[COLUMN] A house of prayer for all people

Our First Reading from the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 56:1, 6-7) states: “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” These words are placed at the front of Incarnation Church and the main entrance door of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. For, indeed, our mission is to welcome all people to   our church, which our parish mission statement upholds: “To bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people of all ages and cultures through evangelization, effective and inspiring faith formation, joyful and   meaningful liturgies, and outreach to the poor, the marginalized, and others in need.”

Our focus is not to welcome or attend to only one particular group but to reach out to everyone. It’s what Jesus conveys in the Gospel Reading this Sunday, August 20 (Matthew 15:21-28) in the story of the Canaanite woman who was calling out to Jesus to heal her daughter tormented by a demon. At first, Jesus reminded her that he was sent only the lost sheep of the house of Israel and that “it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But then her reply, filled with faith and persistence, moved Jesus’ heart. “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”

How do we apply Jesus’ gesture and response to this woman in our parish life? Granted that more people of other nationalities are coming to our church, should we not be happy about it? We may see a significant change in demographics in our parish and experience some insecurity about it, which is understandable in any change, but we must rise above our fears. Instead, we must be happy that our church is full of people who feel our church’s openness and welcoming spirit.

Nowadays, any leadership study would tell us that a community thrives where there is diversity. It’s a principle that we all need to believe and put into practice. After all, diversity is a Gospel value. Despite our differences, we are all equal in our God’s eyes, and Jesus came to reach out, heal, teach, and save both “the lost sheep of Israel” and the Gentiles.

Openness is an attitude that we must show to one another. Every volunteer, staff member, and parishioner must practice this attitude. We must not favor any group of people or disassociate ourselves from others. Everyone is valuable and has a gift to share with our community.

When recruiting volunteers and hiring staff, we are mindful of the need to go beyond a race issue to fulfill our mission of ministering and reaching out to all people, the fundamental work of our church. Our staff, ministry, and group meetings must manifest this attitude and mission.

When we continue to hear or see news of nations and people around the globe still excluding or dismissing others from their midst, we realize that we are still far from the mission of Jesus and the will of God. We still have a lot of work to do, even in our own backyards. And so, I pray that we may be open to dialogue regarding these issues of openness, diversity, and mutual respect. Above all, I pray that love, unity, compassion, and empathy will reign over our church above hatred, division, and misunderstanding.

Blessings to all!

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Fr. Rodel “Odey” Balagtas is the pastor of Incarnation Church in Glendale, California.


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