In the Australian culture, one of the most insulting things we can say to someone is this: ‘You’re a loser!’ It’s just as bad as saying: ‘You’re a no-hoper!’ We often hear this kind of insulting talk on talk-back radio. Such callers not only show how out of touch their simple solutions are to complex problems, but also how rude and nasty they can be to fellow human-beings.
Once upon a time one Sunday morning, a family was rushing from their car to the church. They had been slightly delayed because torrential rain had caused flooding of the local streets and slow driving on the main road. The mum in the family was to be a Eucharistic minister and the dad was scheduled to proclaim the First Reading. As they hurried to the door from the parking lot, they passed a homeless man selling a bi-weekly paper, the proceeds of which went to help the homeless. When they saw him the parents looked the other way and urged their children to hurry up. When their daughter dared to ask why they didn’t buy the paper, the dad replied: ‘That’s just a rip-off. If those people would just get jobs, we wouldn’t have to put up with them in front of our church. They don’t belong here, so we shouldn’t encourage them.’ The dad who prided himself on being an excellent reader, felt very proud of his effort that day, when people told him how well he read the words about the need for humility, gentleness and kindness. In another parish the organisers stopped serving tea, coffee and biscuits after Mass. Why? Because, they growled, ‘the homeless kept coming here for them’.
Such attitudes are the very opposite to those of our Leader, Jesus Christ. During his life on earth, his welcome, hospitality, kindness, understanding, compassion and support, for people who were poor, powerless, broken, rejected, struggling and suffering, were so obvious that he was called ‘the friend of outcasts’. His attitudes are summed up in his advice in the gospel today to his followers, you and me included: ‘When you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’
Fortunately there are still people who take the teaching of Jesus seriously. The former Governor-General, Sir William Deane, a committed Catholic Christian, imitated the humanity of Jesus, in his warmth, care and affection for all kinds of people. He even travelled to Switzerland to grieve with the parents of the young people lost in a fast river following an avalanche, and to hand them sprigs of wattle to place in the stream as mementos of their lost ones. His whole attitude was summed up when for his last official function he invited a group of homeless young people to have lunch with him.
What do people remember and treasure most about the late Diana, Princess of Wales? Wasn’t it her decision to use her worldwide fame and glamour to help the homeless, the sick, the maimed and the suffering? And so again and again we saw her cuddling little babies with incurable diseases, taking off her gloves to shake hands with patients dying of AIDS, greeting the mentally ill with a big bright smile, and running an energetic campaign that took her half-way round the world to rid the earth of land-mines.
A school girl tells of how on her return to class after lunch her pencil case was missing. She told the teacher, who then found out the child who stole it and gave her a dressing-down in front of the whole class. She was from a very poor family. Next day the mother of the first girl went out and bought a new pencil case for the child who had none.
In one suburb a rather wealthy woman lives in a big house on a hill. Not many people know about this, but at night she drives around in a van and gives out sandwiches and hot chocolate to people spending the night in doorways, on park benches, and in tram and bus shelters. In one parish, the priest took out three rows of pews near the front, so that wheel-chair restricted persons would not have to park by the doors like unwelcome guests. Another parish welcomes mentally retarded adults from a local home to Sunday Mass. They make a bit of noise. Some parishioners are not happy about this, but the Parish Council says that the warm welcome tells them that God too welcomes and loves them as they are.
In our neighbourhood, is there someone we are aware of, who regularly gets left out? Could we consider inviting them home for our next barbecue, or having them along to our next picnic, or at least going out of our way to talk with them? Is there someone else who used to be with us at Mass on Sunday, but for whatever reason has dropped out? What about inviting that person to join us once again? Has a new family moved into our area lately? What about going out of our way to meet them and help them settle in? Perhaps with a cake or a casserole thrown in!
Welcome, warmth, and hospitality! They were big things with Jesus. And consistently so! What about us, who have promised to follow him and live like him? Let’s remember that our Holy Communion, i.e. our sharing the food God gives us, the food in which Jesus is really present, is not meant to stop at the altar, but to send us out from our community to be Christ to others, bringing them the nourishment of his welcome, the warmth and care of his hospitality, to anyone and everyone who needs them and needs them now.