It has been called a delusional hope and an impossible fantasy.

But Pope Francis seems to be edging closer to lowering the restrictions Roman Catholics impose on reception of the Eucharist in their churches.

The “Official Vatican Network” reported Tuesday,

At the heart of Christianity is an invitation to the Lord’s feast.

That was Pope Francis’ message at Mass this morning at the Casa Santa Marta. The Pope said that the Church is “not only for good people;” the invitation to be a part of it concerns everyone. And he added that, at the Lord’s feast we must “participate fully” and with everyone; we can’t pick and choose. Christians, he said, can’t be content with simply being on the guest list – not participating fully is like not joining in.

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-it-is-everyones-church

The Pope went on to say,

that “first of all, the Christian essence is an invitation: we only become Christians if we are invited.” It is a “free invitation” from God to participate. You can’t pay to get into the feast, he warned: “either you are invited or you can’t come in.” If “in our conscience,” he said, “we don’t have this certainty of being invited” then “we haven’t understood what a Christian is”:

“A Christian is one who is invited. Invited to what? To a shop? To take a walk? The Lord wants to tell us something more: You are invited to join in the feast, to the joy of being saved, to the joy of being redeemed, to the joy of sharing life with Christ. This is a joy! You are called to a party! A feast is a gathering of people who talk, laugh, celebrate, are happy together. I have never seen anyone party on their own. That would be boring, no? Opening the bottle of wine . . . That’s not a feast, it’s something else. You have to party with others, with the family, with friends, with those who’ve been invited, as I was invited. Being Christian means belonging, belonging to this body, to the people that have been invited to the feast: this is Christian belonging.”

So, Pope Francis, who is invited to this party? just those who subscribe to fellowship in the Roman Church? just those who hold strictly to the Roman doctrine of the Mass? or am I included in this “free invitation“?

He underlined the fact that all are invited, “the good and the bad. … The Church is not the Church only for good people. Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited.”

That sounds as if there might be room for me.

But then perhaps the Pope backs away from the inclusive invitation he seems to offer when he goes on to warn that

if you don’t participate you are not a Christian. “You were on the list,” he said, but this isn’t enough for salvation!”

And to fail to “participate” seems to mean failure to “enter into the Church.”

This is the Church: to enter into the Church is a grace; to enter into the Church is an invitation.” And this right, he added, cannot be purchased. “To enter into the Church,” he added, “is to become part of a community, the community of the Church. To enter into the Church is to participate in all the virtues, the qualities that the Lord has given us in our service of one for the other.” Pope Francis continued, “To enter into the Church means to be responsible for those things that the Lord asks of us.” Ultimately, he said, “to enter into the Church is to enter into this People of God, in its journey towards eternity.”

So, have I failed to respond to Jesus’ invitation? Have I rejected Christ’s call in my life because by circumstance of birth I was born outside the Roman church? Or, does the Pope have a vision of “the Church” that extends beyond the tight parameters of Roman Christianity?

When the Pope’s homily from Tuesday is read alongside words from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in an interview with Vatican Radio, it does seem there may be room for hope.

Welby was asked by Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen:

neither you nor Pope Francis seem remotely interested in power and prestige. Does this mean therefore that we can expect some kind of surprising healing or reconciliation in the near future?

The Archbishop replied:

God has given you, and given us all, a great Pope. And he’s a great Pope of surprises… and I think people are inspired and uplifted by what they see in Pope Francis, as I am. I think he’s a wonderful person. Surprises? Yes, I think there’ll be one or two surprises. We’re hoping to produce a few surprises.

Let us pray for God’s “surprises” to unfold in our day. May we one day share at the table with our Roman sisters and brothers.