In the Gospel of Luke 10:29, at the beginning of the story of the Good Samaritan, we hear the question posed to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the now familiar story of reaching out to help a stranger in need. We know that our neighbor includes all peoples no matter how far or near they live. Yet, sometimes I don’t reflect this in my life, my choices, and my words.
When Pope Francis visited our country last month, he focused a good bit on care for each other, care for the earth, and the common good. I felt challenged to look at how I live and if I am living the Gospel imperative to care for and love each other or if I just pay it lip service. Francis emphasized that the family is the microcosm of this care and love that I/we are called to live. So, I ask you, “Who is your family?” I ask myself, “Who is my family?”
Family is different things to different people. Some families are biological families, some are groups of friends, some are religious community families, and some are families brought together at a moment in time. What does my/your family look like? To how many different families does each of us belong? How do I form and live family?
Like you, I belong to several different families. One of my families is that into which I was born. This family continues to grow and expand in all directions as siblings and cousins begin their own families. It shrinks as people die, like my mom who died in June. In my heart she is still with me. Now, she is a part of my extended family included in the Communion of Saints that I know are with me but are often beyond my sight. I am also a member of a religious family with my Dominican Sisters which extends out to include the global family of the Dominican Order.
When I was in Philadelphia for the Papal visit, I had the blessing of meeting and being part of three new families that formed over the course of the weekend.
One of them, made me realize that when the conditions are right family can form anywhere. On Saturday, September 26, Sr. Cathy Arnold and I were honored to attend the mass with Pope Francis in the Basilica Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Afterwards, we joined Cathy’s family along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 17th Street to await the arrival of the Pope who would be passing by on his way between Independence Hall and the Festival of Families in Logan Circle.
Alternately, we stood and sat squashed up against the barricade fences awaiting Francis’ arrival. Over the hours we became acquainted with those standing with us. We helped a young man, Christopher, stand on a chair and act as our look-out, we protected Cecelia who was short enough to see under the fence railing, and we befriended several members of a family that lived there on the Parkway. This is the family that left a lasting impression on me.
The members of this family had been watching the crowds on the street from their 18th floor balcony. They decided they wanted to be down with the rest of us so they could find out who was crazy enough to stand for hours waiting for a glimpse of the Pope. The family consisted of three sisters, one of their husbands, and a cousin. The apartment belonged to one of the sisters. Several of them had volunteered at the Festival of Families and the others had attended the gathering. They were all lifelong Catholics and involved in their parishes in and around Philadelphia.
They joined us on the sidewalk and we soon began talking with them, sharing experiences of the Pope, the crowd, the events, and our hopes for the day. We felt comfortable with them and before long our group of five was all mixed up with their group. Looking back on the experience, the Francis effect had touched us and was bringing us together in this place at this time.
Pope Francis has shown me, indeed all of us, how to live as neighbor and even as family with each other. Over the course of Francis’ visit to the United States he has brought out our best selves, he has encouraged us to spread our tents wider to include others in our homes. Not just for the weekend but, on a more permanent basis. He is challenging all of us to consider who our family is and to open our hearts and doors to them. To share our extra bed with them, to clothe them, and to care for them as we would one of our own.
The family we met in Philadelphia, invited us back to their apartment for food, to relax, and to refresh ourselves before we continued on our journey. We laughed together, we sang, and we marveled at the way Francis’ had brought the City of Brotherly Love back to life and to love. At the end of the evening we took pictures, exchanged contact information and bid each other goodbye as if we had known them longer than a few hours.
As we traveled back to the convent, we mused on our experiences of the day. We gave thanks for the new family we had become a part of and we wondered if we would ever see them again. In the reality of our lives, it isn’t likely we will meet again and yet, we shared an experience and time together that enriched and touched our lives. The impression of their welcome and heartfelt hugs, as we departed, will be remembered. These experiences act as a catalyst for us to reach out and connect with others on our journey.
To whom is Christ sending you today? With whom are you being called to connect with as more than neighbor? How will you respond? How will I respond?
As for me, I will answer Christ’s question, “Who is your neighbor?” with “All are my neighbor. Please God, give me the expansiveness of heart and tent to welcome them in as you would want me to. Amen.”
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