La Festa Mass – September 1, 2019
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C 

Welcome to our Cathedral Church.  Welcome to your house!  What a wonderful gathering this is as we join together in this sacred space to celebrate our Italian heritage.  And I say “our” Italian heritage because all of us, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, have been shaped by the contributions of the Italian community to the fabric of life in northeastern Pennsylvania.  And our gathering this morning at the start of this festive day reminds us of a very significant aspect of our Italian heritage:  faith – the same faith that not only has its roots in the lives of our ancestors who came to this land many years ago but a faith that still sustains us today in our life’s journey.

Today, for all of those people whom we lift up to the Lord in prayer during this Mass, may we remember in a special way a dear friend and native of Dunmore who was such a treasured presence at this La Festa for many years:  our good friend, Bishop Robert Morlino, who left us too soon this past December.

Please also remember the victims of the most recent shootings in our country that took place in western Texas just yesterday.  May we lift them and their families up to the Lord in prayer and may we pray for the wisdom to address such senseless violence in our land.

Listen once again to some of the words of Jesus in today’s gospel passage from Saint Luke.  Makes perfect sense to me that in the midst of this four day food fest, Jesus would take about food.  But he does so in a rather unexpected way that teaches us a powerful lesson of life.  “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or you’re brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.  Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that in the midst of our feasting – in all that we do – we need to remember who we are.  No matter where we come from, no matter what our status in life may be, we all derive our life from God and are all made in the same image and likeness as the one Creator of us all.  As such, we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that when all is said and done in life, we are all the same – and we are all dependent upon God for our life, our well-being and our salvation.

Very often, however, when we reflect upon the notion of humility that lies at the root of Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel, we tend to think that it demands a type of “doormat” mentality in which we let people walk all over us and dismiss the value of the gifts and abilities that have been given to us by God.  Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth, at least from Jesus’ perspective.

Gospel humility calls us to recognize that all that we’ve received comes as a gift from God – a gift to be used in the same generous manner as Jesus used his entire life in loving, selfless service of the lives that God entrusted to his care.  As such, the only adequate response that we can make to such profound love is to return it, in gratitude, to the lives that God weaves into our own – and to return it not out of obligation but as an authentic gesture of gratitude for all that we’ve been given by God.

Sound like another one of those Gospel ideals that we can’t quite attain?  No.  It’s quite attainable – at least it was for our parents and grandparents who came to this land and lives we celebrate in so many ways today.

I’m certain that not a few of us here today recall first hand stories of true humility, generosity and sacrifice.  My own mother and father told many stories of life growing up in the Great Depression when strangers would knock on their doors looking for food and were invited in to share a meal with their family.  And I personally recall my grandmother telling me how she and my grandfather – themselves poor immigrants from Poland – often welcomed strangers who were in need who happened to be immigrants from countries other than their own.  They may not have been able to understand each other, but they knew that they had an obligation to care for others and to give from what they had been blessed to receive.  Their faith taught them that lesson.  By the grace of God, they understood that while they weren’t hungry that day, they could be the next day.  So they gave thanks – and then shared from the little they had with those who had nothing.

To be certain, times have changed.  Few of us would ever be courageous enough to invite a perfect stranger to sit at table with our families.  Life and society have placed all sorts of obstacles in our paths to challenge the values of our faith.  Yet, for as complicated as life can be, we still have the power – and the obligation rooted in faith – to fulfill the gospel proclaimed this day and to live together as brothers and sisters.

Let’s keep this Gospel challenge in mind particularly today, as our nation confronts the challenge of new immigrants coming to our land.  For as politicized as this issue has become from all sides, recall that at the heart of today’s scriptures is the Gospel tenant that every soul has value and deserves to be treated with dignity for it is created in the image and likeness of God.  And every life is worthy of being treated with respect.  I know we believe that reality with all our hearts.

That means, however, that every parent – a second or third generation American AND a new immigrant who has come to this great land – is entitled to seek to provide for the well-being of his or her children.  …  That means that every child has the right to experience the love and support of a parent.  …  And that means that no immigrant – no person – should fear for his or her life when shopping in a store, walking on the street or praying in a house of worship.

While some of us may argue that times are different today – and they are to some degree – our grandparents and great grandparents saw life differently when they opened their doors to the poor and welcomed them to their tables to share from the little that they had.  They respected life – even when it was a life different than their own.  And they welcomed life – despite the fact that in some instances they themselves were not always welcomed.  Why?  Because they were humble enough to see that their success was not simply the result of their own efforts but due to the hand of God at work in their midst, blessing them in so many ways.

Pope Francis put it best.  “What is God’s plan?  It is to make of us all a single family of his children, in which each person – young and old, new immigrants, the poor and the marginalized – feels that God is close and feels loved by him.  …  The Church is born from God’s wish to call all people to friendship with him.  …  So God impels us to come out of our individualism and from our tendency to close into ourselves and he calls us as brothers and sisters to participate in his one great family.”

May our prayer this day be that we embrace the example of all our loved ones who have gone before us in faith and laid the foundation blocks for this great land.  Like them, may we listen to the word of the Lord Jesus and may we walk in his ways, leading us to serve, to love and to live in peace one with another.