Friday, December 16, 2011

God, Our God, Has Blessed Us

December 16, 2011

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

By Melanie Rigney

Let not the foreigner say, when he would join himself to the Lord, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” (Isaiah 56:3)

The earth has yielded its fruits; God, our God, has blessed us. May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear him! (Psalms 67:7-8)

“The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36)

Lord, thank You for being “both/and,” not “either/or,” when it comes to Your people.

It was a Wednesday night at my parish a few years ago. I was among the facilitators for a program through which people contemplating a return to our Church ask questions and explore issues. A handsome man in his thirties, a former altar boy, sat with his arms crossed as others shared thoughts about spiritual moments the previous week.

“I’m not feeling good about the Church right now,” he said in a defiant tone when his turn came. “I mean, I can’t be a perfect Catholic, and if I can’t be a perfect Catholic, what’s the point?”

Sometimes, the foreigners in today’s first reading are easy to spot. They look different from us, or maybe they don’t speak our language or don’t have the same beliefs, religious or political. It can be easy to love them from a distance by donating money to missionary or relief organizations.

Sometimes, they live right in our homes or in our hearts in a personal way. They don’t go to Church but twice a year—Easter and Christmas—no matter how we nag and moan and complain and cry. We pray for their salvation and sometimes express right out loud where we think their lack of a visible faith life is going to put them when they die. That seldom does any good, other than to reinforce for them that challenging line from Isaiah: “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”

In the next nine days, we have an opportunity. We can invite those we love but who are estranged from full communion with the Church to celebrate Christ’s coming with us. We can smile and introduce ourselves to the people who will crowd the pews on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and who are even more unfamiliar with the new order of the Mass than we are. We can be thankful that we had to walk a little farther because the parking lot was filled to the brim.

Or, we can nag and moan and complain about how much harder these “foreigners,” these imperfect Catholics, make going to Mass twice a year.

The choice is ours.

How will you welcome the foreigners—different from you in political belief, economic status, skin color, language, faith tradition, gender, ethnicity, or some other way—whom you encounter today? What will they say after your encounter?