Hospitality is different from entertainment

Readings: Gen. 18.1-10, Ps. 15, Col. 1.24-28, Lk. 10.38-42

Hospitality is the theme of todayís readings. Hospitality is different from entertainment. In summertime, we entertain guests with ice tea, gin & tonics and barbeques. We might even hum Billie Hollidayís song: "Summertime, and the living is easy." Hospitality, whose root word is observed in hospice and hospital, means receiving and treating well strangers in oneís midst. At St. Joseph Church we have a hospitality ministry which functions at the 4:30pm and 10:15am Masses, when greeters welcome new-comers/strangers to our church. To remember the distinction between entertainment and hospitality, think of cool glasses of gin & tonics for the former, and comfort and care given to strangers for the latter.

Examples of hospitality occur in both the Old and New Testaments. In the ancient and current Semitic world of desert Bedouins who traveled on dry, dusty and stony roads of the Near East, hospitality was highly valued culturally. Also it was highly valued religiously. Because the Jews had spent decades suffering as "strangers in a strange land," the Old Testament law in the Book of Deuteronomy required that the Jews be hospitable to strangers.

Abraham and his wife Sarah offered hospitality to three passersby. Abrahamís daughter Rebekah and her husband Laban received and cared for Abrahamís servant. Numerous prophets reminded the people of the law of hospitality.

In this same Near Eastern culture and religion, Jesus says to his disciples, "Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me. Whoever gives to the lowly people a cup of cold water will be rewarded." (Mt. 10.42) The criterion for judgment is "when I was hungry, did you give me to eat; when I was thirsty, did you give me to drink; etc." (Mt. 25.3Ö..) St. Paul reminds the Christians at Rome to offer hospitality to people in need, and Paul instructs Timothy and Titus that candidates for being bishops must be hospitable men.

May I share some principles about Christian hospitality. Be generous; donít be stingy. Do it for the love of God and for the love of Godís people, not primarily because you have to or people might be judging you. Do the right thing for the right reasons. Be prudent in your hospitality. Personally, Iíd estimate that at least nine out of ten people, who come to the door of the rectory looking for a handout, have made up their stories. I try to verify peopleís stories: I call relatives or former employers. Whether Iím giving away parish money or my own money, I want to make sure it goes to needy people not con artists. Also, donít judge people by external factors: the color of their skin, clothing and length of hair. The role of hospitality is to make people feel welcomed, comfortable and cared for.

Two examples, please, of hospitality. Remember four years ago when the town of Emmitsburg celebrated the funeral for 1st Lieutenant Robby Seidel who had been killed in Iraq. Hundreds of bikers came to town. They dressed in leather jackets and bandanas. They flexed their muscles covered with tattoos. Their loud bikes roared through town. The reason they came to town was to pay their respects to this deceased soldier, and to protect Robbyís parents from having to see or hear the outrageous antagonists from the Westboro Baptist Church located at Topeka, KS who cheer at the funerals of service men and women. These bikers lined the roadways from the basilica on the Daughters of Charity property, onto South Seton Avenue and all the way to the burial site at St. Joseph New Cemetery. These men and women by their caring, protective, hospitable actions gave me a whole new perspective on bikers. Our town of Emmitsburg and I learned a giant lesson in not judging a book by its cover, and happily offering hospitality to these bikers.

A second example of respecting and appreciating strangers come from an uncle of mine. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He was a hard-working man who went to college at nights and became a draftsman. He went to church every Sunday, said his daily morning and evening prayers, and never ate meat on Fridays. But he did not like minorities and hippies. One day at work he suffered a major heart attack. Two EMS responders rushed to help him. One man was black, and the other was a long-haired hippy. These EMS men saved my uncleís life. A couple of days later, when I visited my uncle in his hospital bed, he wept tears as he told me how grateful he was to these two EMS men, and how wrong he had been to judge people by external factors. One month later, my good uncle died. I think God had given him that opportunity to repent of his mistake of misjudging strangers.

Friends, throughout history, certain people end up being disparaged: maybe immigrants, or homosexuals, or poor or rich, or white, black, brown, red or yellow. The Christian way is to perceive and receive every person as a child of God. Weíve all experienced being strangers at some time and place. We all appreciate how someone reached out to us. Letís us reach out to welcome Godís people, especially those who are strangers in our midst.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley