Welcoming Strangers

As I sit at my computer writing my weekly column, I am thinking of a story in Luke’s gospel that speaks of two sisters. We heard that story during Sunday liturgy a few weeks ago. 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 Martha’s that serve among us. Where will our parishes be without the numerous Martha’ s – 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. In fact many religious communities consider hospitality to be a sacred obligation and they provide guests better fare than their own community members. 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 two 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!” Even though we do not officially greet everyone at the beginning of Mass as they do in some other parishes, we want to make everyone to feel at home with us.

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 that the new school year has started on a good note. Let us look forward to a peaceful, fruitful year.

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068

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Phone: (847) 825-7605

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8:30 am - Upper Church


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10:30 am - Upper Church

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