Today’s reflection is written by guest contributor Mark Hakes (they/them), the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry and Director of the Youth Theology Institute at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. Their work is focused on helping students delve into spirituality, engage in service and justice work, and participate in discernment of identity, values, and vocation.
Today’s liturgical readings for the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found by clicking here.
Throughout the Christian Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus continually call us out of our comfortability and into active justice. As 1 John 3:18 says, “…let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Yes, we are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. We are also called to a radical welcome. A welcome that does not ask someone to change or leave parts of themselves at the door before they can walk in, but one that simply says, “welcome, sit next me.”
In today’s gospel reading, Martha and Mary welcome Jesus into their home, but as the well-known story goes, only Mary sits next to Jesus. In our harried and full lives it is easy to be like Martha. We become so engrossed in the (often important) work we have to do that we lose sight of Christ and the way he is present to us, especially in the people around us.
John Veltri, a Jesuit priest who spent most of his life working in spiritual direction, wrote a prayer that describes how being present to one another is an important part of extending welcome. The prayer begins, “Teach me to listen, O God, to those nearest me, my family, my friends, my co-workers. Help me to be aware that no matter what words I hear, the message is, ‘Accept the person I am. Listen to me.’”
Inclusion is the work of first recognizing all that I bring into a space and then actively listening and inviting others to bring their whole-selves too. It is our divine uniqueness that allows each of us to leave our own indelible mark on the people around us. Or, as St. Francis de Sales once wrote, “Be who you are, and be that well.” This is the spiritual life: to uncover who we are and to journey alongside others as they do the same.
As a queer Catholic who tries to actively live out this extravagant welcome, it’s easy to pat myself on the back at this point, congratulating myself for practicing this kind of radical hospitality, highlighting my embrace of diversity as proof. I know deeply the hurt of exclusion experienced by so many in our churches, and I do not want others to experience the same.
And yet: I was at a hardware store the other day looking at doormats (some of which said “welcome…”) and a man walked into my aisle. The first thing I noticed about him was his red hat, emblazoned with a popular political slogan, and I thought, “Is there room in my church for this man?” In honesty, my answer was no. My judgement was that I would expect him to take off his hat, pocket what I perceive as his hatred, and stifle his opinions before I would welcome him into my pew.
But, the Reign of God cannot be present, cannot exist among us if we do not work to understand each other, if we do not recognize one another as people. To paraphrase 1 John 4:20: If someone claims, “I love God,” but hates their sibling, then they are a liar. Anyone who does not love a sibling, whom they have seen, cannot possibly love God, whom they have never seen.
We only know God in part, in the way She breaks into our lives. When we are freed from our sometimes narrow exclusivity, when we open ourselves to others, especially those who we have difficulty loving, our vision of God is expanded. We need to stop busying ourselves and pay attention to the way Christ is present in the person in front of us.
The book of Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth because the old has passed away. The old heaven and earth are those filled with walls and divisions, insiders and outsiders, those welcome and those shunned. This new heaven and new earth is the Beloved Community, where all people, without regard to any part of them, are welcome. Isaiah 11 describes it like this, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together”, the oil executive and the indigenous leader, the Queer person and the gay-basher, the unarmed black man and the bias-blinded cop, the pro-lifer and the pro-choicer, the ICE officer and the undocumented person. There is room at the foot of the cross for each of us. This isn’t a future vision of a utopian existence: this is what the Church is called to be.
Does Jesus ask us to change the world? No, that’s his work. He doesn’t even ask us to change others. He simply asks us to be in relationship with one another, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. To be who we are as best as we can, to actively listen to the stories and experiences of others, and to invite anyone and everyone to sit in our pew.
—Mark Hakes, July 17, 2022