The First shall be last

We are now in week 3 of our homily series on hospitality. Last week Bill spoke about living out our vision as a parish and the need to demonstrate love, joy and excitement as we venture through the community(s) mission of making disciples. Bill also said that we must sacrifice ourselves in making this vision and hospitality a reality in our parish.

In today’s gospel Jesus presents to us a concept that is truly counter cultural. He tells us that, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” This is truly contrary to the world’s thinking these days which is a “me first culture” and selfish ambition to be greater than others. Such attitude says St. James leads to jealousy and fighting. He invites us to serve one another in love. In other words, those who are leader or aspire to be leaders in our church or society must first be servants. St. Gregory the great was the first Pope to have called himself the “Servants of the Servants of God”.

The main point stressed here is that, in the Kingdom of God, there is no room for those who seek their own fame, glory, or comfort. No wonder when the apostles were arguing who is the greatest, Jesus “Taking a child, placed it in their midst, and putting His arms around it, said to them, ‘Whoever does not receive the kingdom like a child will not enter the kingdom of God. The little ones are the children, but those that are forgotten or cast aside in our society are the little ones as well. We must welcome them into our parishes and cover them with kindness and hope. Fortunately, many pastoral ministries in our parish are serving the poor and the needy in different ways. Such groups as St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Catholic Women’s League and the Knights of Columbus, etc. We appreciate all the services they provide and encourage all our

parishioners to continue promoting the culture of service and hospitality to enable us build a healthy faith community devoid of jealousy and selfish ambition.

Pope Francis recently spoke about Hospitality being a Christian virtue. He warned that it runs the risk of being left aside and being lost. We often define hospitality as offering guests food, drink and caring for their needs. True hospitality, however, involves more than these actions. True hospitality is making someone feel as part of the family in your home or parish and sharing the good news of God’s love with them.

I would like to illustrate how important hospitality is with two examples. One is from my life and the other is from a good friend’s experience.

I recall visiting a church out in Saskatchewan 20 some years ago. It was the first time there and I was a bit nervous and I didn’t know a soul. I walked into the church and was immediately greeted by someone who asked me who I was, and they told me a bit about the church. From the first moment I walked in that church, I felt the warmth and the welcoming joy of community. No word of a lie, it took me 15 minutes to get from the foyer to the sanctuary, because I suddenly had a flock of new friends. It was a lovely relationship with that church, and community that lasted the whole time I was there. Truly there was an atmosphere of welcome, and service. However, it is not just about bringing people into the church for the first time, it is about nurturing and caring for each other long term, as we continue on our Christian journey. A very good friend of mine grew up in an evangelical church. About 30 years ago she married very young and by the age of 19 she had two children. Everything was fine in her church until she ended up being separated and eventually divorced from her husband. After all that happened to her, the church community turned their back on my friend and suddenly she was a single mom

with no community support. The ramifications of that have left scars that lasted to this day. After many years she has gone to church again, but there are still some weeks when she says, “I can’t do it this week.”

For me, these are two examples of just how important our mission to make disciples is, and the result of how our actions may affect people’s relationship with God. Our actions can make guests who are still searching to decide whether or not they would continue on the journey. Hence, as a community we will become hospitable if every parishioner can share the same passion for inviting and welcoming our guests as if they are family members. There is no room for being territorial when we are inviting others to sit at the table of the Lord with us.

I really relish my role as a Deacon, and having a chance to serve here at St. Thomas More Parish. In a very real sense I have one foot as a member of the clergy, and I get to experience the blessings of that, and I have the other foot in the laity, so I get to experience the blessings of that as well. And I feel I understand the nervousness and anxiety we might feel going outside our comfort zones in order to be welcoming in our parish. I studied for around 7 years to be a Deacon and I recall being so nervous the first time I went to a wake at a funeral home. I remember thinking I could use 7 more years of preparation. It’s not easy to go outside our comfort zone. If you’re like me, sometimes you are unsure of how to take the first step, and move outside your comfort zone. That for me, is the perfect time to take your hesitation and uncertainty to prayer, and ask the Lord to help guide you in how you can help the newcomer into our parish, or any of the “little ones” that walk through the door. We encourage everyone to try to meet someone new every week or whenever we have our coffee social. Commit to pray for

that person throughout the week, and say hello to them the next Sunday or give them a call to check on them if you have their number.

Let us pray today for the grace to grow in faith together and to share our joys, our sorrows, and to encounter Christ, to joyfully share his love, and to make disciples in his glory. We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN!

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