Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hospitality

One of the hallmarks of simple Christianity is hospitality.  Benedict of Nursia challenged those who took up his Rule to "welcome all as Christ." In a traditional convent, friary, or monastery, those who came stayed in a guest house; in contemporary communities, we must open our hearts. Not always easy and downright irritating some times, but always necessary.

Francis kissed the leper, and we must do no less. Following Jesus isn't easy nor is it always pleasant, but it will change you. The homeless man or woman walking the streets is a person; if he or she speaks to you, look them in the eye, whether or not you give money. Let them know you see them. Try to smile at people or at least acknowledge them with a nod; it could change someone's life, perhaps save it. Be kinder to yourself, too. 

I once heard the story of a little Russian girl, long before the Communist revolution, who joyfully yelled "Christos annesti" (Christ is Risen!) to a man she was passing. In her innocence, she radiated Christ's hospitality and love. The man had murdered someone days before, and as a result of her greeting, collapsed in tears, admitted his crime, and became truly repentant. Will it work every time? Probably not, but if it changes one person, isn't it worth it?

Faith communities as well need to open their doors wide and practice the welcome given by Jesus. The rabbi of Nazareth ate with tax collectors and women, which was simply not done in his day. He did not give them a litmus test of beliefs, but looked into their hearts and told them their faith healed them, calling them to sin no more.  

Part of being hospitable means making guests as comfortable as possible; it means taking the Church to our brothers and sisters wherever they are. It means taking food, yes, but also celebrating the Eucharist there, forming real community. It means offering empowerment, hope and liberation by struggling for justice, but personifying mercy.

Maybe if we as Church were more worried about loving and less about doctrinal perfection, true conversion in us all could take place.  

Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg

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