As I sit at my computer writing my weekly column, I am thinking of a story in the gospel that speaks of two sisters. It tells us how Martha and Mary entertained Jesus in their home. Martha was anxious about many things because she wanted everything to be “perfect” for Jesus. In certain circles she has been unjustly belittled because Mary had “chosen the better part.” I do not believe Jesus intended to dismiss Martha’s place in the kingdom. I am sure the Lord enjoyed Martha’s hospitality and culinary prowess. We too need to acknowledge the Marthas that serve among us. Where will our parishes be without the numerous Marthas – both men and women – who forget themselves and occupy themselves with a million details?
The message of Martha is much deeper than taking care of a million details. Martha personifies hospitality which has been rightfully reinstated as a Christian virtue in recent years. Taking care of orphans and widows, and welcoming strangers has always been a part of our Catholic Christian tradition. However, hospitality embraces a much richer connotation than feeding people or merely waiting on them.
Ever since I became a diocesan priest thirteen years ago, being alone has been an integral part of my life. I don’t relish living alone. Thank God, here at St Paul’s I have three other priests to form a community. I was part of a religious community and very often shared my life with numerous others. That is why the very idea of going home every year to India when I will be surrounded by family is very appealing to me. Of course I smile as I visualize all my brothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews hovering over me. They cook up a storm to delight my palate with all the flavors and tastes that I grew up with. In the process I will put on another twenty pounds. My family will be hospitable in many, many ways. But the most profound way in which they will show hospitality to me will be by welcoming me back home. The way I understand it, hospitality is basically making someone feel at home. To be hospitable to someone means we try to make them feel at home in our midst.
I grasped the full import of hospitality when I came to the US many years ago. I knew I was a stranger in a foreign land. Through the kindness of many friends, I have gradually come to look at this country as my home. As I look back I remember so many individuals and families that literally have welcomed me into their home. I now consider many of them as my extended family. I am part of their lives just as they are part of mine.
I pray that we as a community will always be a hospitable parish, a parish that makes everyone feel at home. There should be no strangers among us. Our parish is certainly known for being welcoming to all. As we sometimes sing at church, “All are welcome!”
The Master told us that when we welcome a stranger we welcome Jesus Himself. That is why it is imperative that we practice the virtue of hospitality. How should we make the strangers in our midst feel welcome? When we welcome a guest into our home, we cannot demand that they conform to our standards and expectations. We cater to their needs. They become the focus of our attention.
In recent years we have become highly polarized as a nation and to some extent as Church. It would appear that the political battle lines are already drawn. We may be tempted to dismiss those who disagree with our opinions and views. Probably it is easier to be hospitable to those who look different or speak a different language. Perhaps it is harder to welcome the stranger who stands in the opposite political or ideological camp. Even within our own parish, can we make the stranger feel at home? Mother Theresa once said: “Jesus comes to us in distressing disguises.” Often His disguises are distressing not because they are dirty but because they do not fit our expectations or our political views.
May St Martha teach us to make Jesus welcome in our midst! Like Mary can we make the Master the focus of our attention? I hope you are enjoying a relaxing summer time.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...