As you proceed, another person stops you and asks for your credentials. Suddenly you loose your emotional footing – you wonder what’s going on. You have your invitation, and it appears to express that you are welcome at any time, so you’re not sure what might be wrong.
While others stream in through the great doors, you and some others are asked to step to the side while these so-called greeters meet. You see them looking over at your ever growing group, and talking. You may feel sad, afraid, angry, frustrated – but whatever it is, you do not feel welcome. Eventually, you look at your invitation, crumple it up and throw it on the ground. Forget it. Never mind. Out of here.
The topic if ecclesial hospitality, or more plainly put, church welcome, is near and dear to my heart. My work days are centered around this precious element of church life – greeting God’s people with joy and love. Trust me, I am kind of a pain in the you know what, just ask anyone who really knows me. That said, more often than I could ever possibly imagine, I pray that I make all visitors, whether known to me or not, are gladly received. It is a rich privilege and I try not to screw it up too badly.
Therefore, during this Sunday, when the readings offer a message of welcome, I was grateful to go to my home parish, the one where I worship, for mass. (I work elsewhere.) It was no surprise to me that we gathered to this hymn, Marty Haugen’s All Are Welcome, which is very appropriate for this (or any) Sunday, especially at St. Edward’s.
Now many a church musician will roll their eyes at this one, and curl their lip, finding the song insipid. There are many church people who do not believe that the song accurately states the church’s theological or ecclesial reality, but I do have a challenge seeing how the song goes wrong, musically or ecclesiastically. Of course, in daily practical life, any observer of churches of any denomination, will see that reality for many means welcome is full of qualifications.
In a timely piece in today’s New York Times, journalist Nicholas Kristof writes about how the US deports children so that they might die. In fact, it makes sure they never get here, but whether they do or not, off they go…
If other countries were forcibly returning people to their deaths, we would protest. But because we Americans worry about refugees swarming across our borders, we help pay for Mexico to intercept them along its southern border and send them — even children like Elena — back home, where they may well be raped or killed.
The US Catholic Conference of Bishops has been somewhat vociferous on the topic of immigration and in a positive way. Of course, Pope Francis himself is very outspoken on this matter, but not all American Catholics agree. There are practical reasons for objecting, after all, “those people” are draining our resources. I’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s focus on “those people” for a moment. Unless I am wrong, didn’t God create and love “those people” into being the same way he loved you into being? I have no evidence to the contrary and base my assessment on the Scriptural assertion and generally accepted belief that God created us all in God’s image. From Genesis 1:27, we read: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them…” So I am not sure why they are less worthy in anyone’s eyes, but hey – that’s just me.
Back to my job for a moment. Sometimes annoying or scary people come to the door. Note that annoying and scary are in the eye of the beholder here. While in the middle of white suburbia, we have no shortage of poor, sometimes mentally ill, drug addicted people in our midst. Often, more often than I care to admit – I am challenged by their presence. Having said that, I hope that as I struggle with my own inner judge, I keep the Spirit alive by “faking it until I make it” as I connect them to the help they need.
Regarding our Central American brothers and sisters, the ones that Kristof speaks of in today’s paper. Where is their welcome? Today’s Genesis reading where Abraham dispatches everyone to get moving and feed the strangers that have shown up. Was it annoying, inconvenient, and perhaps expensive for Abraham to do so? I’m thinking about how we in church like to talk about “sacrificial giving” but wondering if it is as sacrificial as it could be. I get stuck in my own lack of generosity and hospitality, as well as what I see around me, because it does not seem very Jesus-y.
Whether it is the disciples worrying if there will be enough food on other days, or Martha, in today’s Gospel, worrying about getting stuff done, the answer Jesus offers us is to have faith and to believe that all of our needs will be met. Speaking personally, as a person for whom worry about having “enough” is brought to high art in me, I have to wonder if any of us believe in Him enough to live that way.
Yesterday I read about a group of Jews and others that the Nazis would have wanted to capture, who were literally walled into the attic of a Redemptorist church in Rome during WWII. I’m pretty sure that it was not safe, convenient, or practical for the priests and a neighboring nun to take care of these men, but yet they did. When we confuse our own comfort and security as part of any process of hospitality, I think we lose sight of Jesus.
As we all read and pray with today’s readings, maybe we can stretch our hearts out a bit, really pull at the fabric of our souls so that they may be enlarged. That way the next time that any of us resists opening our heart to and welcoming everyone – including black/Latino/LGBTQ/Muslim or any others we might want to shun, we can turn that resistance into a welcome. Not a tepid one, not one that implies that the person’s invite is no longer valid, not a welcome that distinguishes between “us” and “those people,” but a real welcome – the kind that Abraham came up with. The kind that Jesus always managed to offer.
If we can do that, each of us, even just a little, we might just find that the person who is converted in not only our visitor, but even more so – ourselves. Like the great banquest story that I opened with, let’s hold the doors to God’s house open, and live with mercy. God will work on the rest, just like God is working on each of us. Then we can sing Marty Haugen’s hymn sincerely, heartily, and with joy, the way we do at St. Edward’s. And that’s the best hospitality of all, when we welcome God, deeply into our hearts. After all – you’re invited and all are welcome here.