hospitality as worship

written by Anton Flores-Maisonet

Hospitality.  Welcoming the stranger as though she were Christ.  What does that mean for the North American church in the 21st Century?  What does it mean to extend welcome these days?  In this fast-paced cyber-world of virtual relationships, has “welcoming” now been reduced to simply making an acquaintance or an old schoolmate a “friend” on Facebook?

What does it mean to not only extend welcome, but to actually receive the stranger?  We are incessantly bombarded with messages telling us to be afraid of the stranger.  Lock your door. Arm your home with an alarm system, a dog, and a gun. If you encounter a stranger, call 9-1-1 and report a suspicious character.

Saint Benedict’s rule was obviously not informed by corporate-controlled media.

I recall having a conversation with someone about Christian hospitality. To her, a Christ-like welcome involved having a large well-decorated home that was suitable enough to entertain her homogenous church friends.

For others, hospitality is paying for out-of-town relatives to stay at a nearby hotel when visiting us in our new home in a new town as we journey in search of the ever-elusive American Dream.

And friends that can fit into our busy schedules will be met at a restaurant or coffeehouse, all in the name of ease and efficiency. Yes, hospitality is no longer a spiritual practice but is now a profit-making industry.

I recall a conversation with a former pastor where I shared how, for me, hospitable encounters with the poor and marginalized are worshipful moments because I, just as Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and countless others have attested, that this encounter with the Other is an encounter with Christ in a distressing disguise.  That’s why at Alterna’s core we are a community of hospitality.

Another pastor once erroneously called the work of Alterna “secular”. While we do not pretend to be an institutional church, our work  is the work of the Church. When we welcome the stranger we are inviting Christ and offering the Lord of the Church a place to lay His weary head and a place where the Stranger can share her burdens. Then, in the breaking of the bread, we see the Stranger transformed into our Savior. If that’s not holy work, I don’t know what is!

Of course, our unique call is to welcome the immigrant. So perhaps Alterna’s rule of hospitality should read:

Undocumentable guests are to be welcomed as Christ for He himself will say, “I was an ‘illegal’, and you welcomed Me.” Proper care must be shown to all, especially to those migrants, or pilgrims, who share our faith, for our eternal heavenly citizenship is greater than our temporal national identity.

Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor immigrants, because in them more particularly Christ is received at Alterna.

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