GOD IN OUR MIDST
Called to the Banquet
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

God does not love us because we deserve it. God loves us because we need it. Does that sound startling? It shouldn't. If there is one prime idea in the Bible, it is God's undeserved love for what God has created.

There is no accounting for God's love. God's love is not earned. There is nothing we can do to attain it or even to lose it. All we can do is surrender to it, trust it and let it flow through us.

The significant difference in this world is not between those who are worthy of God's love and those who are unworthy. (In truth, we are all various degrees of unworthy.) The significant difference is between those who know and enjoy God's love and those who do not know and do not enjoy it. God does not love us because we are good. We are good because God loves us. That is a major transformation of consciousness! It moves us from life as an obstacle course to be endured to life as a banquet to be eaten and shared.

It can be difficult for us to be comfortable with this truth. This is especially so if we have come to think in terms of a merit system where we can change God's feelings about us by doing good or doing evil. We cannot absorb the good news through conventional thinking, but rather the gospel must subvert our normal patterns of merit, reward and punishment.

Before conversion, we tend to view God as a parent who controls and punishes and rewards according to usually very legitimate criteria. How else could we think? But God's love doesn't work that way. We can never keep our side of the bargain, never measure up, never be good enough. But that does not keep God from loving us.

Covenant of Love

This is what makes the Bible absolutely extraordinary and different from the other literature of the world. The meritocracy system has been destroyed once and for all! It is the great and central theme of grace: God's unearned favor, the steadfast, unilateral covenant love of God.

Human love depends upon the merits of the object in question: Is the person worthy of my love? Is he/she attractive? It's because we find something good and beautiful that we are attracted to it. That's the only way we know how to love. God's love, however, is completely different because the object does not determine it. It is determined by the subject, by God's self. By loving us, God is being true to God's self more than working out some arithmetic about our degree of worthiness.

Perhaps nowhere in the Bible do we see God's covenant love manifest more than in the recurring theme of the free but resented banquet. For example, in Matthew 22, the master is sending his servants to call everyone to a wedding feast (note the symbolism of loving union). But, one by one, the invited guests make excuses: One has just bought some land; another has duties of business. They are not interested.

The master becomes furious and sends out his servants again, this time to the "crossroads in town" to collect "everyone they could find, bad and good alike." The banquet hall is finally filled not with worthy people but with willing people!

God's Inclusiveness

Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus constantly enacting this banquet symbolism. Along with the little child, it seems to be his primary audio visual aid. He eats with sinners, invites the outcasts to share a meal with him, does not wash his hands or the food, allows a woman at a male symposium meal, apparently gives "communion" to Judas. He is always expanding the meaning of the table, even breaking clear social conventions, to communicate the hospitality and inclusivity of God.

If we are grateful for and deeply confident in God's grace, we will spend our lives trying to give back to others what has been so graciously given to us.

RICHARD ROHR, a Franciscan priest from Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. His newest book is Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Listen to a RealAudio excerpt from Father Richard Rohr

(Taken from New Great Themes of Scripture, a 10-part audiocassette series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090, $49.95.)


Questions for Reflection:

  • When have you been surprised by undeserved love? How did you respond?
  • What opportunities do you see in the near future "to give back to others what has been so graciously given" to you?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection
from GOD IN OUR MIDST.

 

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FAMILY CORNER
Extending the Invitation
By Judith Dunlap

God calls each of us to a close, intimate relationship. Toddlers and teens, grown-ups and elders are all invited to this banquet of love. The invitation is extended in all sorts of ways: through Scripture and study; through friends, relatives and acquaintances; in quiet spaces and noisy places.

But God especially counts on parents to issue the invitation to children, introduce them to a loving God and nurture the relationship with Jesus begun in Baptism. Our Church baptizes infants because we trust that children will be nourished by their parents' faith until they are old enough to claim their own.

How is this done? Three ways come to mind: home environment, family ritual and, most important, personal witness.

A Christian home environment is easily created. A cross or crucifix, Bible or blessed palms are all reminders that God is with us. Family rituals and prayers are also a simple way of bringing God into everyday lives. Saying nightly prayers and lighting Advent wreaths, for example, can become pleasant childhood memories that set patterns for life.

A Christian environment and family rituals offer subtle reminders of God's presence. But the most effective way for children to know who God is and what God asks of them is by listening and watching the people who are most important to them. If God is going to be a reality in their lives, children must see in actions and hear in words that God is a reality in the lives of their mothers and fathers. For children, God's invitation to a forever relationship is best delivered personally through the example and witness of their parents.

 

For Family Response: What have you said or done in the last week that helped other family members get to know God better?

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

 

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MEDIA WATCH
Spy Kids
By Frank Frost

In Spy Kids, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has created a family classic that is as thoroughly modern as it is traditional.

The tradition lies in the primacy of family as treasure.

The movie begins with Ingrid Cortez telling her two preadolescent children, Carmen and Juni, a "story" about two 007-quality international spies who fall in love and then decide to tackle the "most difficult and dangerous mission of all"—marriage and a family. A spy career may be exciting and challenging, Ingrid says, but "parenthood is a compelling career in its own right."

Ingrid's story turns out to be "true," and when the parents of Carmen and Juni Cortez take on one final mission, their children are sucked into the maelstrom.

The two get rocketed into virtual reality. They encounter a wide variety of bad guys: some who are human who are not what they seem, others robotic creations. Chief among the humans is Floop, a fey host of a children's show that Juni watches religiously. But unbeknownst to Carmen and Juni, Floop has captured their parents, from whom he seeks an artificial brain that will empower an army of robotic spy children and unleash an unstoppable army at the service of evil powers.

But Floop himself, it turns out, is really the dupe of an evil assistant, and in the end turns his energies from evil to goodness, thanks to the inspiration of the "spy kids," Carmen and Juni.

The totally unabashed values of family love and solidarity become totally cool through the film's thoroughly modern idiom. The fantasy story is wrapped and spun in colorful visual graphics, nonstop action and unbelievable feats, and a good dose of humor. It capitalizes on cyber gadgets and high-tech sight gags. In its most up-to-date way it also presents to kids the question of what is real and what is illusion. Floop's seemingly idealistic admonition to his audience of children, "Believe in your dreams," takes on a novel twist. When Floop is overthrown by his evil servant he is imprisoned in virtual reality, only to be rescued by a child. Manipulative adults are not what they seem to be. Media reality deceives. Only the reality of family triumphs.

Noteworthy is the film's natural biculturalism. The Latino flavor is subtle and always present, but the story is universal. The father's name, Gregorio Cortez, is reminiscent of legend—and gives a wry second level of meaning to Juni's grouse, "What's so special about being a Cortez?"

The story is such an enjoyable roller coaster of live action, computer graphics and special effects that only the most surly viewer will find fault with the totally up-front moral at the end. When Carmen and Juni are asked by the powers-that-be to go solo in place of their parents on a new mission, they respond, "You want one of the Cortezes, you take us all. This is the power of family."

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SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)
In the 24 short years she lived, Kateri Tekakwitha experienced and accomplished more than many of us do in a full lifetime.

Born in what is now upstate New York to a Christian Algonquin mother and a non-Christian Mohawk chief, she was orphaned at age four. The smallpox epidemic that took her parents and younger brother left her with a disfigured face and impaired eyesight. Rather than live the conventional life of a married woman in the Mohawk tribe, she chose a bold, unorthodox path.

Drawn for some time to the teachings of Jesuit missionaries, she asked one of them to give her instructions in the Catholic faith. She was baptized at age 19, taking the name Kateri. Shunned and abused by members of her family for embracing the faith, Kateri made the 200-mile trek to a Christian Indian village near Montreal.

Now that she was able to freely live her faith, Kateri devoted herself to serving needy Native Americans. She grew in holiness under the guidance of spiritual directors, including an older Iroquois woman. Kateri gained a reputation in the village as a woman of prayer and penance who lived an austere lifestyle. At age 23 she took a private vow of chastity, again an unexpected choice for an Indian woman who would be expected to depend on a husband for her support. When she died one year later she was immediately regarded as a saint.

In 1980, exactly 300 years after her death, Kateri Tekakwitha was beatified by Pope John Paul II, making her the first Native American so honored. Prayers continue for her canonization. Her feast is July 14.

Father Daniel Coughlin
Vicky Blair
Vicky Blair can still remember being drawn to the statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha during her grade school days at St. Michael School in Arizona on the Navajo reservation. Something about the Native American woman it depicted intrigued the young girl.

Kateri's life and legacy continue to speak to Mrs. Blair today as an adult, and keep her praying and working for her canonization.

Active in the Kateri Circle at her parish of St. Isabel's in Lukachukai, Arizona, Mrs. Blair, a member of the Navajo tribe, looks forward to celebrating the first Native American saint. Even today, 350 years after Kateri lived, she relates to her "as a strong woman of faith. She was a Native American but she was Catholic too." There is no contradiction between the two, Mrs. Blair told Every Day Catholic.

The mother of four adult children, Mrs. Blair and her husband, Hank, own one of the two trading posts in their community. When she is not behind the counter waiting on customers, she is often found assisting at her parish, visiting the sick and elderly or passing along quilting skills to young mothers in the community. She also serves on the board of Talbot House, which serves the families of alcoholics. In May she participated in a 100-mile Walk for Wellness to raise awareness about the alarming increase in diabetes among members of the Navajo nation.

This month brings the annual meeting of the national Tekakwitha Conference in San Diego. Mrs. Blair will be there, celebrating her Native American and her Catholic traditions—and, no doubt, praying that the Church will soon name its first Native American saint.

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