As we move toward the end of liturgical Ordinary Time and the beginning of yet another liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent, the Church focuses our attention today on two virtues proper to those who want to dwell in God’s Kingdom: hospitality and faith.
Hospitality is the virtue of extending or sacrificing oneself to the needs of another or of others. Genuine hospitality requires that you put yourself out of center stage in your own life, so that others may have what they need from you to be whole, comfortable or at home. At its simplest hospitality is considering the other as a distinct person and not an extension of your own needs or wants. To be hospitable I have to place myself in another’s shoes, to imagine myself dealing with his struggles or her sense of call. There is hospitality in really listening to another and attempting to hear the reality of her concerns and hopes.
In my own life I have two stellar examples of hospitality. My own mother was truly a hostess. She thought deeply about what another would need or desire of her, and she stretched herself to meet that need as well as she was able. Was it time you needed? A shoulder to cry on? An estimation of value for one of your projects? A bed to sleep in? Mother agonized over appropriate gifts because she never wanted to give what she thought the person “ought to have” or “needed by her definition,” but what he wanted. My mother extended the hospitality of her body to ten little lives to become human within, and to feed for many months from. She offered the hospitality of her heart to her children, her grandchildren and all others who crossed her path.
A second witness of hospitality came to me in the person of a married couple whose home I lived within every summer for over two decades as I taught in Creighton’s Christian Spirituality program, but did not live in Omaha. The Heaneys generously provided not only bread and board, but their love, attention, interest, and all kinds of support for the work I sought to offer for God’s Kingdom. In a very real way they are the “beloved” of the Third Letter of John that is read today, people of the Gospel who render hospitality in God’s name and for God’s purpose no matter at what personal cost.
The second virtue that we are challenged to grow into in today’s liturgy is that of faith, especially faithfulness on behalf of justice. The wicked judge of the story was frightened that the widow would “blacken his eye” (the literal meaning of the Greek verb, “to strike”) because she was so passionately persistent in challenging him to serve her need for justice. She had faith that her persistence would undermine his determination to be neglectful. Jesus tells the parable, not to disparage God’s willingness to respond to us, but to remind us that unless we really remain full of faith even in the face of God’s seeming intransigence in our regard, we may not be open to receiving what God can do for us.
Most of us know that that which comes easily to hand may not be what we most value. God knows that we often express desires which may not be the desire of our hearts, so God allows us to continue asking until we ourselves want it badly enough to be able to receive it when it is given! Thus our persistence is the very tool that God can use to hone our desire into the deepest possible desire for justice and for all other gifts which are truly good for us.
As we consider the endings/beginnings that death, the depths of autumn, and the fullness of God’s reign imply this late November we are called to pray for ourselves and for others the gifts of hospitality that witness God’s fidelity to us, and for the gift of faith, that opens our hearts to God’s coming within us.
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