Social Justice: Building a church that is inclusive and welcoming

By Barbara Budde
Columnist

During this liturgical year, we are reading from the Gospel of Matthew, which Scripture scholars tell us was written to a Jewish Christian community struggling with the reality of new members coming to the faith as Gentiles. This summer we heard the story of Jesus who cured the daughter of a Canaanite woman because of her faith. 
In that story, Jesus moved beyond his own understanding that his mission was to his Jewish brothers and sisters. We also heard the story of the landowner who paid all workers the same wages no matter when they started working –– a story about God’s gracious salvation offered to all no matter when they come to belief. Matthew’s Gospel is an invitation to all of us to see how inclusive God’s house is.
Right now our bishops are inviting us to a new inclusivity through their Cultural Diversity Office. Like the community the Matthew addressed, we are a church that is facing cultural changes. In many areas, including the Diocese of Austin, the majority of Catholics will be Hispanic and Spanish speaking. We are also blessed in our diocese with African-American and African Catholics as well as Asian and Asian-American Catholics. This reality invites us, as Matthew invited his community, to expand the horizons of what our faith looks like and feels like. Now and in the future, our church communities will not be as white and European American as they were in the past. This presents both opportunities and challenges.
We have the opportunity to model peaceful inclusivity to our world which is torn by religious, national and tribal conflicts. We can demonstrate that persons can live in peace and be in communion with one another even when there are differences of language and culture among us. As thousands of women and children cross our border seeking respite from violence and crushing poverty in their home countries, our nation has shown both hatred and kindness. As a church we modeled a commitment to human life and dignity by providing assistance through parishes and Catholic Charities agencies. We can continue to show our commitment to a diverse and inclusive community by working for comprehensive immigration reform.
We also face challenges. Our parishes are becoming and will become more diverse. Are we really willing to welcome others? How can we move from being communities that “have a Spanish Mass” to communities that are multi-lingual and multi-cultural? Are we committed to the Gospel and Church of Jesus which is really catholic –– universal and reflects that in language, music and environment or do we want a church that makes us comfortable? 
Another great challenge we face is racism. Our country has changed laws, but as a people we have never confronted the deep underlying reality of racism, which is a vestige of slavery. The demonstrations and tensions in Ferguson, Mo., this summer reveal this deep wound. In their 1979 pastoral letter, “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” the bishops of the U.S. declare that racism is a sin and acknowledge that racism exists both in the church and in society. Therefore, it can touch and affect all of us. This is not to say that any of us in particular are racists. Rather, by naming the reality of racism as a social sin we can all examine within ourselves the underlying cultural values we have absorbed about color and race.
We continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth, but like Matthew’s community, this offers us the opportunities to become more inclusive in our thinking and living. It also challenges us to confront any attitudes and beliefs we have absorbed from our culture that are still in need of conversion - such as racism. 
As we conclude this liturgical year of reading from Matthew’s Gospel, perhaps we can also read teachings from our bishops that invite us to become a truly inclusive communion and community. “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us” and “Brothers and Sisters to Us” are both available on the USCCB website at www.usccb.org. Christ has made us one through Baptism, but we still need to make that a reality in our parishes. God will give us the grace and courage we need if we ask!

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