Study: Recall a time when you were a stranger – at school, work, or in a new community. How did it feel? What was it like when someone welcomed you?
Pray: Seek the Lord for guidance, especially to recognize and respond to those in search of a place to fit in.
Serve: Who do you know right now who would benefit from a simple welcome? How can you practice hospitality to someone today?
One of the things I enjoy whenever I go on vacation is the opportunity to pray at other parishes as a parishioner. I put on a pair of slacks, a button down shirt, and I walk in as a stranger. Nobody knows that I am a priest, and so I have the privilege to see a parish firsthand – like an ordinary visitor.
I find many insights when I walk in. I try to keep my ears and eyes open, observing how people react to one another. Do they smile? Do they go out of their way to welcome? Do they take the time to greet and help one another in their need?
As a stranger in these parishes I am an outsider, unknown without history or recognition. I have no connections to families, businesses, or authority. In other words, hospitality is often the only reason why anyone would speak to me; they have no other practical reason to do so. Sure, they might want a new parishioner, but you can usually distinguish between sincerity and a sales pitch: one comes from the heart, the other goes for the wallet.
When I encounter a welcoming parish, I always take mental notes. What can I bring back to the Cathedral? What actions already affirm what we do? I usually scribble my notes on a piece of paper, saving them for a special opportunity to put them into practice.
Hospitality is a central part of the Christian life. We reach out to strangers, visitors, and guests, because throughout time people of faith have discovered God’s presence whenever they have reached out to others.
The readings today have a common theme. While God has spoken through a particular people (namely Israel), God calls all people – even strangers and foreigners – through faith to prayer and worship. The gift and call to the Jewish people is “irrevocable” as Paul writes today. Yet through this call people have seen the saving power of Christ and responded with life and joy as they welcome family, friends, and strangers to fellowship.
Practically, we live this theme whenever we reach out to one another. When we recognize that God calls all people, we discover that we are part of a vast and rich family – fellow inhabitants on this rock we call planet Earth.
This is why we go out of our way to welcome one another. This is why we take the time to introduce ourselves, greeting and meeting fellow members of a much larger family. Whenever we take the time to reach out to one another, we live out our most basic call – welcoming one another with the hospitality of a people of faith.