I was driving in the neighborhood recently and a large sign on the front lawn of a church caught my attention. It was a very uncomplicated, one-word sign: WELCOME. I know people who say they go to a particular church because the pastor is an outstanding preacher or because the church community is very welcoming. Even if there is a church closer, they will drive further to be with a community where they feel welcomed.
The author of Hebrews tells us, "Do not neglect hospitality…" The biblical demand for hospitality is clear in both Old and New Testaments. In the Scriptures God has welcomed us, who are aliens and strangers, into the "household of faith." Now we are required to offer hospitality to others. Hospitality makes room for the stranger, especially those in most acute need. This is more than social entertaining and is not based on self-interest and does not expect anything in return.
The characters in our gospel story today are positively removed from a spirit of hospitality. Rather, they are frozen in their own self-interest. Herodias harbored a grudge against John the Baptist. Herod didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his guests so he reluctantly decreed the beheading of John the Baptist to save face.
Hospitality is not about me. When my ego gets involved, I am definitely missing the primary reason for hospitality. John Ruskin, a poet of the 19th century, writes, "When a man is all wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package." That certainly describes Herod and Herodias.
If you want to extend compassionate hospitality, consider talking with a person who is often ignored by others, comfort the grieving, share your faith with someone searching for meaning, speak an encouraging word to the weak, visit the sick, host neighbors in your home for the sole purpose of getting to know them, respond to those in a crisis, provide food for the homeless or support a food pantry, offer a kind word to the beggar at the street corner, visit a widow in your neighborhood on a regular basis, reach out to those who are experiencing domestic violence/abuse in their homes, have lunch with your obnoxious or agnostic co-worker, invite someone to Sunday Mass with you.
As Jesus welcomes us as strangers, may we have the grace to welcome the stranger into our life and community.
Today is the feast of the Martyrs of Japan. Paul Miki, age 35, along with 25 other Japanese Catholics, was crucified on February 5, 1597. All were canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1862. Let us remember their heroism and, through the intercession of these martyrs, pray for the Catholic Church in Japan.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.