20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached August 20, 2017, St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

We hear these words today and they strikes our ears as being beautiful because they are so inclusive – all peoples are included.

Unfortunately, like so many other popular words, the word ‘inclusive’ has become what we could call a ‘slogan word’ and slogans, slogan words, and the slogan mentality are destroying our minds, rendering us incapable of thought, and making us stupid, prey for exploitation by ideologies.

Slogan words in particular become synonyms for ‘good’ and ‘bad’; ‘inclusive’ means ‘good’ and ‘exclusive’ means bad. Therefore the Catholic Church (Catholic means ‘universal’) is bad because, while the Catholic Church truly is a house of prayer for all peoples, we exclude people from the reception of Holy Communion.

So let’s apply our minds and think; let’s think about the actual meaning of inclusive and exclusive. Thinking is a rather dangerous activity in these highly conflicted times; if you dare to think things through you might find yourself lumped together with the various and sundry ‘haters’ – ‘hate’ having become another ‘slogan word’ to be applied to other people. Of course, thinking things through also means that we have to avoid joining the chorus of voices in a shouting match, intent not on truth so much as taunting the “other side”.

So let’s dare to think this matter through.

Let’s start with a group of three friends, seventh grade boys, who all share an interest in the same video games. They might decide to include another seventh grade boy in their group because he shares the same interests. They might exclude an eighth grader because while he shares the same interests, he has been at it longer and will start dominating their games. They might exclude girls because that would introduce a whole different dynamic into their group. Or they might decide it isn’t about playing video games and so they start including other people simply because they like them.

The point is that to be included is be included into something, which is different from something else, which is thereby excluded. The more open the circle of inclusion, the less distinctive the group so finally, if everyone is included inclusion becomes meaningless. If inclusion is good, exclusion can’t be bad because the two go hand in hand. The real question is what people are included in and what is the basis the basis for inclusion and exclusion.

God also practices inclusion and exclusion. All human beings, created in his image, are included in the human race, but other animals, by nature lacking in the power of reason, are excluded. Note well, we are not included in the human race by actually exercising or being able to exercise our reason, but by sharing in human nature, which is characterized by the rational power. So a human child, even in the womb of its mother, is still included in the human race.

Now, since the sin of Adam, being included in the human race means not only the dignity of sharing in the image of God, but also involves sharing in the common inheritance of sin that mars the dignity. To be included in the human race is to be included also in the sinful human race. The other animals are also excluded from sin.

Even the two sinless human beings, Jesus and Mary, belonged to our sinful race, but Jesus by belonging to our race was able to redeem us from sin and the sinless Mary, redeemed beforehand in a unique way, was able to cooperate in the work of redemption in a unique manner.

The attitude of the sinless Jesus and Mary contrasts with those people who would like to exclude others from the dignity of the human race, as though they were the holy ones and the others, those sinners, were to blame for the problems of the world.

Now, during the course of history, God did indeed separate from sinful humanity one people, the people of Israel, to be his own people, to belong to him in a special way, to prepare the world for the coming of his Son, the Savior. All other peoples, the Gentiles, were excluded from the people of God. Now God did not do this because the people of Israel were especially worthy, (cf. Dt 7:7-8) but in view of the salvation of all. Indeed, when he began his work of separation by calling Abraham he promised that in the offspring of Abraham all peoples would be blessed. (cf. Gen 12:3, 22:18)

So, in today’s reading, from the prophet Isaiah, we learn of what was then the future possibility of ‘foreigners’, Gentiles, other peoples, being included in the people of God, so that the Lord’s house would become truly a house of prayer for all peoples.

St. Paul will write to the Gentile Christians at Ephesus these beautiful words that speak of the fulfillment of the prophecy in Jesus Christ: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)

In other words, we are now included, but we are not included in some undefined reality, but in a sacred society built upon Jesus Christ, through the apostles of the new covenant and the prophets of old. As a dwelling place of God in the Spirit we have been redeemed and separated from the mass of sinful humanity; we are not altogether free of sin, but we have been set on the path towards salvation. This is not because we were worthy, anymore than the Israelites were worthy. St. Paul writes, By grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from you; it is the gift of God. (Eph 2:8) If we take our inclusion for granted, then we offend God by failing to recognize and appreciate the gift.

We see also, in the prophecy of Isaiah, that this inclusion, which makes the Lord’s house to be a house of prayer for all peoples, is by no means indiscriminate and unconditional. It requires loving the name of the Lord Jesus and becoming his servant; it requires keeping the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day free from profanation; it requires adhering to his covenant, which is continually renewed in the sacrifice of the Mass; we can say it requires offering an acceptable sacrifice, which means fulfilling the exhortations of St. Paul, confirmed by St. Peter, it means offering our bodies as living sacrifices, through Jesus Christ, the High Priest, who offers himself on the altar, sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God; it means being not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewal of our mind. (cf. Rm 12:1-2; Eph 5:1, 15-20; Col 3:12-17; 1 Pe 2:4-5) That is the incense, so to speak, that makes prayer truly pleasing to God.

All peoples are invited to belong to this new people of God, but not all have accepted the conditions of belonging; not everyone has chosen to enter through the gateway of faith and baptism; not everyone has chosen to worship at the altar of the Lord’s sacrifice.

Those who are excluded have, in fact, chosen to exclude themselves. The Church is Catholic, meaning ‘universal’, because all are invited, but she is not ‘all inclusive’, because some reject the invitation. Even some of those who belong to the visible communion of the Church are excluded from the visible sacrament of communion because of an evident and objective lack of public correspondence with the inner reality of communion.

Let me sum the matter up: all human beings are included in the sinful human race, created in the image of God; inclusion in the Catholic Church, the community of redemption, built upon the Apostles, which in principle is open to all, requires additionally faith, baptism, and communion with the Pope.

Still we should recognize that this inclusion in the Catholic Church is not the final ‘inclusion’; many belong visibly to the Church but lack the inner life of grace, while some lack a full visible communion, but share in the life of grace that belongs to the Church. The final inclusion is inclusion in the heavenly wedding banquet of the Son of God and that requires the wedding garment that is the life of grace. Those who exclude themselves from this banquet will find themselves in the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. (cf. Mt 22:1-14) As the Lord says, Many are invited, but few are chosen. (Mt 22:14)

In this life, all are included in God’s love, because all are included in the offer of grace, but in the end, some choose to exclude themselves from God’s love because they do not like the requirements of love – yes, love actually requires something of us.

Just as all are included in God’s love, all are included in the love of a Mother. The Immaculate Virgin Mary was first the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; through him she has become the Mother of the Church and indeed the Mother of all humanity, of all peoples. Her maternal love works together with the love of her Son; through her maternal love she sweetly invites all of us to a conversion of heart, to accept the invitation of her Son, to put on the wedding garment of divine grace, to let ourselves be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to enter into the eternal wedding banquet.

 

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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