September 23, 2018
Jesus sat down with his friends and followers, took a child into his arms, and said to them, “whoever receives a child such as this, receives me.”
I learned the raw, core meaning of this passage in 1982 from the Catholic community of St. Patrick in Spokane, Washington. This was our parish at the time when our first son, Nicolo, was born. The community embraced him and claimed him as their own, as they did with other babies born to families in the parish. With frozen casseroles, a strong mom’s support network, ongoing offers for babysitting, and a simple desire to catch a glimpse of the new baby, the people of St. Pat’s claimed him as their own.
And on the day he was baptized, the community literally wrapped their arms around him, and cheered, and clapped, and proclaimed that as we receive Nicolo . . . we receive Jesus.
And their claim on him lasted for years. I told you, didn’t I, that when Nicolo was a teenager we took a trip back to Spokane. We had moved here to Portland about ten years earlier. When we went back to Mass at St. Pat’s all these parishioners, especially the women, wanted to hug him and hold him and tell him what he meant to them back when he was born and baptized. Of course, he hated it. What thirteen year-old shy boy wouldn’t? And of course, his parents loved it. What parents wouldn’t thrive on such love and support?
Today, we baptize Natalie, Valentina, Alessandro, Carlos, and Raymond. As a community, we will wrap our arms around you. We will cheer, we will clap, and we will rejoice for as we embrace you, we embrace Jesus. And we will pledge our lasting support to you, to your parents and godparents, that we will always be here ready to embrace you and receive you. For you see, we need you. We need you to be the face of Jesus for us. Your faith is new and fresh and untainted. We need to be reminded that our relationship with God and the church can be renewed and refreshed in these troubling times.
Allow me to pivot from our Gospel story where it is a child who is the focus of the lesson, and it’s easy for me, for us, to make it a sentimental moment. I plead guilty as I share about my son’s birth and baptism.
But we should be careful about importing our present-day notions of childhood into the gospel landscape. For in those days, children had no status. They were invisible, non-persons of little consequence.
So Jesus taking a child into his arms was surely a shock to his friends and followers . . . who still don’t get what he’s all about. While his disciples are wrangling over who is the greatest among them, Jesus turns to those who are left out, those who are invisible, and wraps his arms around such a one, and pulls him or her into his embrace.
In Jesus’ company the invisible become visible, servants are first, and those with higher status fade into the background.
While my memory of the community of St. Patrick’s in 1982 is one of a charism for embracing and wrapping their arms around new babies and children, today, I clearly see in this place, in the community of St. Charles, a charism for wrapping our arms around those who are left out, invisible, and vulnerable.
I see Barbara McCormick, Donlon & Jean McGovern, and Marianne Bous embracing the many elderly and homebound parishioners by taking communion to them and visiting with them each week.
I see a small, but very enthusiastic group of Latina women and youth who wish to help us wrap our arms around our loved ones who have gone before us through their plans for this year’s Dia de los Muertos Altar (Day of the Dead).
I see one of our small faith groups partnering with our youth in making plans to regularly prepare and deliver food to homeless persons, wrapping their arms around people they don’t even know, but certainly embracing Jesus.
I see a young teenage girl just thrilled to say ‘yes’ when Mayra asked her to help with First Communion candidates this year.
I see Ginny Wilkinson taking it upon herself to welcome new and visiting persons to our Saturday evening Mass.
I see the Multicultural Committee come together each month and wrap their arms around one another’s culture and ethnicity and embrace it as their own, so that all of us, in our ethnic celebrations, can transcend language and culture and truly see Jesus in one another.
I see a whole community that stands at-the-ready to wrap their arms around those in our midst who are vulnerable and in need. For we know, our gut tells us, that they have the most to teach; they show us the face of Christ.
So I invite you to personally take on this charism with these two questions for your homework this week:
So, in just a few minutes we will call out the names of Natalie, Valentina, Alessandro, Carlos, and Raymond, and we splash you with water, rub you with oil, and cheer and clap as we welcome you into our community of faith, and as we do so let us remember our charism for embracing the vulnerable ones, the invisible ones among us.