Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Makes the White House

Monday, 15th September, 2014
Day 6 of Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea Novena
Theme: The Dignity of the Human Person

Readings: Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 16-20; Psalm 144(145):1-2, 8-11; Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 7:36-50
Picture: cc Shubert Ciencia

Sisters and brothers, have you heard of a place called the White House? Silly question, right? Of course, you have! It’s probably no exaggeration to say that it’s one of the most famous buildings in the world. And also one of the most important. But what makes it so famous and so important? Is it only because it’s painted white? Or because everyday many people take a tour to see it? If not at the location itself then at least on its website? Or maybe because of the beautiful decorations and works of art that can be found there? Or the fact that it’s guarded by the United States Secret Service? What do you think, sisters and brothers? What is it that really makes the White House the White House?

I think we all know the answer to that question, right? What makes the White House so famous and so important is, of course, the person who lives and works there. The President of the United States of America. He is what makes it the White House. If not for him and those who came before him, the place would be no different from any other big house covered with a coat of white paint. Nothing really special.

If this is true, then what is needed to keep the White House famous and important is to make sure that there is always a space in it reserved specially for the President. A space conducive enough for him to do his work. Comfortable and cosy enough for him to rest. To feel welcome and safe and at home. All the other things about the White House. The guests who visit it. The furnishings that decorate it. The guards who protect it. The paint that covers it. All these other things are important only to the extent that they help provide the President with a conducive and comfortable space in which to live and to do his work. For it is the President that makes the place famous. He is the one who gives the White House its dignity.

So much for the White House. What about the human person? What is it that gives the human person its dignity? What gives us our dignity? And how do we go about keeping it? As you know, the world offers various answers to these questions. We’re told, for example, that a person gets her dignity from the money she has. Or the house she owns. Or the car she drives. Or the clothes she wears. Or the company she keeps. Or the things she knows. Or the work she does or doesn’t do… But, sisters and brothers, whether we care to admit it or not, we all know that these answers are wrong. And they can cause serious problems. If a person’s dignity comes from the money she owns, then what happens when the money is gone? Have the poor no dignity? And if it comes from the work that she does, then what happens when she cannot work? Do the bedridden have no dignity? Or the mentally ill? Or the unborn children?

But if a person’s dignity does not derive from all these external things, then from where does it come? What does our Catholic Faith teach us? In the second reading, we are told something very important. We’re told that, not unlike the White House, the Christian community is supposed to be a special building. A holy temple. A dwelling-place of God. And, as you know, what the letter to the Ephesians says about the Christian community as a whole, the first letter to the Corinthians also says about each individual Christian. Your body, St. Paul writes, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God (1 Corinthians 6:19).

This, my dear friends, is what we Christians believe. That every human being is created for the special purpose of being a dwelling-place of God in this world. A space in which and from which God lives and works and blesses the world. And just as the White House derives its dignity from the President who occupies it. So too does the dignity of each human being derive not from what the person owns or wears or can or cannot do. But from God. The God who creates us in the image of himself (Genesis 1:27). And who chooses to live in and among us. For it is in him that we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28).

But if this is true. If our dignity does indeed derive from the fact that each of us is the temple of God. Then what must we do to maintain this dignity? The answer is really quite simple. We must do whatever we can to ensure that there is always a welcome space in our hearts and in our lives for God.

Which is why the gospel is so helpful. It presents us with a contrast between two forms of welcome. Jesus criticises one and praises the other. On the surface, it seems that Simon the Pharisee is very welcoming. He has invited the Lord to a meal in his home. But Simon’s actions show that he really has no space in his heart for Jesus. For he fails to offer the Lord the most basic expressions of hospitality. No water for the feet. No kiss for the cheek. No oil for the head. And yet, sisters and brothers, to be honest, I find myself a little shy and embarrassed to criticise Simon. For I know what it’s like to offer the Lord a half-hearted hospitality. To come to Mass, for example, or to say my prayers, but only reluctantly. To be here in body, but not in spirit. To fill my heart with so many other concerns that I leave no room for the Lord.

In contrast, even though she hasn’t invited Jesus to her home, through her actions, the woman shows how much she really loves him. How big a space she has made for him in her heart. For she must know that people will gossip about her. And yet, she dares to gatecrash the party. All for the sake of expressing, in a very public fashion, her love for the Lord. Why does she do this? From where does she find the courage? Jesus tells us. It comes from gratitude. From realising her own sinfulness. And experiencing the Lord’s mercy. Experiencing how God has made space for her. Her sins, as many as they are, have been forgiven her… Isn’t this also the way by which space is made in my heart as well? When I allow myself to ponder the mercy that God has shown me in my own life? The mercy shown to me in the Dying and Rising of Christ? The mercy we celebrate at this Mass?

By doing what she did at the banquet, the woman shows us what the first reading means when it tells us to circumcise our hearts. It is to make a space reserved specially for the Lord. To show him our gratitude and our love. Not just by coming to church. Or going to the adoration room. But also by doing what the first reading tells us God himself does. By reaching out to the poor and the lonely. Those most in need of our help. For the Lord is the one who sees justice done for the orphan and the widow, who loves the stranger and gives him food and clothing. When we do the same, we make a space for the Lord. Not just in our hearts and in our lives. But also in our world. When we reach out to the needy, we show the world the dignity of the human person.

Sisters and brothers, just as the White House derives its importance from the President, so too do we derive our dignity from God. What will you do to continue making a space for God in our hearts, in our lives, and in our world today?

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