracted and more focussed on being busy.
Statistically, those who leave the Catholic Church to join non-Catholic denominations do not do it for theological reasons. It is not about what we believe. Many give, as one of the main reasons for leaving, is that they did not feel welcomed. That it was a cold, inhospitable experience. We can change that here at St. Mary’s. It is not about changing what we believe…It is about how we live out our rich belief in our Christian life.
Hospitality does not mean being friendly with our friends and all the people who look, think and talk like us, although that is part of it,… Hospitality is reaching out to the stranger, to those who are visiting us…especially on Sundays, in our parish, this is the time to roll out the welcome mat and to make everyone feel at home. A smile, a hello, a greeting, even a “Thank you for joining us today” can go a long way toward bearing witness to our faith.
We need to ask ourselves what the Mass experience is like for the person who does not yet belong to St. Mary’s parish.
And this cannot all fall on the shoulders of the priests. We are in this together. Our first step is in our own hearts…in the 21st Century, cultural Catholicism, the way we have always done it, does not work as a way of keeping our people in the church…God has no grandchildren, once one generation stops coming, the next one will not be coming. In the 21st Century we have to foster intentional Catholicism rather than cultural Catholicism. A first small step is to truly embrace the value of hospitality. We have a hospitality team here at St. Mary’s but it needs to be much larger and must exist at each of our Masses. Hospitality is much more than providing coffee and sweets after Mass. We all must be hospitable. We need warm welcome at all each door at the beginning of all weekend Masses,… I have been at parishes where the welcome is so powerful that it sets the atmosphere for the whole parish experience…It is as simple as remembering to smile as you greet each other,…
If we are to truly embrace the value of hospitality we need to question how the marginalized feel when entering our church…I think, considering the mentally ill, who live among us, that we do this very well here at St. Mary’s…
The ultimate goal of hospitality is to invite and welcome guests so well that they themselves decide to join the parish and help welcome other guests. Then we can move into helping the whole parish have a deep, mature, personal relationship with the Lord. And as I have already mentioned in the Fall we will be using the Alpha course as our foundational tool of evangelisation for that.
Hospitality is both a duty and a work of mercy. Part of my dream for this parish is that we intentionally embrace this foundational virtue so that all who come through our doors see us here at St. Mary’s as warm and invitational, welcoming and friendly…truly living out our focus on the better part, on the one thing, our personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the guest, Christ is seen.