Once, there was a man who entered a monastery where they took, among others, a vow of silence. The monks were only permitted to speak to the abbot once every five years, and even then, they were allowed only two words. After the first five years, the monk came to the abbot, who commanded him to speak. He looked at the abbot and said, “Food, cold.”
He bowed and returned to his duties.
Another five years passed, and he came before the abbot again. “Bed, hard,” he told him. Bowing, he returned to his cell.
Again, five years later, he stood before the abbot and declared, “Books, boring.” Again, he returned to his work.
Five years later, he returned to stand before the abbot, and he grunted, “I’m leaving,” and he turned and left the monastery.
The abbot’s assistant looked at the old abbot and scratched his head. “What was that all about? You’re just going to let him go?”
“I sure am,” the abbot replied. “He has done nothing but complain since he got here!”
Today, we begin our homily series, which we are calling “Be Positive!” Over the next four weeks, we want to explore with you the positive aspects of our Catholic faith and how we can live it more optimistically. Sometimes, like that poor monk, we can look at our faith and all of our rules and guidelines and see nothing but negativity – “Thou shalt not…” This can then have a way of affecting how we view God and others, and, like that monk, lead to our being more miserable to be around than others.
One of the things that Pope Francis has been trying to do ever since he was elected is to help us – and the world – see that faith in Jesus Christ is life-giving, not life-limiting. For us, who call ourselves disciples of Jesus, God is not some far-off Deity who is veiled behind a curtain like the Wizard of Oz. Rather, He is accessible, present, here with us – as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us today:
“[Y]ou have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”
Sometimes we forget this. God wants us to realize that He is near – He is accessible, and He wants us to come to Him. If not, then He would not give us His very Self in order to free us from the burden of sin and bring us redemption and salvation. He would not pay that price for us.
But He did!
And this Jesus, the Son who died for us, also calls us to join Him at the table. What is more positive than that? Our Lord wants us there with Him, so He walks with us and invites us, as He did in the Gospel last week, and again today. There are no exclusions; we are welcome. And it breaks my heart when I hear of people feeling embarrassed or excluded from coming to Mass because they have nothing to give in the collection or because they are somehow a terrible sinner. I’ll say this to you now, and I want you to share this with your family, friends and neighbors:
You are positively, absolutely welcome!
In fact, these are the “little ones” that Jesus will speak of in the Gospel. They are the ones who “humble themselves” as Sirach teaches today, and they are immensely loved by God.
Speaking of the Gospel last week, the Holy Father said, “Jesus does not exclude anyone. Some of you might say to me, ‘But Father, surely I am excluded, because I am a great sinner. I have done so many things in my life.’ No, you are not excluded! Precisely for that reason you are preferred, because Jesus prefers the sinner, always, in order to pardon him, to love him. Jesus is waiting for you, to embrace you, to pardon you. Don’t be afraid: He’s waiting for you.”
Our faith is not one that should exclude anyone, because the Church is the extension of the saving work of Jesus, who invites all to the banquet – especially the broken. Many people have an image of the Church as a restrictive and exclusive community, and we have often not done anything to discourage this sort of view. But I want to challenge us all to turn that around.
What good is God doing for you right now? What good are we going to do for others – because our faith calls us to do that – particularly for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the different, the broken and the forgotten.
Think of a world where all of these – and us! – know that God loves us infinitely and passionately! This would be a world where the Father, who calls us all to His table, sees us and says to us, “My friend, move up to a higher position,” because we are all His children, loved with the powerful love of this God who does not exclude.
During these weeks of positive reflection on our faith, let’s strive to see the good in ourselves, the good in one another, and above all the good in our loving God, who looks on us as His beloved children. In this Eucharist, we are fed with the life of God, and empowered with a positive Spirit to go forth and show the world how good God truly is.