The other day I had what I consider a disturbing conversation with another man regarding a passage of Scripture. It was about the passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus calls Matthew. Jesus saw Matthew at the tax collector’s table and said to him, “Follow me.” He did. In the next scene, Jesus is eating dinner with the much hated Matthew and his other despised cronies. The subject came up in our conversation as to where these people came from. My interlocutor felt that Jesus’ reputation was so great that Matthew probably invited him to come and invited his friends to a special dinner for the purpose of hearing Jesus’ words. While we really do not know how this dinner came about, I felt that this was highly unlikely. Folks like Matthew were despised by the Jewish authorities, and it shows when the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why He was associating with these people. Matthew probably lived a less than admirable life and was not enthusiastic right away about Jesus, impressive as He was.

             
At this juncture I made the point that too often we Catholics have a “prissy Catholicism.” We don’t want to get soiled by “hanging around” with those who need us most, i. e., the crude, dirty, low-class, uneducated people because we either might be influenced by them, or we secretly look down on them. In either case, we really do not care about their salvation, when we might be the one who would need to get close to them to bring them to God. I suggested that this was what Jesus was doing in going to Matthew’s house, and probably Matthew was not enthusiastic in the beginning, hence, he might not have invited these people to his house merely to listen to Jesus.
            
My conversationalist then revealed his notion of Jesus. He, despite repeated denials by myself that this was what I meant by “hanging around,” kept asserting that Jesus did not “hang around” with these types which he interpreted as co-operating in their sinful activities. He said that Jesus probably taught 16 hours a day, and getting to know, being a true friend and being kind to one, was just not done. Jesus was so focused, he said, that he would not care to do this.
            
I find this vision very disturbing, and I think conservative Catholics are prone to this error. Does this man’s view of Our Lord sound to you, dear reader, like the same man who told the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the father waits day after day on the road looking for his son, and when he sees him, runs out to him, puts his arms around him and kisses him, gets a fancy robe and shoes and holds a big party; the father who did not give the son a big lecture on how horrible he was? Does this sound like the same Jesus who looked at the rich young man and “loved him?” Does this sound like the same Son of God who we worship in the form of His Sacred Heart—the symbol of his burning and very inexplicable love for us; the same Savior who told St. Margaret Mary that he would gladly suffer his passion and death again, were it possible, for only one bit of return of love from men? Does this sound like the same second member of the blessed Trinity the very nature of the persons of which the famous Richard of St. Victor says is total, self-giving love, and who commanded us to love each other as he has loved us.
           
Or does this Jesus sound more like a person trying to get you to sign up for his organization; a person who has no particular care for you or me; who is finds principles more important than people; who when he went through His passion and death, did so as a Stoic, but without love? 
            
This type of Catholicism feeds on “the right thing to do” and breeds a legalism and a certain snootiness which forestalls bringing the Gospel to the outcasts of society. The Jesus I pray to is deeply in love with me with a real, personal love that cannot be fathomed by me. It is a love greater than that of my wonderful parents, my lovely wife or my wonderful children have for me combined. He is the One, who if I was Him in person, would look into my eyes and soul with a glance of such love, that I could not help but follow him, and in that glance I would see an abyss of love. 
            
True, Jesus came to teach, but he came for much more, and anyone who attempts to portray him like a type of guru does not know him. One of the Church fathers, I believe, said that no one will die for a mere conclusion. They die for love. Jesus came above all to show us the limitless love of the Father for each and every one of us. The teaching is there because if we do not become like Christ we can never be allowed in to this presence, but Jesus did everything He could to make sure that if we wanted this, we could have it. He is the one “Who stands at the door and knocks, and if anyone opens to him, we will come and sup with him,” not give a theology lecture. This is the God “whose delight is to be with the children of men.” 
            
This is why we are called to go to the less desirable to society—to love them as God loves them. Not just to give them the Faith, but to be a true friend to them; to show that you love themselves, not just to fill pews. It is this that fires the missionary spirit that the Church has insisted since Vatican II that ALL members of the Church should have.      
            
At the end of the evening, after the friars sang the office of Compline, they went off to their cells. A few stayed behind to see what St. Dominic did, who did not go to bed. They would see him leaning on the tabernacle moaning and crying to Jesus, “What is to become to these poor souls.” Here, one of the most learned men of his time still loved with his heart!  
 
Praised be the Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of love!



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