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The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 17, 2016

Click here to listen to this homily (mp4 file)

      Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to make a retreat at some wonderful Benedictine abbeys.  I have a fondness for the Benedictines, not just because their abbeys tend to be on remote, serene hilltops with breathtaking views - but also because they are known for their hospitality.  Fifteen hundred years ago, St. Benedict wrote into his rule that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”  Even to this day, Benedictines welcome visitors that way and treat them as part of the family.

     I experienced that a few weeks ago when I was warmly welcomed at the Trappist Abbey outside of Portland for my annual retreat.  The Trappists aren’t Benedictines but they grew out of the Benedictines; they follow the Rule of St. Benedict, and, as I was reminded during my recent visit, they’re very good at Benedictine hospitality!   

     Of course, long before St. Benedict ever wrote his rule, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews made the case for showing hospitality to strangers. “By doing that,” he wrote, “some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was, of course, referring to the story in today’s reading from the Book of Genesis. Those three mysterious visitors whom Abraham invited into his tent - lavishing them with care, offering rest and refreshment – turned out to be no ordinary visitors.  They were divine messengers, angels sent by God, and Abraham’s hospitality toward them brought to him and Sarah, his wife, the blessing they had longed for but had long since stopped hoping for: the blessing of a son. If ever an incentive was needed for welcoming strangers, this story gives it. Strangers can be angels in disguise.

     In the gospel story, Martha and Mary were not welcoming a stranger when they welcomed Jesus into their home – Jesus was their friend, after all - but the story does paint a beautiful picture of hospitality: Martha outdoing herself, scurrying about being hospitable, and Mary showing the quiet, gentle, loving face of hospitality. Hospitality has more than one face.

     Hospitality. During this Year of Mercy – and in response to some things we learned from you in the survey we did last fall - we have been looking for ways we can be more welcoming and hospitable as a parish: simple things like installing automatic door openers for the disabled in the Cathedral and at the parish office, and also the welcome you receive from the ushers when you arrive for Mass. And we now have a Welcome Desk here in the Cathedral each weekday, staffed by generous volunteers who are quietly present for several hours a day in the Cathedral just to welcome people and answer questions.  And still another effort to make St. James a place of welcome and, yes, a place of mercy, is the Sunday Help Desk in the Cathedral Hall during the coffee hour after Mass.  Simple things, but important.

     Hospitality: simple enough on the personal level; not so simple on the global level, but no less important. No one has been more outspoken about welcoming strangers than Pope Francis. On his trips to Lampedusa and Lesbos he personally witnessed the tragic plight of tens of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing war, terrorism, and poverty, and he challenged the world community to reach out to these suffering brothers and sisters with aid and asylum and, yes, hospitality.  But as you know, this is not a popular message today. It’s highly controversial. And from many world leaders and from some who would be world leaders, instead of hospitable and welcoming words, we hear exclusionary words, harsh and heartless words, words calculated to stir up fear – fear of the other, fear of the stranger.

     We should be grateful for the prophetic leadership of Pope Francis. For him, this is about morality, not politics. That’s why he confronts the world with the searing question God put to Cain after he murdered his brother, Abel, “Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me.” That’s why the Pope says very bluntly, “This is not a question directed to others, it is a question directed to me, to you. These brothers and sisters of ours are trying to escape impossible situations, to find safe refuge for themselves and their families, but instead they often find death. They are our brothers and sisters, they are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity, they are not disposable. Their cry rises up to God. We must find ways to welcome them….”

     My friends, I’m aware of the complexity of this issue. I read and watch the news as you do. But welcoming the stranger and reaching out to people fleeing for their lives is basic humanity and it’s in our DNA as Christians – maybe from as far back as the Flight into Egypt. And in the swirl of overheated rhetoric, as we form our consciences about what is the right thing, the moral thing, with regard to immigrants and refugees, we will do well to keep the teaching of Pope Francis in mind and to remember that they want the same things we do, the same thing our parents and grandparents wanted: safe haven for themselves and their children: freedom, food, shelter, medical care, a way to make a living, a place to call home. 

     I began by talking about the Benedictines who welcome visitors as Christ himself and about our call as a parish to be welcoming to strangers. And I know, it may seem quite a leap to go from there to welcoming immigrants and refugees – until we recall the teaching of Jesus in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. It seems our salvation depends on it: ”I was a stranger and you welcomed me. For as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”       

Father Michael G. Ryan




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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