In the late 1950s, Albuquerque might have seemed quaint to some, bustling to others, but with an Old West flare, always opened the doors of hospitality. At the center of that ‘Bienvenidos’ was the Catholic Church, an old institution by New Mexican standards, having arrived with the Spanish Franciscans and conquistadores four hundred years earlier. The Church established itself among native people of the region even before the founding of Jamestown, and mission churches were built here before they arrived in California or Texas. Later it became the centering point for migrant ranchers and farmers who tamed a very hostile landscape.
But in the 50s, to a boy who went to Holy Ghost Catholic School in Albuquerque, who at about the time he turned 10, thought everything was Catholic, it seemed as though the welcoming was more universal. In those days, there was always a parade for one thing or another traveling down Central Ave. (Route 66), and the various parishes were involved. Some of the parades were part of the Church celebration, such as the famous Corpus Christi procession that meandered through downtown Albuquerque, winding up at Immaculate Conception, which was a relatively new building at that time.
The warmth and frivolity spilled into the residential neighborhoods, as well. The block I lived on as that little boy apparently had a decree of sorts that required each household to have at least two children (or so it seemed), and on alternate days we were friends and playmates, enemies and opponents, from one game to another, but always welcoming at our homes. Kids back then had no hesitation about walking to a friend’s house, knocking on the door, inviting the other to come out, or maybe being invited in. Moms, who seemed to be home more then, always had a drink or a snack ready for the little visitors. Some neighbors even had unlocked doors and said it was ok to come on in. In 2013, it’s best to call or text first to make sure it’s ok to visit.
The whole concept of hospitality, that is, opening our homes and our hearts to visitors, some who may be strangers, is a tradition at least as old as the Hebrew people, and in particular, the Patriarch of all western faiths, Abraham. For the last month, the Sunday readings (and some of the weekday scriptures) have unfolded the story of hospitality and how it evolved as an essential part of church etiquette. Of course, few people today even remember what etiquette is. If you fit in that category, look up Emily Post, who you’ve probably never heard of either.
In Abraham’s case, hospitality came about when he recognized three travelers crossing a harsh environment. Not only did the patriarch invite them to everything his encampment could offer in the way of food, hygiene, rest, and comfort, but he chased after them when he thought they would pass by and literally coaxed them back to his offering. It is clear that one of the travelers is God the Father. Depending on whose interpretation one hears, the other two are likely angels or the other two persons of the Holy Trinity. The scripture does not clearly identify them as either. This is the first biblical lesson of recognizing God in every face we see, being caring towards someone you may not know, but who may be the presence of God in your life.
As Jesus taught His disciples to teach and heal among the people, He told them to accept hospitality as it is given, but to not scoff and move along, when it is not given. In that same Gospel (Luke 9:51-62), He tells them that listening to the Word of God is more important than the menial tasks of life. He reminded them that the commandments are to love God with heart, soul, and mind, and to take care of each other to show that love. He insisted that they follow the etiquette of a proper guest when they stayed among the people. Luke’s 10th chapter began two weeks later, assuring the faithful that the disciples returned joyfully, thankful for the reception that had been given them in Jesus’ name. He reminded them not to forget who they are and that the desire to care for one another is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was quizzed about the commandments of Mosaic Law, He reiterated the importance of, not only loving God completely, but of giving loving warmth and care to all those in need, and He gave example through the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Finally, the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel concludes with the famous story of Martha and Mary. Jesus praised Mary highly for her thirst to hear the Word of God. While not demeaning Martha for her enthusiastic preparation of food and home, he suggested to her that she worried too much about the things that aren’t as important. Sure, He told her, it was good to be hospitable, but we become even more so when we take time for God in the process. When one has satisfactorily prayed and meditated on scripture, they become more understanding of their role as host/hostess or as guest. That same perception would well apply to modern folks, also.
The last Sunday Gospel reading for July 2013 begins after Jesus and His entourage have gone from the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They will return again, and Martha will tell Jesus that she knows whatever He asks of God will be given. Her conversion is complete, and her hospitality has become her ministry. As they travel, the apostles ask Jesus to tell them how they can pray in such a manner as He has described. The Lord started by praising the Holy Name of God and of His glorious kingdom, then asking that we have what we need each day. He prays that we are forgiven in the same way we forgive others. Jesus tells them to pray that they not be led astray. Certainly He meant by sin, but as the Gospel continues, the Teacher tells His followers about the true nature of giving, that it is unconditional, just like the Father’s love. Everything is a gift from God, and if we seek it, we will find it; if we knock at His door, it will be opened…ah, but that is only when we are willing to give all that we have and open our doors to the ones who seek our kindness and hospitality.
July 29 is the feast day of St. Martha, sometimes also including her sister, Mary. What a splendid day to recall that in order to bring God’s kingdom to be more present in our lives, we all need to be hospitable and caring for others while embracing the Word of God. In other words, we all need to be a little Martha and a little Mary.