Monday, April 19, 2010

A Little Flower Welcome!

I usually use this column to pass along a bit of wisdom or ideas that are easy to write about and convey. Not this month. This month I really want for all of us to examine our attitude toward true charity, hospitality and kindness towards others.

I was inspired to write about this after the recent national news of the tragic death of Phoebe Prince in Northhampton, MA. This beautiful 15 yr. old was pushed to suicide as a result of the on-going bullying by a group of fellow students at her high school.
While I know that none of our groups would ever accept or condone such awful behavior from our children, I am concerned that we aren’t always as welcoming to others as we ought to be.
We have all been the ‘new kid’ at some point in our lives. Whether we have memories from our childhood of arriving new to a school or neighborhood; or moving into a new parish as adults - we all know what it feels like to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is not a pleasant feeling.
Hopefully, though, we can all follow up those uncomfortable feelings with a memory of a child or adult who reached out to us and welcomed us. Maybe it was the kid who showed you where the bathroom was at school or the new neighbor who gave you directions to the perfect park in town. Finding a new, trustworthy friend is an unforgettable and powerful feeling.
But being brave enough - yes, brave enough - to reach out to others is a rare quality. It is easier to remain with familiar friends. Reaching out, not knowing how you will be received, can be unsettling. No one wants to be rejected. However, we are called to a supernatural charity by God and our baptismal grace to see everyone as God does and treat them as His children. This grace should give us the security in knowing that God will be there.
In all Behold Christ groups and programs I would hope that anyone entering the room would perceive a welcome unlike any they have ever encountered. It would be so amazing if they join a group never feeling any discomfort or lack of embrace. Imagine the change that be started by our small actions of acceptance. While we are not called as the first Christians to sell all we own, we called to be ‘of one mind heart and mind’.
Examining yourself in regard to this is not easy. But it is important that we as adults are modeling to our young people a true hospitality that welcomes everyone regardless. Regardless of their income, their clothes, their abilities or their formation. If we are striving to be Christ, bring Christ and leave Christ everywhere we go, we must reflect His own actions.
Berated by the Pharisees for hanging out with the wrong crowd, Jesus was a victim of their bullying. They wanted their words, their rejection and their attitude to change how Jesus acted and treated others. It never did. Jesus continued to welcome everyone. While He did not accept obvious sin, I don’t imagine He checked their clothing labels or their ability to talk about the current hot trends. Jesus took people where they were and then gently led them to where they needed to be.
Jesus was also shut out. There were many who did not welcome Him. We do not know of how many times He reached out to someone who looked at His clothes or His background (“What good can come from Nazareth”) and decided that Jesus just wasn’t cool or didn’t fit in. How many people missed out on knowing Jesus directly because of perceptions and false ideals of what the Messiah is supposed to look like?
Take a moment to think of your own group. Are there families or young people still on the fringes hoping for someone to really welcome them? Is there a real attitude of complete welcome in the group or has an air of ‘in-crowd’ and ‘outsiders’ been allowed to set in?
On the other side, are the girls themselves being modeled and encouraged to be truly charitable and hospitable? There should be no acceptance or tolerance for unkind words or actions from any young people towards any others. As adults, you need to moderate this and be aware of what might be occurring. The stereotype of small groups of pointing, laughing ‘mean girls’ might come to mind but it is often more subtle than that. Often it can be nothing more than a refusal to let someone sit down in ‘their circle’ because of what they wear or what they say. Any subtle attempt to exclude anyone needs to be eliminated.
This is a painful column to write as I have such high hopes that every group is a perfect model of Christian charity and love. But knowing myself and my own faults, I know this is not true or reasonable. I also know, from my own memories, of what it feels like to be both excluded and to exclude; neither of which bring up good memories. As a result, I might be called a zealot on this mission to make sure everyone feels welcomed.
Let us just agree that it is reasonable and Catholic to expect every adult to be a model of real hospitality and good manners and then commit to teaching and forming our own children to do the same. I know we will never accept outright bullying, name calling or abuse by our members but I also hope we never accept the subtle ways we can cause pain and divisiveness by a refusal to see it or act upon it when we do. We need to both keep our ‘inner Pharisee’ in check and be brave enough to stand up to it when we see it displayed by others.
In striving to find some Scriptural support, I reread the very short 3rd Letter of John which speaks a hint of such dealings. Written to a specific person - Gaius - it is writing about the failure of another person, Diotrephes, to accept some of the newer Presybters. It is not known, from the scripture notes given what exactly was occurring but I couldn’t help but think of this column. One line - “I wrote to the Church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us.” - rung in my ears. Let us pray no one would ever say that about any of us.
Let us display trustworthy friendship and true charity to all. Let us strive to become a memory of welcome to everyone we meet, but especially those for whom such a memory is only an unfilled hope!
-Rachel Watkins

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