Sunday, July 21, 2013
Christian Hospitality (16 C)
We have at least three parishioners who know the hospitality industry: a retired hotel manager, a hotel owner, and... me!
The building across the parking lot we call the rectory might just as well be called a small hotel. For many nights, our two guest rooms have been full. While I’m on retreat this week Father Xavier’s superior will be in my room since three of his Pallottine confreres are visiting at once. The day after they leave, we welcome two priests from Ireland.
Earlier in the summer, we’ve welcomed Vancouver priests taking a short break, speakers in the permanent diaconate program, a married priest and his wife, and even a monk on holiday.
With all this activity going on, it’s hard to miss one of the messages in today’s Gospel: hospitality is part of Christian life.
Certainly the story of Martha and Mary teaches us more important lessons, but when you compare it with the first reading it’s obvious that extending a welcome to our visitors is a source of great blessing.
The Letter to the Hebrews alludes to this morning’s first reading when it says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” There are also three other places in the Old Testament where hospitality was offered to strangers who turned out to be angels (Gen. 19, Judg. 13:2-22, Tob. 12:1-22).
Right after Mass, I am driving down to Mount Angel Abbey for my annual retreat. At Mount Angel I am treated like a VIP, and not because the guestmaster thinks I might be an angel in disguise: St. Benedict taught his monks that all guests “are to be welcomed as Christ.” (RB 53:1)
The Rule of St. Benedict contains extensive direction for receiving guests, ensuring that they are both comfortable and honoured. Rather than quoting from today’s Scriptures, St. Benedict goes directly to Our Lord’s words “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Welcoming guests at the rectory can be a demanding task, particularly on our devoted housekeeper. But she also is motivated by faith and not just a desire to please: on the kitchen wall she has the words of St. Benedict to encourage her.
You, the parishioners, also take part in this ministry of hospitality, since you pay for most of it! (I do bill the Archdiocese when we have guests involved in diaconate events.)
But I’ve highlighted this aspect of the readings today for a different reason: to remind all of us that we should see our summertime entertaining and our visiting friends in light of our faith. It’s not always easy to have company staying: Benjamin Franklin once said that guests are like fish—they start to spoil after three days.
It helps to realize that the cooking and cleaning and planning are not done just for social reasons. Let our guests be received as Christ; let our thoughtfulness and welcome be a means of evangelizing the unchurched or of supporting our brothers and sisters in the household of faith.
Jesus does not call this the better part; but it is a part, and an important one, of Christian living.