For Sunday, August 21, 2016, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah offers us a vision of utter inclusivity and welcome: “From them I will send fugitives to the nations … and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the LORD” (66:19-20a). Isaiah’s words challenge us given our current world climate of fear and mistrust. Many, if not most, of us want to welcome all of our brothers and sisters, especially those in need due to unjust political and religious situations at home. However, with terrorist attacks and violence that seem rampant, the deeper desire to be welcoming is often overshadowed by the innate human desire for safety and protection. On one hand, this is understandable. On another, we must remember the words of Jesus that also call us to a deeper inclusivity: “People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Lk 13:29-30). While we must be prudent and even cautious, that does not mean allowing fear to get the best of us and replace the acts of faith and inclusion to which our readings call us.
Pope Francis has spoken often about our need to welcome the stranger and see the Church as a mother whose care is expressed with special attention to sisters and brothers who must flee their homeland. They are in limbo, between the home of their roots and the countries that might become new homes for them. When he spoke to the US Congress, Pope Francis said: “In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities” (9/24/15). We are a nation who has welcomed others from our beginning. When Pope Francis welcomed refugees to the Vatican this spring, he put his money where his mouth was, so to speak. His witness is a foretaste of the words from Luke that all will come from east and west and north and south and recline at table in God’s kingdom made visible in that part of God’s reign known as Vatican City.
How do we follow his example? How do we face our fears in ways that help us feel as safe as humanly possible and, at the same time, follow the Pope’s call to find security by giving security? Today’s second reading is our guide: “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him” (Heb 12:5). The discipline of prayer opens hearts and brings before the Lord what we find there—fear and hope—and helps us find strength and courage in the Lord. The discipline of study informs us more fully on issues that can seem daunting or off-putting at first glance. The discipline of dialogue allows truth to surface when we speak honestly and listen openly, especially to those with whom we disagree. The discipline of compassion helps us to feel with another, in the same way we would like others to feel with us. We strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees by taking on these disciplines, like the athlete or musician whose discipline of practice brings freedom and facility in one’s desired goal. Discipline of prayer, study, dialogue, and compassion brings us “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb 12:11b).
Pope Francis models these disciplines for us in his letter to the 2016 Refugee Olympic Team. He wrote the team members: “I have learned about your team and read some of your interviews so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations. I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio—that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity… I pray for you and ask that you, please, do the same for me.”
St. Francis de Sales taught that we should do all through love and nothing through fear. Our readings invite us to live these words and offer the tool of discipline to help us do so. By living what today’s readings invite, Jesus will recognize us, know where we are from, and open the door for us to join the throngs gathered in God’s kingdom.
Rev. Paul H. Colloton, OSFS
O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Collect, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.