Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All are welcome but there are expectations to be part

This past week, I had a rather thought provoking question from one of the parishioners here at St. Thomas. The person asked what it means to sing the Song “All are Welcome” while simultaneously saying that non-Catholics are not allowed to receive Holy Eucharist. How are we building a house where love is found and all are safely led. A place where saints and children dwell and hearts learn to forgive…” if we say to newcomers that they aren’t allowed to share in the seminal experience of catholic liturgy, the Eucharist.

Our readings guide us along the path toward an answer to this ecumenically sensitive question. Both the first reading and gospel deal with situations in which people are doing Godly things in seemingly ungodly circumstances. The first reading tells of a time when Moses’ flock has grown to a point that it was difficult for him to minister to them. So, God takes some of the Spirit that he put on Moses and distributes it to 72 other men. The problem is that, for some reason, only 70 came to the meeting tent where the Spirit was distributed. The other two, Eldad and Medad, were on the list of people invited but they never showed up. It’s not clear whose fault it is that they are absent, whether they weren’t invited or if they were and declined the invitation. Regardless they soon find themselves doing the work of prophesy.

What happens next is very interesting. Joshua, Moses assistant, demands that Moses stop them. Why, you may ask, would he demand this of his superior? It’s important to keep two things in mind about this. The first is that Joshua was a priest, the leader of the group of priests, in fact, who would have been in charge of the meeting tent that held the Ark of the Covenant. So, in Joshua’s mind, it simply doesn’t make sense that something holy could happen anywhere else, let alone in the most secular of all places, in camp. Secondly, since Joshua is sort of a High Priest before the temple High Priests were set-up, Joshua probably thought it was his responsibility to be present for holy things to take place. How could Eldad and Medad have had something holy happen to them if he wasn’t there to witness it. It boggles the mind! Moses’ response to the Joshua’s complaints is profoundly empowering: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his Spirit on them all!”

Similarly, in the gospel, the apostle John hears about someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name who does not follow them. Jesus tells John and the other apostles that, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can, at the same time, speak ill of me… Whoever is not against us is for us.” It seems that Jesus is basically informing John and the other apostles that there is an openness to faith present in this person that should be encouraged and not snuffed out.
If we were to stop there, we may conclude from both of these passages that we, Catholics, have no right to restrict someone from receiving Holy Eucharist. All are Welcome to come to the table of the Lord and receive. Yet, there’s more to the message than just those two quotes. Jesus continues by saying that there are expectations of life for being part of the kingdom of God. One cannot sin and be considered part of the kingdom of God. In rather graphic terms, Jesus tells his listeners that they need to get rid of whatever causes them to sin, whether it be a hand, a foot, an eye, or something else, it’s better to enter the kingdom of God without these things than to be eternally punished with them.

So, All are Welcome in this place but we must be aware of what we are being welcomed to. We are being invited to live a life of conversion. A life that seeks to get rid of anything that gets in the way of our relationship to God. And, while this is not the only place where holy things happen, we know that something uniquely holy happens here. This is where we are reminded of our need to live life simply, both financially and morally. We need to be open to getting rid of what causes us to sin and know that our willingness to do so is what determines if we are in communion or out-of-communion with this community. All are Welcome in this place, true. But, all of us, catholic and non-catholic alike, must know that there are demands put upon us if we intend to become or remain a part of this body of Christ.