Love, the Guest
Published on December 3-4, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
There is a new artwork hanging right next to the main doors of Saint Andrew’s Church. It is a print done in calligraphy by Fr. Eric Lies, OSB of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Its words, from the Rule of Saint Benedict (53:1-2, 15), read: “Guests are to be welcomed as Christ for He Himself will say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed Me’ [Mt. 25:35]. Proper care must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith [Gal. 6:10], and to pilgrims. Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received.” It hangs there, not only to enhance the beauty of our narthex, but also, to serve as a reminder of what our parish is called to do: to welcome all who come through our doors as we would welcome Christ when He comes again in glory.
Unfortunately, the human race does not have a good track record when it comes to hospitality to the Most High. When the Christ-child “came unto His own…His own received Him not” (Jn. 1:11). There was no room for Him in any inn in Bethlehem (cf. Lk. 2:7); there was no great reception for Him who is the world’s Redeemer. He was the long-expected One, yet only a few noticed that He had come: those who were attentive to the things of Heaven (the Magi) and those who were down to earth (the shepherds). There were even those who did not want Him around, who were ready to kill just to get Him out of their way (cf. Mt. 2:3, 16). But, the rest did not detect the Divine coming to dwell in their midst, so consumed were they with their cares that they cared not to watch or wait for the window of salvation to open.
Nothing much has changed in two thousand years. There are still those who want to take Christ out of sight, out of mind, and out of Christmas. And, the rest are still very consumed by the costs of this holiday that they fail to realize that it is costing them a share of eternity. They have become so obsessed with gifts for the season that they have forgotten the Gift of the season. Their Friday after Thanksgiving is not bright but black, because, for them, this is the time of the year when, as the comic Stephen Colbert points out, they are “spending money [they] don’t have on things [they] don’t need to give to people [they] don’t like.”
But, for us Catholics, there is more to this season than just sales and presents and decorations. Advent for us is a window of opportunity to practice our welcome for Christ. Our God of second chances has given us this time to be ready to receive Him whom we failed to receive once before. And the only way we can prepare to welcome Him when He comes again is to welcome with the same warmth all those whom He has sent to go ahead of Him: every guest, pilgrim, and poor person who knocks on our door. Christ once came in the unexpected guise of a helpless child; He comes to us still in the guise of those who approach us for help. Each of them is a herald prompting us to make room in our hearts and in our hearths for, as the Advent carol reminds us, “Love, the Guest, in on the way” (cf. “People, Look East!” by Eleanor Farjeon).