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Pastor’s Message This Week: 

 

DOG BROTHERS (AND SISTERS): GRATEFUL GENTILES!

 

                                                    “Smite them Dog Brothers! Go, Go, Go!!!”

                                                                                           The Twelve Days of Conan

Back in the glory days of the Riley Boys, that is, the 1970’s, my three brothers and I became big fans of the sword and sorcery fiction of Robert E. Howard, creator of Kull the Conqueror, Brule the Spear-Slayer, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane (my favorite!), Red Sonja, and, of course, Conan the Cimmerian Barbarian of popular culture fame.  In my humble opinion, no author has done a better job in this genre, as reading his blow by blow swordplay and battle scenes leaves the reader pleasantly exhausted, and the introduction of the preternatural and black magic material is guaranteed to chill one’s spine!

I like the stories so much that I would often borrow a Conanesque description from them and refer to my blood brothers as “dog brothers.”  In my understanding, one becomes a dog brother (or sister!) not by shared racial, ethnic or cultural origin, but by free association and shared experience and belief.   This is a much more positive description of relationship than using the insult “dog” to exclude another as not worthy of welcome or community.   It is more respectful of our canine friends as well, who also visit us here on a regular basis.

It was common practice among the Jews of Jesus’ time to refer to Gentiles, pagans, non-believers as dogs, and Jesus himself seems to use the insult to put off the plea of the Canaanite woman to help her by healing and delivering her daughter.  But with the faith filled and clever reply of the persistent woman, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters,” Jesus grants her wish, and the circle of those saved by his power is extended beyond the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  This fulfills the word of the prophet Isaiah that foreigners who in faith join themselves to the Lord would become part of his house of prayer for all peoples.

St. Paul clearly understood his call and ministry of evangelization as the apostle to the Gentiles, from which most of us understand our ancestral origins and apostolic tradition.   Although it took the Jewish-Christian Church in Jerusalem some time, and the decision of the first church council, to accept that “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.” (Acts 11:18b), the missionary emphasis of the universal church has since been at the heart of carrying on the saving mission of Jesus Christ in the world.

In our own small way, we do the same in our parish mission to “welcome all people to nurture community, restore hope and share in God’s persistent love.”  With the most basic social requirements of common courtesy and common decency for the common good, we welcome visitors and guests of all backgrounds, ethnic origins and creeds to join us for hospitality, community and prayer.  It is this understanding and practice of a broadening circle of community that becomes the best counter cultural witness to the division, hatred, bitterness and violence that still plague our larger society and world.

However, given the still more common understanding of “dog” as an insult, I, as a grateful Gentile, will be careful about keeping in my own head and heart the Riley-idiosyncratic welcome of all of you and all who regularly visit the downtown chapel as beloved “dog brothers and sisters!”

 

~ Rev. John Patrick Riley, CSC


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