Three weeks ago, we gathered donations for the seven people who lost their belongings in a fire that burned their three-storey apartment building in our neighbourhood. Two of them, Fernanda and Curtis, are part of our parish family, so, an e-mail blast about the fire went out to the whole Alpha team, of which Fernanda’s a part. If you got that e-mail, how would you respond? Who here would offer them sympathy in the e-mail? What about prayer? What about a place to stay for the next week?
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
What caught my attention was when Angie Eng offered to let them stay at her place. I wouldn’t have done that because I never learned that kind of hospitality. My family rarely had guests over.
There are various reasons why perhaps we would or would not do the same, but what I’m getting at is that we’re all still learning, and we learn from others!
I’ve preached many times about the virtue of hospitality because it’s integral to being a disciple of Christ and it’s a virtue which our culture is subconsciously seeking. We need to repeat this message so that each of us continues to grow in hospitality, and until we become a community that welcomes like Christ.
The Second Reading is about the Christian community in Rome around the year 57-58 A.D. that was divided into two groups, Jews who had become Christian, and Gentiles who had become Christian. The Jewish Christians still followed Old Testament practices in terms of food and liturgical feast days, while the Gentile Christians didn’t (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament, 277).
So, St. Paul asks for unity, “May… God… grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify… God” (Rom 15:5-6). Then comes the key teaching: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).
How has Christ welcomed you? For me, the key moments in my life when I was a stranger and was touched by Christ through others were: Sr. Mercy was kind to me; Fr. Doyle was gentle in Confession; Chris Montoro knew my name; and, on my first day in Rome, Msgr. Chica, Fr. Yago, and Fr. Giovanni smiled so much that I thought, “Wow, these guys are really nerdy!” All these people took an interest in me, smiled, initiated a conversation, and knew my name. I felt so blessed through this, because I was vulnerable. This is where I learned to do the same for others.
Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you! In 1969, Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed St. Mother Teresa and one of the questions he asked was, “You’ve got a lot of children in your care, haven’t you?” “Yes,” she answered. “Where do they come from?” “Many of those children are unwanted by their parents; some we pick up, some we get from hospitals… Some we bring from the jail, some are brought to us by the police… Up to now we have never refused a child.” “Somehow you fit them in, however many may come?” “We always have one more bed for one more child.” “So you’ve never had to turn one down?” “No” (Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, 99-100).
Does anyone feel inspired by that kind of radical hospitality? Not all of us can do that, I know, but could we aspire to live that kind of Christ-like hospitality, where we refuse fewer and fewer people?
St. Paul then writes, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Who are the circumcised? The Jewish people. God the Son (Jesus) took on human nature as part of the Jewish people, not because they were better, but so that they could bring back other nations to God the Father. The Jewish people were supposed to be an older brother to all the nations, who are younger siblings (Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, p. 146). In the same way, Catholics are supposed to be older brothers and sisters to bring back our lost brothers and sisters.
There’s a great story I heard about St. Francis de Sales. There was a nun who was apparently very holy and had mystical visions, so St. Francis was sent to investigate whether they were real. He goes to her convent when it’s rainy and muddy, and, when he enters the convent, he sits down and asks the nun, “Sister, would you mind helping me take off my muddy boots, please?” She declined. So he threw up his hands and said, “She’s a fake!” and walked out. That’s a great story about one of the signs of real Christians. We know real Christians by their prayer, words, actions, and by their hospitality and service to other people. We need to be real Christians.
We’re now in our second week of our season Alpha as Culture. Last week we talked about praying for those we love, that they encounter Jesus, by using the 11:02 Prayer. Praise God so many of us are doing this. I’ve already seen beautiful things happen with regard to two people for whom I’m praying. Keep on doing it; let’s even increase our prayer! God’s doing something powerful! If you haven’t filled out the cards yet, they’re in your pews and you can do so after the homily and then fill out both sides, put the left side into the collection basket and keep the right side.
This week, we’re thinking about how to welcome our loved ones as Jesus would. Alpha is famous for its radical hospitality, where the environment is beautiful, clean, and comfortable, the food is great, the team is punctual and takes extra care to make guests feel welcome. Jesus often ate with people, so Alpha does the same. Meals are a common bond, so they can connect us with people who are skeptical about Christianity. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
This should happen not just at Alpha, but should be part of the way we carry ourselves all the time. In October, Peter Lee, our director of evangelization, went to St. Benedict’s in Halifax, the parish that coaches us in the Divine Renovation Network. St. Benedict Parish has run Alpha for over eight years and had 1,200 people go through Alpha last year. The virtues of Alpha are now part of who they are! Peter was struck by how happy everyone was, people genuinely cared about him and showed it! And he commented that we, as a whole community, sometimes look… kind of lifeless. This isn’t to undermine the great improvements we’ve made, or our already high level of hospitality, but it’s to point out that we still need to grow. The reality is that many Catholics don’t appear that joyful when they see other people at Mass. I’m giving you permission to let your happiness show.
Have you heard the expression: If you’re happy, tell your face. We all have things for which to be thankful: We’ve got Jesus. He’s taking care of us right now! A lot of us don’t realize that we look unhappy—that’s how I used to be, until I realized two facts: 1) it’s a virtue to be joyful for others, to bring them up; 2) deep down, I was not as joyful as I said, and I used the it’s-my-face reason as an excuse.
We’re getting ready for Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ coming as man, and He’s welcomed us home. Let’s do this for others. That’s what we aspire to do. This is what Jesus is asking all of us to do:
If you’re joyful about life, being a Christian, let it show before, during, and after Mass. If we’re having a bad day or there’s a legitimate reason why we’re down, don’t force it. Just do your best.
Let’s be clear: It’s possible to be prayerful and silent in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in church while still being joyful. Sometimes we think being quiet in church means being stern—wrong. If we’re in God’s presence, sometimes that leads to repentance and contrition, but it can also lead to great joy.
Every single Sunday is someone’s first time here. To love them, we need to be friendly, outgoing, and learn people’s names. Our office, school, and sacristans need to be happy to greet people—if we’re not, please tell us.
On Christmas, could we park away from the church so as to let guests have better parking spots?
Also, in general, could we sit in the centre of a pew so that people don’t have to jump over us—it’s a way of inviting people to sit with us, and we all want that, right? Right? We need to change our hearts, and not give grouchy looks, because a brother or sister is sitting next to us.
If ever you meet someone new, especially at Christmas Mass, if the opportunity arises, invite them to Alpha on January 9, 2020. That could be the greatest Christmas gift!
Our Name Tag Sunday Team is looking for more volunteers once a month in the cold months because we’ve bought six outdoor patio heaters so that we can gather outside. This is a sign that we’re committed to loving like Jesus, that we’re looking forward to chatting outside and loving each other before and after Mass, and we need some strong people to help us set up and take down these heaters.
Our Hospitality Team is looking for people with the gift of hospitality, because we’re going to start accompanying people with umbrellas from their cars to the door and back again on rainy days, which happens on average 169 days a year here. We’ve bought ten umbrellas so that loving people in this way will be part of our culture!
We’re also going to replace the awning in front of the church, because it’s too small and is leaking. Anthony Lo, our project manager, is asking if anyone knows people who construct awnings. If so, please contact him at the Parish Office.
In two weeks, we’re going to focus on how to invite our loved ones to Alpha on January 9, 2020 because this is the best environment for people to encounter Jesus.
Please do your part. Every little bit makes a huge difference. It’s exciting when all 1000 of us can make this a home of welcome.
In October, a woman came to me and said that one rainy Sunday she was visiting our parish. It was hectic getting out the door with her children: packing all their rain gear, all the items to keep them quiet for Mass, and then to make it on time for Mass in the bad weather. When her husband pulled up the car in front of the church, she rushed out to unbuckle the children, and her thoughts were on how late they were, how wet they’d be, and how to find a seat in a packed church. Right then one of our hospitality ministers met her at the car door with this big umbrella. She didn’t know who he was. I asked, “Was the man good-looking?” She said, “Not at all.” I said, “Must have been Jorge Mundo.” Anyway, he and another woman sheltered her, greeted her (which took her by surprise), and walked her and her two young children to the church, and found them a seat. She said that unexpected hospitality made her feel so grateful and relieved that she felt like crying. Because, you know how we all sometimes come to Mass annoyed? With a heavy heart? It happens to all of us. But Jorge’s act of kindness, that came from his close union with Jesus, touched this woman’s heart and made all the difference.
We can learn from Jorge. Welcome others as Christ has welcomed us.