The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Unexpected Guest

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Through the glass doors of the reception hall he viewed the feast. The party was not his. Like most things this was another event where he was not invited. Living life on the margins and in the shadows had excluded him from most special occasions. Dressed in baggy sweats and a well-worn teeshirt he certainly was not attired for this austere reception of the newlyweds. But when one is homeless vanity and pride seem to wane with the repeated assaults on dignity. His presentation meant little.

His focus was on the buffet, and in particular a small mountain of dinner roles toward the end of the line. The guests had long made their way through, and now only a straggler to the reception or a bored guest visited the bounty of food that remained. All eyes were on the people dancing or engaged in dozens of private conversations. No one would notice. He made his move and quickly entered the noisy reception hall and made a beeline to the bread. With little deliberation he snatched a roll and exited the room as quickly as he had entered.

He sat on a concrete bench just outside the hall and consumed the roll. When he was done, it was time for seconds. He made his way to the door and his eyes darted from one end of the room to the other checking to see if he would remain invisible as he so often seemed to be. Again he entered and made his way to the buffet, but this time he encountered a man dressed in a tuxedo. He paused, but then the man motioned him to come forward.

"Wait here, I'll get you a plate." was all he said.

Was it a trap? Was the man really going to call the police? He must have thought of bolting, but then he may have thought what did he really have to lose. A minute later, the man in the rented tux reappeared with two large paper plates.

"Please help yourself. You're welcomed here."

The homeless man never said a word. He took one of the plates and piled it high with a variety of selections from the spread before him. Chicken, ribs, potatoes, even some salad, and of course more rolls. The groom came over, assessed the situation, and then simply smiled and nodded his approval to his best man/groomsman who kept a respectful, watchful distance from this unexpected guest. The man unaccustomed to such friendliness from strangers did not stay long. He made his meal in a to-go fashion using the spare plate he had been given as a cover and again exited the reception hall and returned to his bench outside where he dined.

One of the wedding guests who witnessed the event indignantly remarked,

"Can you believe it? He just came in here and helped himself."

The groomsman calmly defended his helping the man,

"We're Catholic. It's just what we do."

The uninvited guest vanished into the night a short time later. In his encounter with this event, with this group of people, he experienced the love of Christ. In his world there is no use for lofty ideas. In his state of existence survival governs his ethical choices. And yet, one could reasonably propose that his encounters with Christ are just as genuine as his witness to the cruelty of man.

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."
John 6:35

What became of this wedding guest no one knows. The hope remains that he will continue to have more encounters with Christ though the people of this mystical body of Our Lord, and one day he have no need for stealth as he participates in the wedding feast of the Lamb.

And on a deeper level, how many Catholics approach this same feast that Christ has laid out in the same way as the unexpected wedding guest? They dash in, pick and choose the teachings of their liking, and then scurry back outside of full communion. Christ welcomes them and encourages them to stay, but their pride or fear or righteous indignation, or perhaps their laziness does not allow it. They feel out of place in the full body of Christ so they stay on the margins of faith and approach Christ with the same hit and run mentality as the homeless visitor. They hunger for Him, but cannot bring themselves to sit at His table.

All are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Let all hear the invitation; come to the banquet; and remain as welcomed members of Christ's family.

(The above is a true story. It happened at a wedding my wife and I attended a couple of weeks ago.)


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