“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rm 15:7). We’ve meditated on the theme of Christian hospitality a number of times, and our good God is calling us to grow in this virtue.
Are we doing well? Would we say our church is a friendly and welcoming parish? If we are, praise God! But compared to what? We used to ask each other our names, but my observation is that we’ve fallen out of practice. Even Starbucks asks names! They do it because they’re paid. Shouldn’t we do it because we follow God Who calls by name?
We are called to be saints, to ‘welcome one another… just as Christ has welcomed you.’ How has Christ welcomed us? He has welcomed us totally and lovingly. And, in everyday circumstances, we express this with joy, with a smile, and by name.
In this part of the Letter to the Romans, chapters 14 and 15, St. Paul is writing about two groups of Christians, whom he terms ‘the weak’ and ‘the strong.’ The weak were mainly Jewish Christians who still followed certain laws from Moses, such as not eating pork. The strong were mainly the Gentile Christians who knew they didn’t have to follow those laws as Christians. So St. Paul is asking the strong to be aware of the weak, so that the whole community would be one. Vice versa, he acknowledges that God worked through the Jews to reach the Gentiles: “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised [that is, the Jewish Christians, the weak ones] … in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles [the non-Jewish people] might glorify God for his mercy” (Rm 15:8-9). In a similar way, Jesus became a servant of us Catholics (the weak ones), in order that non-Christians might know Him, because we’re His messengers. When we celebrate Christ’s Mass, we always have guests join us, and we want to welcome them the way Christ has welcomed us, that is, with joy, a smile, and by name.
How important is this to us? For Jesus, it’s very important. He said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:35,40). Hospitality is not a soft virtue, as if it’s secondary to the Christian life. It may not be the most important virtue, but it’s still an expression of the second commandment.
Now there are a few realities that sometimes hold us back:
1) We’re tired. That’s understandable. So, let’s do our best. The fact is people still deserve our respect, and we can all tell the difference between someone who is tired and has no energy to talk but is trying(!), and someone who is just not interested in us. That’s why sometimes a tired smile reveals more love than a jubilant one.
2) We’re shy. This is very difficult to overcome, and it’s not something we choose. But it is something we can overcome, with God’s grace. There were many saints who were introverted and uncomfortable in public, but they never let it stop them from improving. St. Mother Teresa wanted to remain hidden her whole life, but wrote, “The daily sacrifice I have to make continually is meeting people, priests, etc. How horrible I feel inside when I have to speak to people” (Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, 334). She made this sacrifice and went against her natural inclinations because of love.
And I’ll bet we’re not shy during a job interview. Could you imagine that? The interviewer asks, ‘Sir, please tell us what you can offer to our company if we hire you.’ And you look down and smile? The reality is that, when a job is on the line, we’re friendly and engaged. Advent is a time when we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming. When we’re judged by Jesus at the moment of death, one of the virtues He will examine was our hospitality.
3) When we come to Mass, we come to worship God. That’s true! But worship doesn’t mean ignoring our brothers and sisters. Christian liturgy means worshipping as a body, and we can certainly greet each other before or after Mass.
Let’s clarify how we can grow as a community, and take our love to another level. Given the example of Jesus, the Scriptures, and the saints, and given where we currently are, the next step is for us to greet each other by name. Let me put it this way: before and after Mass, when we greet each other by name, we win. When we don’t, we lose. Now, some might say, ‘What about a tie?’ 🙂 No, no ties, otherwise, we’ll fall back into bad habits. Before and after Mass, when we greet each other by name, we win, spiritually speaking. When we don’t, we lose, spiritually speaking.
This is a work of God, which is why St. Paul prays, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rm 15:5-6). This is a difficult but worthy goal, but it’s better to miss a high goal than reach a low one.
If it’s okay with you, the parish leadership has suggested that we have two Name Tag Sundays in preparation for Christ’s Mass, so that we have opportunities to grow in this virtue.
With God’s help, let’s do our best, for Christ and others. When we celebrate His Mass, we should be able to say, “I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name” (Rm 15:9).