Annual Intercultural Mass
12th October 2012 - by Fr Tom O’Reilly
On Saturday, October 6th, St. Catherine of Siena Church in Birmingham, where Columban Fr. Jim Fleming is Parish Priest, was packed for the Annual Intercultural Mass.
The following is the talk given on the occasion by Margaret Siberry, Manager of the CAFOD Office in Leeds Diocese.
The Universal Family of Jesus
Good afternoon everyone and thank you, Fr Jim, for inviting me to share your celebration. It is a real privilege to be with you, to be part of this wonderful gathering. When I look around I can only imagine how delighted God must be to see us all gathered together around his table, the family of Jesus from all around the world.
Jesus said to the disciples in today’s gospel, ‘Let the little children come.’ We are like those little children and we have come to Jesus, who wants only to welcome us, wants to bless us and wants tell us that we are all invited to God’s banquet.
Jesus said, ‘Let them come’ And we have come. We are here together, each with our different cultures and traditions, but we have come not just as individuals but as one Christian family, the universal family of Jesus.
We have come. We have come to gather round the table of the Lord. We have come to offer praise and thanks to God, and we bring our stories, we bring our worries, we bring our hopes and we bring our dreams. We come to bring everything before the Lord and to place our offering, all that we are, on the table of the Lord, knowing that God accepts us and loves us.
We have come here today to listen again to our story, to be reminded of the one story we all share, our Christian story. And the very heart of that story is that God became human in Jesus to tell us, once and for all, that God is with us in every moment of every day, in everything we do, in everyone we meet, wherever we come from.
We have come to hear again that, even with our faults and failings, even with our limitations and fears, God loves us, forgives us, heals us unconditionally and for eternity. And God wants us to do the same for each other. We have come to be nourished, to be strengthened and as today’s psalm says, we have come so that the Lord can bless us – all the days of our life.
Our first reading today tells us how our Christian story began. The God who created everything in this vast universe – the heavens and the earth, the stars and the planets, the sea and the sky, all kinds of landscapes, mountains, deserts, hillsides and paddy fields – the God who created every kind of plant and animal, entrusted all of this to our care.
What an amazing imagination our God has and how God must love variety and difference – Just think that God brought to birth a universe that is so diverse and that is still unfolding, with new planets and stars still being discovered. What a wonderful outpouring of creativity and love.
But the most amazing thing is that God’s story doesn’t stop there. This same all powerful, all loving God, out of pure joy, also created us – men and women in God’s own image, you, me, each one of us.
It seems too much to take in doesn’t it? That you and me, each person here today, is made in God’s image, and is called to grow into the likeness of God? And look at us, look how different we all are!
What is that saying about our God – that God made us so different? When I thought about that more deeply I realised that if each one of us is an image of God, an expression of God’s creative and abundant love, then it tells us something vital.
God needs each and every one of us from our different countries, our different cultures, with our different skin colour, to mirror God’s love, to show to the world how wildly creative and loving God is.
God’s image in our world would not be complete without each one of us. Because God is not white or brown or black. God is pure love, made manifest, embodied in God’s creation and in us – an abundant, freely given and creative love. I remember when I was in South Africa not long after the great Nelson Mandela had become president that he had the vision of his country as a Rainbow people. We know from our Hebrew Scriptures don’t we, that the rainbow is the sign of God’s presence, a sign of hope. So here we all are today, God’s rainbow people, shining brightly like the sun.
Isn’t that marvellous! Isn’t that part of what has drawn us here today! To hear again and again that all creation is an expression of God’s love and we are too. That our being here together today is a sign of hope and gives us hope.
We have come to hear our story, our unfolding and continuing story. What is unique about our Christian story is that our creator God, maker of all that is, loves us so much that God wanted to be one with us.
God became human in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the human face of God – born into our world to show us just how extravagant, freely given and universal God’s love is.
Jesus came to show us that no matter who we are, no matter where we come from, God is calling us into a loving relationship with God and with each other.
Not only that, Jesus tells us that our story is even more amazing. We hear it in the second reading from Hebrews today. St Paul tells us that Jesus’ purpose is to bring us all into glory with God and that we are sanctified with Jesus – made holy just like Jesus is.
St Paul goes even further in that same reading. He says we are the same stock as Jesus. I guess he means that we are the same family, we have the same roots as Jesus, the same heritage – and what are our roots?
Our roots are God’s spirit working within us and amongst us. We carry God’s spirit within us, just as Jesus did. That’s why Jesus calls us brothers and sisters.
St John goes even further in Chapter 14 verse 12 of his gospel. Jesus says that we have the power to do all that he does and in fact we carry even more power. Listen to what Jesus says:
In all truth I tell you, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, and will perform even greater works.
Isn’t that quite amazing!
We know well how Jesus used the power of God’s spirit working in him. He spent his time with the poor, the lonely, with widows, with the oppressed. He spent his time healing and blessing and comforting people. He saw his mission to set people free, to welcome strangers, to befriend outsiders and make a place for them at his table.
If he were here among us now, where would he be – he’d be welcoming asylum seekers, working to free women who are being trafficked, he’d be with the homeless and the poor of our time. He’d be challenging those in power so that there would be justice and he’d be working for peace.
And because we are all baptised into the universal family of Jesus, that has to be our mission too. There’s that wonderful prayer of St Theresa of Avila . . .
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.
Do you remember what Jesus prayed for us? That they may be one.
Yes we come from all our different cultures and traditions and we’ll express our Christian faith with our own songs and dances and music. That’s wonderful and is giving praise to God, reflects God’s beauty and diversity as I said at the beginning. But the richness of our difference isn’t so that we can just stay within our own tradition.
No, the way we live out our Christian faith is by working together, by becoming one, by being a visible sign that we are the one Universal family of Jesus, right here, right now in Birmingham.
Isn’t that what our world sorely needs now – all of us bringing our unique traditions and gifts together not just in this wonderful celebration today but each day and everyday in how we show forth the compassion and healing of Jesus, in how we work for justice and for peace.
What a powerful sign that would be that Jesus’ prayer is being fulfilled in our time. That the people of Birmingham see us bringing all our beautiful and different gifts together as one to serve our world.
So, let’s all go from here strengthened in the knowledge that together, we are the body of Christ and we carry the same power as Jesus to transform our world and help build God’s reign of justice and peace.
Let’s finish with the words of the psalm again: ‘May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives’. And may we, together, go out from here in the name of the universal family of Jesus to bless everyone we meet.