Breath of the Spirit: Who Is Welcome at Our Tables?
One of the clearest examples Jesus offers his followers is an expansive table fellowship. It seems that Jesus would eat with anyone. It is ironic and sad, then, that subsequent generations of disciples have struggled so mightily with welcoming people. It is easy to point fingers, but what of our own lack of welcoming? Today’s reflection invites us to consider not only how Catholics and Christians can be more open to others, but also how we might be.
The Twenty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Hebrew 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Who Is Welcome at Our Tables?
A reflection by Ann Marie Szpakowska
“I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table”
I'm Gonna sit at the welcome table.
I'm gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.
I'm gonna sit at the welcome table.
I'm gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days,
(Other possible verses)
I'm gonna feast on milk and honey...
I'm gonna tell God how you treat me...
I'm gonna view that Holy City...
I'm gonna walk the street of glory...
I'm gonna walk and talk with Jesus...
I'm gonna sing and never get tired...
I'm gonna shout all my troubles over...
All of God's children gonna sit together.
And during the Civil Rights Movement, the spiritual was adapted to exclaim: "I'm gonna sit at Freedom's Table...” Listen to Hollis Watkins’ Civil Rights Era version here.
In today's Gospel, Jesus accepts an invitation to dine with one of the leading Pharisees. While the other guests scrutinize Jesus, he observes that they choose places of honor at the table (the modern equivalent of going to the head of the table), and Jesus warns them against this self-inflating practice.
The guests are not the only ones to be reprimanded by Jesus. His host is told:
When you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or brothers
(and sisters) or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they
may invite you back and you have your repayment. Rather when you
hold a banquet, invite the poor, the cripple, the lame, the blind. Blessed
indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
Jesus concluded with, "for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Jesus knew that Pharisees believed themselves to be (the only ones) in right relationship to the Law of Moses. However, their observing the law went well beyond the Ten Commandments and into the minutia of life, with rules for every occasion – dietary requirements, keeping the Sabbath, etc. Jesus and the disciples were often criticized for not keeping the rules and Jesus reminded his listeners that the Sabbath was made for us not the other way around (Mark 2:27).
Whom do we invite into our homes and to our celebrations? At Dignity, we have expanded our identities and now are apt to use the acronym LGBTQIA+ and Allies. Yet we still struggle with becoming places of radical hospitality. At the beginning, Dignity struggled with the place of lesbians in our local chapters and national organization. Recently, with the death of George Floyd and the national protests it inspired, we have seen more clearly our own struggles with racism and unwelcoming behavior. We created two affinity groups – to educate ourselves on structural racism in our society, church, and ourselves – and a Caucus for People of Color in DignityUSA. This year at our national conference in San Diego we welcomed the contributions of African American, Latino, and Latina Theologians to the LGBTQIA+ Movement of Liberation. We look forward to several books that will be published shortly that speak to the lived experiences of these, our siblings, in the Church. We also look forward to the Conference of Rainbow Catholics which will take place this month in Mexico and online.
On another hopeful note, the Catholic Church seems to have made a concerted effort to welcome and value LGBTQIA+ experiences at the Synod's listening sessions. We – along with other disenfranchised members of the Body of Christ – women (some called to ordained ministries), the divorced, young people, to name a few – boldly explained that we have taken the teaching of the Church to heart, formed our consciences, rejected the label of "intrinsically disordered.” We called on the Church to renew its theology of sexuality and marriage with the knowledge and wisdom of current social science. It is long past time to acknowledge that St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas cannot have the last word on the subject, and that ethical and moral decisions are not made in a vacuum but out of lived experiences.
Dignity chapters have provided a home to many a questioning LGBTQIA+ Catholics, family members, and other spiritual people of all stripes. But too many of our small faith communities still seek security by refusing to leave the box of white Catholic supremacy. How can we be prophets for a society, church, and world when we ourselves do not recognize our racist power structures as fleeting as well as coercive? Here, we can take to heart the wisdom offered by today’s passage from Sirach and conduct our own affairs with humility. Not a humility paralyzed by the guilt of past sins, but rather a humility that recognizes the equal dignity of every single human – even when their experiences or behaviors are very different than our own. And as such, we can welcome them with joy and openness to all the tables around which we gather.
Ann Marie Szpakowska has been active and in leadership of Dignity/Buffalo for nearly 40 years. She also participates in the Women's Caucus and has been an active contributor to Liturgical planning for Dignity's Conventions, Conferences and on Feminist Liturgy Committees over many years. She has presented workshops both locally and at Dignity Conventions.
She has also been a member of St. Martin de Porres parish since 4 inner city churches merged and built a new sanctuary in 1993. St. Martin de Porres is a predominantly African American community in Buffalo, New York.