This written homily for July 2 is offered with our apologies to you because we did not have an audio or video version.
Most parents probably remember those days when their children were learning the alphabet and how to read and spell words. A friend of mine – whose daughter was very involved in all of that – describes the time her daughter noticed the ‘Welcome’ mat on their front porch. “What is that word, Mom?” Theresa replied, “That word is ‘Welcome’.” “What does it mean?” “Welcome means to really look at someone and to treat them in such a way that they know that we are glad they are here, and that their presence matters to us.”
Theresa’s daughter was satisfied and Mom thinks nothing of it until the following Sunday when they are coming out of Mass and the daughter looks up at Mom and says: “Mom, I don’t think I am welcome here. No one really looked at me or seemed glad I was there.”
Today’s Scripture offers a teaching on the importance of hospitality. Hospitality has long been a highly valued biblical virtue; and was clearly important to Jesus himself. What does it look like to be a hospitable person, and why would we even want to do so?
Sometimes, being hospitable means tangible things, like
Literally offering that cup of water described in today’s Gospel.
Maybe we grab the door for that person … We scoot in at our pews …
During the summer months of traveling, as did the Shumanite woman in the first reading, we provide a room and food for our guests
We offer a kind word to someone who struggles
There are many tangible ways to offer welcome, to be hospitable.
And those things matter. They sometimes can make a bigger difference than we would ever imagine.
Hospitality also means more than that. Hospitality also means making room for people in our gatherings and in our hearts – for more than just our little inner circle. Truly hospitable people – and we have all known them – are also able to make a welcome for people who seem different on the outside; who don’t necessarily think quite like we do; who easily get overlooked.
Hospitality is something we get better at, but it is also hard work. So why would we do all of that? Three reasons:
1. Our tradition has long held that – when we make welcome for others – unknown to ourselves we sometimes welcome angels, maybe even the holy One himself into our homes.
2. Jesus would go so far as to tell us: “Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.” Today Jesus says, “Whomever welcomes you welcomes me.”
3. And, it could be argued that – except that we learn to welcome each other – especially the stranger, the lowly, and the outcast, we will not know how to make room for God in our lives now… or at the hour of our death.
Three examples. The first example comes from our own school and how we welcome those who are new. At the beginning of our school year we have an opening prayer service. As part of that, we stand anyone who is new to the school that year and cheer and cheer and cheer for them. (The kids are really good at that). Then we tell them you have to enjoy it because next week, (I give them the “sorry” look), “You’re just regular”. Then on Friday, we stand them again, and cheer and cheer and cheer for them. Again we tell them that they have to enjoy it because on Monday, (I again give them the “sorry” look), you are just regular. Sometimes in the faces of the older students you can almost see their relief that they are not going to be the “new” kid all year. This simple action is so hospitable. And it makes a difference. Hospitality truly matters.
The second simple example was told to me by one of the people who decided to become Catholic this year. One of the things that helped her know this was where God was leading her was one of the first times she stepped inside the doors of Church.
When it came time for Communion and she remained seated, she said that one of our ushers asked in a very kind way if she would like to go forward for Communion as well, or to have Communion be brought to her. She said, “I’m sorry. I’m not Catholic.” The usher very hospitably said, “There’s no need to be sorry. We’re just glad that you are here.” That small kindness was so hospitable and so important, and helped her trust that God might be leading her here.
The third was told to me years ago. A little boy was sitting at his desk in his second-grade classroom, when suddenly he was aware of a puddle between his feet, and that the front of his pants was wet. He had never wet his pants before, and was so embarrassed. “Please, dear God,” he prays, “I’m in big trouble. I need help!”
He looks up see a classmate named Susie carrying a goldfish bowl filled with water. As she walks past him she slips and dumps the water right into his lap. He pretends to be angry — but is praying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you!” Now, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy receives sympathy and care. Susie is now the one who is considered the “klutz”, the one who gets teased.
After school, Susie is standing all by herself. He whispers, to her, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Susie whispers back, “I wet my pants once, too.”
Susie SAW him. Her act of kindness was beautifully hospitable and loving.
Our hospitality makes a difference – not only for others – but in the very life and capacity of our own souls. As I said, except that we learn to welcome each other, we will not know how to make room for God – in our lives now, or after we die.
My friends’ daughter is no longer four years old. But I wonder – if she had happened to walk into Most Sacred Heart as the 28 year old single mom she is – when Mass is over, would she would give a different answer about whether or not she felt welcome when she came through the doors of this church?