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The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 17, 2022

Watch this homily!


    Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to make a retreat at some wonderful Benedictine abbeys. I’ve always had a fondness for the Benedictines, not just because their abbeys tend to be on remote, serene hilltops with breathtaking views - but also because Benedictines 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.

    Of course, long before St. Benedict wrote his rule, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote about showing hospitality to strangers. “By doing that,” he wrote, “some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  He was referring, of course, to the story in today’s reading from the Book of Genesis pictured on the cover of today’s bulletin. 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, and while Mary may, in Jesus’ words, have chosen “the better part” still, we would be hard put to deny the importance of Martha’s role in showing hospitality. Had it not been for Martha, Jesus probably wouldn’t have gotten much if anything to eat!

     Hospitality. In response to things you told us in a parish survey - we have looked for ways we can be more welcoming and hospitable as a parish. In addition to our wonderfully welcoming ushers at the doors of the Cathedral, we have a Welcome Desk here in the Cathedral each weekday, staffed by generous volunteers who are quietly present just to welcome people and answer questions. And, there’s our Wednesday midday tour for visitors, and there’s the Cathedral Kitchen that welcomes and feeds hundreds of poor and homeless people six days each week, and our Immigrant Assistant Program with its outreach to refugees from Afghanistan, and soon from Ukraine.

     Hospitality: important at the parish level and equally important on the global level. No one has been more outspoken about welcoming strangers than Pope Francis. On his trips around the world he has made it a point to come face-to-face with the plight of tens of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing war, terrorism, and poverty, and he has challenged the world community to reach out to these suffering brothers and sisters with aid and asylum and, yes, hospitality. Which brings to mind the recent tragic death of those 53 people down on our southern border. They came here in a desperate search for safety and refuge but were heartlessly abandoned in a tractor-trailer where they died from stifling heat and dehydration in unspeakable conditions.

     Sadly, the 24-hour news cycle has probably already moved us onto other tragic stories, but this is one we should not forget – nor should we forget the searing question God put to Cain after he murdered his brother, Abel, “Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me.” In commenting on this passage, Pope Francis made the blunt observation, “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 and I am also aware of how politically charged it has become. But welcoming the stranger and reaching out to people fleeing for their lives is not politics, it’s basic morality, and it’s in our DNA as Christians – maybe from as far back as the Holy Family’s 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 when they came here: 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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