When the Catholic Worker House of Hospitality opened in our city, after years of preparation, supporters of the effort hosted a feast for the neighborhood. If guests were able to bring a prepared dish, a loaf of bread or pastry, coffee or tea, they were invited to do so. Those with nothing to bring were equally welcome, however.
Many who attended were newly arrived immigrants, widows, people living in abandoned houses, and the lonely who were isolated from their neighbors.
Those of us who organized the event brought prepared food as well as an openness to all who showed up at the door.
When all the food was spread over the large dining table, everyone held hands in a circle and prayed to God a word of thanks.
As I scanned the several dozen people I was struck by the diversity of the group. Some I knew were rich and well-educated. Others wore what looked to be clothes from a secondhand store. Still others were smartly dressed and coifed. Black, brown, and white faces, their eyes closed in reverence, remained silent as the leader spoke directly to God.
At that moment I was distracted from the prayer and experienced a deep insight: this was the reign of God made visible in our midst. There was no division. No category of human. No class distinction. No us-versus-them. No in-group and no out-group. The love of God in all of us had erased borders and boundaries.
Recalling this beautiful moment, I humbly must disagree with a statement of Jesus’ at the end of today’s Gospel. He states that those who host a feast for the social outcasts will be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
At that moment, in that Catholic Worker House, I was repaid a thousand-fold with the joy of human unity. I didn’t have to wait for the resurrection of the righteous.
An open heart to everyone, a heart that has dispelled fears, prejudices, stereotypes, and categories, is a heart that fully trusts in God. It means rejecting the idols of wealth, power, and status in favor of compassion and humility.
Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, encouraged us to move down society’s ladder in a culture that admires those who are eager to move up it. This means a conversion of heart to become more empathetic, less judgmental, more deferential.
The ability to live this way is a gift from God. And, as Paul writes in today’s Epistle to the Romans, “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
Today let us pray for the grace to be open to the call and gift of God to live lives of compassion and humility, open to everyone we encounter today, whether they have high status of a wealthy executive or are paupers begging on the street.
The reign of God is not prosperity, affluence, influence, and pride. The reign of God is everyone around a table of plenty, sharing our lives without a hint of vanity.
The psalm today says: “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the Lord hears the poor; and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
May God free us from our bonds of isolation, bigoty, and arrogance to be free to reach out to everyone, even our enemies and those who frighten us.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.