The other day, our son Chris had dinner at a farmhouse located just outside of Cascavel, Brazil. His hosts – José and Gesmari Broca – speak Portuguese. Chris knows some Spanish, but English is definitely his go-to language. And even so, he reports, the encounter managed to bless everyone involved.
You can read more about the visit in the article that Chris wrote for The Jesuit Post. As for me, I was intrigued by how his trek to Cascavel mirrored the biblical scenes of hospitality we heard at Mass today.
In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham welcomes three complete strangers into his encampment – and he and his wife are blessed in a way they didn’t think possible. In the gospel, Jesus teaches his friend Martha an important lesson about the truly valuable things in life. Cooking, cleaning and accommodations may be an important (even essential) element of hospitality. But the real value in an encounter with a guest is presence.
‘Mary has chosen the better part,’ Jesus says, ‘and it will not be taken from her.’ (Luke 10:42)
We can certainly see the logic of this observation as the story is told in the gospel vignette. If it’s a choice between housework or quality face-time with the Lord of the universe, who wouldn’t choose the latter?
But as Martha discovered, it’s not always easy to appreciate the blessed presence in our day-to-day encounters.
I was thinking about that after our ACTS team meeting yesterday morning. As part of our spiritual formation, we had spent some time in small groups praying over each other. During my turn as prayer-receiver, I noticed how busy my mind had become – thinking ahead to all the tasks I had ahead of me that day. As my mind raced, I had to stifle the urge to move the process along: ‘Wrap it up, already! I don’t need any more prayers from you, brother…I’ve got things to do!’
And then, all of a sudden, I felt a different kind of energy – penetrating me to the marrow: What a profound grace I was experiencing in that moment! Brothers in Christ, extending their hands over me. My brothers, my teammates, becoming the body of Christ for me.
Was it real? Was I actually in His presence, in that encounter?
Judging by what St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, I suspect he’d give the idea two thumbs up. The church at Colossae didn’t have the benefit – as Martha and Mary did – of Jesus’ physical presence in their midst. But the Lord ought to be no less real for you, St. Paul tells them.
‘…the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past…’ he says ‘…has [now] been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the gentiles; it is Christ in you…’
Just imagine: Christ in you. Christ in me.
Kind of gives the whole notion of hospitality a much deeper meaning, doesn’t it?