Dinner with a perfect stranger!

Over the past few days there seems to be a recurrent theme of Scripture passages where Jesus is out dining or even invites himself to dinner! The Gospel both today and yesterday and tomorrow invite us to reflect on whom we welcome or don’t welcome in our homes. We are called to the hospitality of the heart.
Yesterday we had the story of Zacchaeus. It is the story of the hospitality of God shining a light into Zacchaeus’ darkness. Jesus goes to eat at the house of a tax collector. This story presents two kinds of “lostness.” There is the lostness of Zacchaeus, a social outcast, a man who suffers from a different kind of poverty than we normally think of—and there is the lostness of the crowd, which we need to identify with ourselves. We who call ourselves Christians are not immune to this kind of lostness. Often, we judge and we look-down-upon, we fold our arms and we distance ourselves, and we make little biting comments about each other to others or in our own minds. Yet Zacchaeus could have declined the offer to have Jesus come and dine. God leaves us free. God is not about forced entry and the door must be opened from the inside as the beautiful image of ‘Christ, Light of the World’ depicts. We must make the decision to yield to His mercy and receive the gift.  And to receive the gift means that our hands must be empty.
Looking at today’s Gospel, I wonder. I’m not sure why people kept asking Jesus to dinner for it seems he really had a knack for creating awkward social moments. Imagine, he goes to the host and reminds him that it is the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind whom he should be inviting, not his friends! Awkward!
Closing Rally, 40 Days for Life
Picture by Paul Lauzon
Yesterday, some of us here at Deschatelets and from St. Paul’s University attended the Closing Rally of the 40 Days for Life which had been taking place here in Ottawa. You can read more about 40 Days for Life here and watch this space for a blogpost about the Rally! Archbishop Prendergast shared some very thought provoking words about the story of Zacchaeus and how through the gift of a child, Jesus invites himself into the lives of men and women. Abortion is an outright rejection of the hospitality of God. It is saying no to the Incarnation. It is forgetting that every child bears the face of Christ, even the child in the womb. The Incarnation is hospitality and abortion says ‘there is no room for you’.  The Incarnation is the sacrament of the self where we welcome the other as they are and for whom they are. It is far beyond the boundaries of mere social interaction but it is the heartfelt awareness of another person’s needs. For most of the Church's history, Christians located hospitality within a vibrant tradition in which needy strangers, angels, and even Jesus were welcomed, and through which people were transformed.

Hospitality of Abraham
As we walked home from the Vigil, we shared some brief thoughts with each other but little did we know that the Lord had reserved the most poignant lesson of the day until the end. An encounter with a homeless man called Lorenzo left me with the ‘entertained by angels’ feeling. Lorenzo was standing in the cold outside the ice-cream parlour and was quite comfortable in striking up a conversation with 3 priests and a sister! Before long, he showed us his chord cross which he had made himself. I offered him a Miraculous Medal from my abundant stash of medals which he did take with gratitude! Imagine our surprise when his next question was if ‘you guys would like to pray’! So we prayed there on Elgin Street with Lorenzo leading the prayer. Words don’t do justice to the experience but he prayed the most beautiful, heartfelt and Spirit-inspired prayer I had heard in a long time which lasted about 5 minutes. It was the prayer of a child who knows and trusts their Father. It was the prayer of one who trusts in the Divine Provider. It was the prayer of one who wasn’t worried about words, or trying to impress but prayed from the heart. Usually homeless people on the streets ask us for money or if they know you are a priest or sister, they may ask for prayers. Lorenzo did not ask for money but he gave us ‘something greater than gold or silver, Jesus Christ’ (Acts 3:6). None of us deny that it's easier to share hospitality with family and friends than with the stranger on the street. However in this short time with Lorenzo, as one of my friends remarked, we had been welcomed into his home which was the busy, noisy and cold place that was Elgin Street. An hour later, that same home could be Bank Street or Rideau Street, who knows?
As a religious, I will never own my own house or even have to rent one but I will always have a home and not have to worry about being on the streets. I may not get to furnish it according to the way I wish. However, whilst it might not reflect my own personal style and tastes, our way of life as religious is a call toward simplicity, beauty and dignity. It doesn't matter if we rent or own a house or an apartment; our homes are an extension of ourselves and hospitality can never be lacking. We can be as Jesus was in the house of others. Jesus made guests feel valued and appreciated, in conversation and personal attention. However, Jesus the Guest also emphasizes uncomfortable hospitality that extends beyond the safe zones of family and friends.

Solitude is a human need; distance is a human problem; hospitality is the human gift that bridges the two.We are all on a journey home, where we will be eternal guests in God's house. This is our sense of place, and it is from this foundation that we offer hospitality, regardless of our physical location. So we journey ever onwards with open hearts, open to the God of surprises and always ready to entertain angels!