27th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Of all the speeches Pope Francis gave in his time in the United States, my favorite was the one he gave on Saturday night to the world meeting of families.  He had a carefully crafted two page talk which the media had already been given and chose instead to speak way off the cuff.

He mentioned a time when a little five year old boy asked him a question when he was a priest in Argentina.  Francis interrupted himself to say that little children ask the hardest questions.  He ain’t kidding.  I can walk into a high school theology class and handle every question and I can deal with our fifth graders at our school.  But those little ones…So this kid asked him, “Padre, what did God do before the world was created?” See what I mean, those little rascals.  Padre Bergoglio hesitated and finally responded, “He loved.  He loved because God is love.  He loved and the love overflowed and because love is always reaching out, never about the ego, that love had to love something.  So God created us.”  Doesn’t that make sense? It has the added advantage of being true.   That love was then put at the heart of a family. And when Christ came into the world, he did not enter as a fully formed heroic figure, but as a baby born into a family.  Thus, for every struggle and every challenge each family faces, there is only one truth that can solve it.  The love that is at the origin of family. We must always go back to that original love to be successful families.

Then he caught himself, and said, “You might be thinking these are all beautiful words about the family, but what do you know?  You are single.” And I am single too and there is no more important family to me than this parish.  We often talk about our parish in the context of a family – the parish family of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.  To call a parish or the Church a family is an analogy and all analogies fall short at some point.  But I think it is a pretty fair one.  Families like churches have a common origin.  The best of families like churches have a common mission. And families like churches both include, let’s say a wide variety of personality types, some of which we are more of less comfortable with.  That is about how gently I can say that.

So I thought I would take a few minutes to discuss some points that make a family successful and see if they apply to the parish as well.  First, families have to master the art of loving while not liking.  Not everyone likes everyone in their family all the time.  Sometimes the one you love seems to be a block to any happiness at all.  A parent pestering you to do your homework or not giving you the freedom you think you deserve; a child not doing their homework; or a spouse in a bad mood.  We must remember the one showing their ugliest face is the one we love.  We recall that the bond of love is greater than the moment.  We remember that they are there because God gives us our family as gift.

Our parish is made up of all different people, of all different opinions just like a family.  I hate it when people refer to liberal Catholic or conservative Catholics because that means we are not really catholic at all.  Can we accept and indeed love the one we disagree with because we know who made us, to whom we belong and what binds us together is the very love of God?  Can we strive the see the face of the God in the other I do not know or like?

Successful families know how to grow, to admit new members. This is often a challenge.  When I do a baptism, everyone is happy with the family growing.  It is not always true with in-laws though.  No institution is as tradition conscious as the family.  To let in someone who does not know the rules or are unfamiliar with the dynamics of a family can be seen as a threat.  The best of families adjust the membrane to allow others in.  They make room and accept the gifts of their newest members rather than warily eyeing their differences.  They maintain their center and grow in their richness.

Can our parish family and the Church do the same thing?  Can we accept those who think and live differently than we do and invite them to be part of our family?  Can you do it if their lifestyle or politics are a difficulty to you?  Can you do it if it might shake your perception of Church?  I believe that everyone God calls to this assembly has some blessing to share with us and I believe that everyone in this assembly, everyone gathered around this table, is called by God.  They must be accepted because they will contribute to how we grow and when we grow, we grow toward God.  Yes, even the person who has committed the most hideous sin of all, the person who sits in our seat at our mass – even they deserve to be loved.

Finally, families must be encouragers of hope without failing to lose sight of where each person is right now.  Great families lift horizons to the future while lending a hand in the present.  If your fourth grader is having trouble with their homework, it is all well and good to let them know they are smart and caring with a wonderful future in front of them full of life and love.  But it won’t make much a difference unless you actually help them with their homework. Great families tell the true story of each person’s goodness and specialness even as they look and aid them in their weaknesses.

So must our church family. Pope Francis is fond of quoting the letter of St. James.  “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?”  We as a church must meet people where they are at so they might know where they are headed.  We must nourish the body and the imagination.  We must marvel at their incredible destiny, see in them unrepeatable gifts and still be able to soothe the wounds they carry from family, from life and even our church.

What if we were the best families we could be?  What if we were the best Church we could be?  What if we were the best parish we could be?  What if they said of your family and our church – there you are always welcomed; there you are always fed; there you are always loved.  What would our world look like?  How redeemed we would be.  How blessed in our families and in our church to be the body of Christ.

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