GOD IN OUR MIDST
You Are Hereby Invited
By Alice Camille

I admit to having turned down a few dinner invitations in my life, sometimes with white-lie excuses that must have been transparent to the hostess: "Wednesday is my laundry night." "I promised to call my aging mother (who's not that old)." "I'm in the middle of the latest issue of the Medical Mission Sisters' newsletter and can't put it down." I mean, the Sisters are great people and I deeply admire their work, but really.

Having used the technique of ditching social obligations myself, I can spot a faker a hundred yards off.

Take the folks in the parable of the Great Feast (Luke 14:14-24). What amateurs! As the story goes, somebody decides to throw a terrific bash and invites everybody who's anybody to come. But one by one the guests offer their lame regrets.

One person just invested in some real estate and says she has to go look at it. Go look at it? You mean to tell me she bought a piece of property sight unseen? The second guest comes up with a similar bit of jive: He's bought some farm animals and has to inspect them—like he didn't do that before he signed the contract. And the last one is the biggest laugher of all. A man recently married; that's it. So, he can't leave the house to go to dinner? He can't bring his wife?

In the story, the host is understandably enraged by these tattered attempts at dodging his party. He reissues his invitation, this time to the most unlikely folks in town, those too poor or unfortunate to be included on most society A-lists. And even when they arrive, there is still room at his table. So the final invitation goes out, this time to total strangers encountered on the roads and sleeping in the bushes.

Just Picture It

Somewhere in the corridors of art history, there must exist a painting of this rollicking, serendipitous feast. I haven't seen it, but I love to envision it in my mind: people with missing teeth or missing limbs or both; those who've ended up on the sad side of violence; folks just out of jail or on their way to it; victims of poor health and folks ravaged by demons and addictions; those without money or luck or brains; a lot of people with a story to tell, just like yours and mine, but for one fatal bend in the road.

Some of the guests at tables like this will make it back on top, with or without help. Some will never see daylight again. But the moral of the story is that somewhere there's a celestial table to which these folks, by name or en masse, have been invited, and they will be welcomed there as heartily as if they were celebrities. And a lot of people who think of themselves as desirable dinner companions will not be welcome, because they already had their chance— and turned it down.

Make Your Reservations

Someone dining with Jesus on the night he told this story remarked, "Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God" (Luke 14:15). Absolutely—if you don't mind rubbing elbows with those who've been shunned by the best people in all the finest places.

The only way for us to get a seat at this table is to befriend those second- and third-tier guests right now, and to become comfortable and familiar with their company. Because in all honesty, this is one dinner party we don't want to miss. No gathering could be more real, no menu more exquisite and no celebration more compelling than this one. So drop what you're doing, forget the laundry, get the spouse and the kids, and reserve your seats now.

Alice Camille writes a monthly series, “Exploring the Sunday Readings,” as well as the “Testaments” feature in U.S. Catholic magazine, which was awarded Best Column by the Catholic Press Association. She is the author of Invitation to Catholicism: Beliefs & Teachings & Practices and The Rosary: Mysteries of Joy, Light, Sorrow and Glory (both by ACTA Publications).

Next: The Prodigal Son

Questions for Reflection:
• What was the best dinner party you ever went to? Who was present? What was served?

• Who would you be most uncomfortable sitting with at a table? Why? What could you do to raise your comfort level?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from “God in Our Midst.”

FAMILY CORNER
Thanksgiving Thoughts
By Judith Dunlap

We all know the story of the first Thanksgiving. In 1621 grateful pilgrims invited their Indian friends to a feast celebrating their first bountiful harvest after a catastrophic winter. What most interests me are the accounts of the holiday after that first celebration and the lessons they offer.

At the Thanksgiving of 1623, Native Americans were again the honored guests. The pilgrims recognized that they owed their continued existence to the generosity of their neighbors. It's unlikely those same neighbors were invited to the feast in 1676, since one of the things the colonists gave thanks for was their recent victory over the "heathen natives." For years the British governors were welcomed table fellows. But in 1777, the first year all 13 colonies celebrated the holiday, thanks were given for the defeat of the British at Saratoga. Interesting, isn't it, how a guest list can change over the course of history?

You would think we'd have learned by now that last year's enemies often become this year's allies. And that different ideologies and the desire for land and resources can make worthy neighbors into hostile opponents. Maybe this Thanksgiving we can try to apply the lessons learned from American history to the world situation—and not make the same mistakes.

When you thank God for the gifts of freedom and the great bounty of our land, remind your youngsters of the gospel definition of freedom—freedom from fear, violence and want. Remember in your table prayers those who live without these freedoms, and remember to think globally. Perhaps we can make the lives of our great-grandchildren safer by thinking beyond national borders and individual pockets. Their future Thanksgiving feasts may depend on it.

For Family Response:

As a family, decide how you can help a family in need within your own community and in another country. Be creative..

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
Whale Rider
By Frank Frost

Here is a mythic tale that celebrates fidelity to ancient tradition while at the same time accepting change in that tradition. But this does not begin to describe this exquisite gem of a film.

Whale Rider is the story of a girl and her grandfather, the Maori chief of a small New Zealand sea village. The "Whale Rider" of the title is a legendary leader named Paikea, who is a symbol of the ancient mythic traditions of the tribe. "We all came from the whale, the whale came from where we all came from, from where Paikea came."

The question is who will inherit the mantle of leadership in this tradition from the grandfather, Koro (Rawiri Paratene). His son's wife dies in childbirth leaving only a female heir, and his son Porourangi leaves the village to pursue an art career in Europe—but not before naming his daughter Paikea over the objections of her grandfather. Koro is left with only a distant hope that his son will return and remarry to keep the line alive.

"Pai" (Keisha Castle-Hughes in a wonderful performance) is nevertheless raised with deep love by both her grandparents. Koro delights in teaching her the ancient traditions—up to a point. When he sets out to train the village's 12-year-old boys in tribal lore in order to anoint a new successor, Pai tries to join the lessons but is banished from the group.

Pai nevertheless learns the chants and stories by eavesdropping on the classes, avidly listening, unlike the indifferent boys. She enlists her uncle in weapons training, all the while gaining the sympathy of her grandmother, and even the boys. Koro, however, is unbending.

Whale Rider's portrayal of an indigenous culture challenged by the modern world is always sympathetic. For all his blindness, Koro is very loving, and Pai's desire to accept the mantle of leadership is not angry but comes from a growing awareness. In a climactic school speech, Paikea reveals the burden she has come to understand: By being born a girl she has created a problem. "I come from a long line of chiefs," she declares. "By being born I broke the line back to the ancient ones. It wasn't anybody's fault; it just happened."

Whether Koro will accept the possibility that a woman can keep the line alive is a question to the very end. When a herd of whales is beached on the shoreline, the whole village pulls together to nurse the whales with the hope that a tide will pick them up again. They believe that if they can get the leader whale to leave the beach, the others will follow. But their attempt to free the whale fails—until Pai lovingly climbs on its back. The stimulus brings the whale to life and it catches the tide. The village watches in grief as Paikea rides the whale into the deep. Whether, or in what way, she survives is revealed only in the final shot of the movie.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917)

Fearless, determined, feisty. Modest, reserved, humble. Frances Xavier Cabrini was a 5-foot human dynamo who drew on her deep faith and boundless energy to do great things for Christ.

Born in Lombardy, Italy, Francesca was a sickly child. But she was determined to give her life in service as a missionary in China. Failing to gain entrance into existing religious communities because of her poor health, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. She went to Rome to obtain papal approval to undertake missionary work in the Orient. At the request of Pope Leo XIII, she changed directions. "Not to the East but to the West," he told her.

In 1889, Cabrini and a small band of sisters sailed to New York to work among Italian immigrants who themselves were crossing the Atlantic in great numbers to escape grinding poverty at home—only to find it in their adopted land. The greeting Frances and her sisters received on arrival was grim, beginning with a bishop who insisted he could not fund their work after all and who failed to see that such work could be done by women anyway.

Undaunted, Cabrini boldly marched forward. Living for a time in tenements in "Little Italy," she and her sisters begged from door to door. Soon, she established a school, then an orphanage, then another school. In 1892 she opened Columbus Hospital in New York; first came the building, later, amenities like gas, water and money to keep it running. In all, she founded 67 hospitals, orphanages and schools on three continents.

She became a naturalized citizen in 1907. At her canonization in 1946, Pope Pius XII named her the "first citizen saint" of the U.S. She is the patroness of immigrants and hospital administrators. Her feast day is November 13.

Sister Maryanne Pierre, O.P.

Bombs and missiles streaking through the sky, wailing air-raid sirens, terrified Iraqi citizens snaking in and out of Baghdad streets to bring injured loved ones to the hospital, panic-stricken women going into premature labor: Sister Maryanne Pierre experienced it all last spring. Firsthand.

As supervisor at St. Raphael Hospital in central Baghdad, she was determined to serve her people without interruption (just as she did during the first Gulf War). The three-story facility remained open day and night throughout the combat and the looting that followed. It was—it is—her responsibility as a "humanitarian," she told Every Day Catholic. "We are happy and proud the hospital remained open."

Those days were full of "terrors, panic and fear," recalled the Baghdad-born nun, a member of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation. "We were praying always, lighting candles." Sister Maryanne pictured Jesus at Gethsemane and, like him, prayed that "this cup be taken from me."

God heard her prayers. The hospital suffered minimal damage from the bombing. U.S. Marines helped keep looting to a minimum. New life came, too: More than 300 babies were born each month during the bombing.

Today, St. Raphael's faces new pressures. Water must be purchased daily. An electric generator produces power. Medicine and equipment are in short supply. But Sister Maryanne Pierre is a woman of prayer. And of hope: When the time is right, she says, "We have our own piece of land adjacent to the hospital suitable for building."

(Every Day Catholic made contact with Sister Maryanne through the help of Caritas Iraq. Its U.S. counterpart is Catholic Relief Services.)



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