Who is Our Neighbor?
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus enunciates to his hearers “The Two Greatest Commandments”—LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF NEIGHBOR. A few years ago one of our parishioners shared that this gospel passage reminded her of a 97-year-old neighbor lady who had expressed missing her previous level of involvement and social life, wishing that she could do more. Lo and behold soon after, the same parishioner and her husband received an invitation to come over and meet the new neighbors who had moved in on the other side of the lady’s house. Liking the new neighbors very much, she just thought it would be great to introduce them, so she got “all dressed up” and hosted a little gathering that brought old timers and new together. I ask you, do you think God was smiling about this or what? If 97 is still a very acceptable age to set a good example about how to live the two greatest commandments, what must God be expecting of us who have “a few more rows to hoe before we sell the farm?”
This wonderful experience shared by one of our St. Rita members sparked a number of similar examples of living the love of God and neighbor and of how the tiniest of efforts can effectively bring about the rich fruits of greater hospitality and community. This past weekend, for instance, was our annual Harvest Festival here at St. Rita. A gathering and fundraiser that had become known, more or less, as a “school event,” has now become one of our most significant parish community building events, all because of a deliberate effort to simply say “All are welcome!” What a difference in attitude about our neighbor (and about WHO is our neighbor) can be made, with just a small realization of how things really are and then coupled with a small dose of creativity. Whether it is a “diaper drive” for St. Francis Center or World Mission Sunday, the gospel is always widening our horizon to understand that love of God requires love of neighbor.
This “two great commandments gospel” also draws my attention and heart to the recently launched Synod on the Family in Rome. Pope Francis has been so inspiring in his words that affirm a bold reformation in the Church’s pastoral care of all God’s children. Initial reports of the Synod’s laying out of an agenda for the year-long process ahead, did not match up with the later published written text in Italian. With Jesus’ preaching the parable of the “good Samaritan” and “the woman at the well,” for instance, one would think that a wide circle of inclusion of communion with Jesus would be so obvious—even simple. But, alas and alack, 2000 years of wearied monk scribes in the middle ages and of putting the bible and tradition under a microscope, could certainly explain how things might have gotten a bit complicated along the way. Let us not slow our prayers for the Synod fathers and mothers. Let us also not lose sight of Pope Francis’ concerted effort to include the whole Church—the whole Body of Christ—in this Holy Spirit guided convocation on the Church’s meditation on the family, and, perforce, on WHO IS OUR NEIGHBOR.
So much of living the Good News and of living the love of God and neighbor is a matter of using the gift of imagination that the Creator has given us. Kudos to the 97-year-old lady who did just that! Pray with me, too, that our current efforts to inform our parish of the immediate and long-term challenges that face our parish, will be met with the same God-given imagination so that we may preserve St. Rita handily and steadily—one caring parishioner for his or her neighbor at a time!