Sunday, November 04, 2007

Would Jesus Feel Welcome in Your Home?

"Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house!"

(Thirty-first Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 4, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 19: 1-10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-first Sunday 2007]

If a particular person invites himself into your home, you will probably either be very happy or very angry. It all depends on the quality of your relationship with the person. If you like him, you’ll be happy; if you don’t like him, you’ll be angry and annoyed.

But if Jesus Christ invites himself into your home, you should definitely feel happy, honored and thankful—like Zacchaeus did when Jesus called him down from the sycamore tree in Jericho and said to him, “Zacchaeus, today I must stay at your house.”

Of course, the real question is: Once Jesus entered your home and actually began to interact with you and with your family, how would HE feel? Would he feel at home? Would he feel welcome? Would he feel like he belonged?

That’s the issue I want to deal with today in my homily, because in point of fact Jesus Christ DOES invite himself into your home and mine each and every day!

I say that because the family is called the “domestic church” in the Catechism (CCC, 2204), and the Church as a whole is called “the Body of Christ” in Scripture. This means that every Christian family—every “domestic church”—is a place where Jesus wants to dwell, as he dwells in the Church as a whole.

I think it’s safe to say that Jesus did feel welcome in Zacchaeus’ home on the day he visited him—and for a number of reasons. First of all, he probably felt that way because he knew he was an important person to Zacchaeus. Generally speaking, people feel welcome in your home when they know they’re important to you, when they know that they’re special in your eyes.

Which leads to the obvious question: How important is Jesus Christ to you and to your family? Where is Jesus Christ on your list of priorities? I know many families, for example, for whom the worship of Jesus at Sunday Mass is very important—unless they’re on vacation, or unless they’re involved in a sporting activity, or unless it’s the week of grandma’s big birthday party.

I know families for whom the worship of Jesus at Sunday Mass is very important—but not on holy days (like the one we had this week, All Saints Day!). Remember, Mass attendance on holy days is obligatory, not optional!

In all honesty, how important is Jesus to you and to the people you live with? Is he welcome under your roof because he’s the most important person in each of your lives?

Jesus also felt welcome in the home of Zacchaeus because Zacchaeus talked to him! Obviously if someone comes into your home and you don’t say a word to him while he’s there, he probably won’t stay very long. He’ll get the message that you really don’t want him around, and he’ll leave.

How often do you and the members of your family speak to Jesus? Do you do it at your family meals? Do you do it at EVERY meal? Do you pray at other times in your home TOGETHER AS A FAMILY? I’m happy to say that I know of certain families in this parish who pray together every single night for 5 or 10 minutes. They offer up personal intentions; they say a decade of the Rosary; they say a few other prayers. It’s nothing fancy, but you can be absolutely certain that Jesus Christ feels very much at home when that type of activity is going on!

Jesus also felt welcome in Zacchaeus’ home because the man sincerely repented of his sins! And as a typical Jewish tax collector of first century Palestine, Zacchaeus no doubt had lots and lots of sins to repent of! Jesus felt welcome in and through Zacchaeus’ repentance because he had come into the world specifically to forgive sins and to save human beings from eternal death! As he himself said at the very end of the story, “Today salvation has come to this house . . . for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

And notice that Zacchaeus expressed his sorrow by vowing to make amends for the many wrongs he had done. He said, “Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Zacchaeus knew that he needed to do penance to undo the damage—or at least some of the damage—that his sins had caused.

Jesus feels welcome whenever people sincerely repent—and whenever they make amends. How often do the members of your family say, “I’m sorry” to one another—and mean it? How often do they make amends to one another? And how often do the members of your family say they’re sorry to Jesus directly in the sacrament of Confession? Parents, how often do you take your children to Confession—and how often do you yourselves go?

Hopefully when Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ house, he didn’t see or hear anything that upset him. I say that because people feel welcome in a home only if they’re not scandalized or embarrassed by what they see and hear there. Would Jesus feel welcome in your home if he heard the way the members of your family speak to one another? Or would the language he heard upset him? Would he feel at ease watching your favorite television programs with you, or listening to your favorite music with you (all the stuff, for example, that you’ve downloaded from iTunes)? Speaking of downloading off the internet, would Jesus be happy sitting at your computer and viewing your “history of visited sites” on the web?

And would he find his image prominently displayed in your home? (I must tell you, I always feel very welcome in homes when I find my picture on the refrigerator door! And I do from time to time! It’s a nice feeling!)

Would Jesus find an image or two of his dear Mother and his dear friends, the saints? Or would he find other, disturbing images on your walls and on your furniture that would scandalize or anger him?

“Lord Jesus, our homes are not perfect (you know that far better than we do!). None of us lives in a family in which you find a perfect welcome all the time. Sometimes we may put other things ahead of you; sometimes we may ignore you by not praying as we should; sometimes we may hurt other family members and not repent and make amends; sometimes we may fail to create a loving, holy atmosphere in our living space. And so today we simply ask you for the grace to help us improve. Help us to do whatever ‘remodeling’ is necessary to make our homes, our families—our domestic churches—more welcoming to you. Because if we can create homes where you feel welcome, Lord Jesus, chances are everyone else who comes through our front door will feel welcome too. Amen.”