Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me
This weekend, St. Joseph is welcoming Father Joseph Dube, a missionary priest who comes to us from the northern part of Nigeria—the part that has been overrun by Islam and, sadly, by terrorism. His parish has been burnt down, his rectory has been torched, and now, in order to remain safe, he must travel upwards of 100 miles in order to offer Holy Mass on Sunday—a rugged journey which is further complicated by having to hitch a ride (or borrow a motorcycle—he has no car) and by having to watch his six. (He’s been captured three times by Islamic groups).
So, when I picked up Father Joseph from the airport in my Honda Civic, he sat down and said, “Nice car.” Now, much to my embarrassment, I’ve been thinking about “trading up.” The car is nearing 100,000 miles, it’s starting to need more maintenance, it’s not a quiet interior, and it pulls a little to the right. I forget what a blessing it is to have a car that goes. And to have good roads. And to not have to worry about being captured on my (very short) commute to offer Holy Mass. I mean, when was the last time I had to hitch a ride to travel 100 miles through enemy territory to go to Holy Mass?
After picking Father up from the airport, I brought him to the rectory and I showed him the guest room. I apologized that the room was small. After all, it was smaller than my room. (And isn’t that interesting? We give our guests the smaller spaces in our homes when they visit…). Father laughed: “This isn’t small; thank you for the room!” Later in the weekend, I realized why he laughed at my apology. He showed me before-and-after pictures of his rectory. The “after” was a burned-out mess. The “before” wasn’t all that much better—at least by our standards. I forget what a blessing it is to have a bed, a dresser, carpeting, electricity, and plumbing.
In full disclosure, I wasn’t thrilled to be taking in a missionary this weekend—and even less thrilled that he would have to stay the entire week. “God,” I complained, “I have enough on my docket of things to do; I don’t need to host a missionary.” Missionaries are oftentimes needy: they don’t know people here, they don’t have a car to “help themselves,” they rely on their host priests to feed them, etc, etc, etc. In other words, “God, I don’t have time to take care of a child.”
And then, the Gospel:
Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.
That, boys and girls, is what we call humble pie. I was totally humbled. It wasn’t a missionary I was receiving into the rectory this week. Even less was it a child. I was receiving Jesus. Really, truly, Jesus: poor, persecuted, a stranger, in need of shelter, and food, and drink.
Whatever you did to these least ones, you did unto me.
I was reminded of my time when I lived at St. Patrick’s in Wentzville when I was still a seminarian. The rectory sat at the confluence of two major interstates. Because of that, we saw many itinerant and poor people. Our doorbell was busy. One day, as I sat studying in the kitchen, one of the priests was making lunch and the doorbell rang. This priest could have been upset because it’s lunch and this is an inconvenience and another lunch is going to have to wait for a half-hour and he’s hungry, etc. But, instead, he immediately stopped making his lunch and turned towards the door. And I heard him say under his breath—lovingly—“I am coming, Jesus.”
That’s true vision. That’s where true charity comes from.
Listen to St. James’ question again when he asks:
Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Yes, where does our lack of peace come from? He says it comes from our passions—our jealousy, our envy, our seeking to be first, to be Numero Uno. How unhappy we are because we are always looking at the BBD—the bigger, better deal. The new car, the bigger space, the things that “the Jones’” have.
I forget. I forget that everything that I have is from God. The wage I made when I was “out there” as a teacher—it was God’s. He gave me the talent to teach. It was His talent, His money. I mean, why wasn’t I born in Nigeria or with some a lower intelligence? I could have been. But God chose me to be here, with these talents, with these treasures. I am a steward. A servant of these treasures, these mysteries.
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
It is here that the Gospel hits me: Jesus asks me to be generous to the child, to the missionary, to the stranger and so on—He asks me to be generous to these “little ones” because the reality is: He has been generous to me. I am the little one. Indeed, I am nothing. Jesus welcomed me in. Jesus has fed me day after day after day. Jesus has given me drink and housing and the car and these talents. He has lavished grace upon grace upon me.
This is not a guilt-trip or “feeling bad” because I have these things.
Rather, He has placed me in a position to become one with Him in His inner life of charity. Amen, as I give, I receive a share of what it is to be like God who is so generous. To feel the effects of sacrificial charity—whether the pain of the giving or the joy of seeing another receive—which, in turn, draws me deeper into His very life and deepest mystery of Himself which is Love.
Strange: to lower myself, to become a servant of all, results in exultation and glory—not only in the one who lowers himself, but also for the “little one” who has received the treasure; they too are raised.
Generosity, therefore, builds up. It elevates! It is joyful!
What a contrast to the destructive bitterness of covetousness and envy and jealousy and hoarding!
Lord, save us from the passions that bloat us with stuff! Help us to give, to give and love and to not count the cost. Indeed, that we may see the glory and the joy of charity! Lord, help us to receive you this day and always!