Saturday after Ash Wednesday
One of the messages of today’s Gospel was recently addressed by Pope Francis. "If we don’t feel in need of God’s mercy and don’t think we are sinners, it’s better not to go to Mass." In some ways, it was a little hard to hear Pope Francis’ words. Even though we begin the Mass by confessing we are sinners, sometimes we think of ourselves as the "good guys" and others, those who don’t come up to our standards-that is those who don’t pray as we do, dress like us, donate enough, behave as we do- as the "sinners." Like it or not, we need to remember that we are sinners just like everyone else and that we join together in communion as a body of repenting sinners.
That is what Francis has been preaching through his words and actions since becoming Pope and that is the message that resounds through the New Testament. Francis speaks loudly by washing the feet of the poor and the imprisoned, by reaching out to the disabled, and by saying to the world, "who am I to judge?"
And today Jesus gives us the example of eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners. Not only does he sit at table with them, but He tells us that this is the very reason he came.
As disciples of Jesus, we not only need to acknowledge that we are indeed sinners, but also that we are given the charge to follow his example. We are called to sit at table with other sinners, to invite other sinners to join us at Eucharist, to be one with them- we are called to truly and completely welcome all into our church family. As Francis asks, "Does the Eucharist we celebrate lead me to consider all of them [sinners] as brothers and sisters? Does it increase my ability to rejoice when they do and to weep with those who weep?"
And aren’t we, as sinners, further called to go out from our churches, from our homes, from our safe lives to reach out to our fellow sinners, inviting them into our Eucharist, and to join us on our journey to find salvation. After all, Jesus, did not stand on the steps of the temple, saying to people, "come in" – but rather he went to them- in their villages, in their homes – sharing with them the Good News! May this Lent be a time of increased evangelization in our churches as we go forth proclaiming Jesus through our words but especially through our actions.
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.