13th Sunday in ORdinary Time - 2020
When I would return to the United States for my home visit, my brother and I would spend a day at the cemetery visiting the graves of our parents and other family members. On one of our visits I said to him: Elmer, we are so fortunate that both our parents died so quickly, without going through a long and painful illness. He said: that is because of you. I asked him what he meant. He said: Larry, our parents were very generous with God allowing their youngest child to become a priest who would serve God and God’s people. They were generous with God, and so God was generous with them. I laughed and said: I am not sure God works that way. But the first and third reading in today’s Mass makes me think that maybe he was right. God is never outdone in generosity. The widow in the first reading today is blessed by God because she was willing to look after God’s prophet. And the gospel text reminds us that God rewards every act of hospitality that people show to others.
Brendan Byrne, the Jesuit Scripture scholar, wrote a commentary on Mark’s gospel and entitled it: The Hospitality of God. He shows how Jesus, both in His teaching and His actions, was always the host to others. He wanted to show people how God is a most gracious and generous host to all His people. So when Jesus told his disciples to love one another the way that God loved them, it is no wonder that hospitality became the most important virtue for the early Christian Community. They were urged to be generous in their hospitality because God would never be outdone in generosity for acts of hospitality shown to others.
I received a concrete lesson in this from one of my former students. After she finished her degree in pastoral care she felt called to do ministry among the prostitutes on the North Side of Chicago. It was a whole new world for her. After a year and a half she realised that what these girls/women needed more than anything was a place where they could get away from the streets, drugs and pimps and be treated with respect and care as a human person. She had a knack for raising money and was able to purchase a house in the neighbourhood. She made it clear to the girls and women that they were always welcome to come and stay in the house – for an hour, a day, a week, a month or longer. She had a way of making these people feel “at home” in “their” house. I would on occasion visit her and the women. One time she said to me: Larry, all these girls are Catholic; can we have a Mass around the table? During that Mass I felt that Jesus was very much present and at home with these women. Some people thought that this was her way of trying to get them out of prostitution and would ask what her “success” rate was. She would tell people that even if they came for just an hour because “here” they would be respected and could feel like a real person who was loved by someone she would say “that is a success”. Forty years later my friend is no longer living there, but the house is still there and welcomes any girl or woman who wants to come. And God has, through friends, generously supported them.
Hospitality is not just providing people with a bed or a meal. It is primarily welcoming the other with respect and care. The Benedictines have in their rule: Hospes venit, Christus venit – A guest comes, Christ comes. It is when we treat the other with respect and care that we are practicing hospitality. Then Jesus will one day say to us: I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…. As long as you did his to others you did it to Me.