When you think of “welcome”, what image comes to your mind? Maybe you picture a doormat in front of someone’s house. Or maybe a “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign when you cross into that state. My mind goes to an image we don’t see enough on the news – that is of our service men and women coming home to their families, and being received with long embraces.
Welcoming people was a big deal in the times of the Bible. That explains why there are eleven verbs in the Scriptures that can be translated as “to welcome.” In ancient times strangers depended on someone else’s hospitality. It was a basic rule that they were to be received with respect and kindness. It was also a spiritual exercise, because your guests brought something of God’s presence to you.
In the Hispanic tradition, there is a wonderful Advent tradition called “Las Posada”. The word “posada” means shelter. Adults and children take on the role of Mary and Joseph, and for nine nights prior to Christmas, they process through the neighborhood to stop at designated stations. These are homes that represent the innkeeper. At each encounter, they exchange ancient words.
Joseph says, “In the name of God, we ask those who dwell here to give some travelers lodging this evening.” And then, from the inside, voices say, “No, no! Move on! This is not an inn. We’re not going to open. You may turn out to be scoundrels.” Each evening the voices get louder. Then, on the 9th night, which is Christmas, the innkeeper finally opens up his stable, and his humble posada becomes the birthplace of Jesus.
St. Paul teaches us, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” We as a parish have opened our doors and our hearts to neighbors who have come from many countries, and we are especially blessed to count with the robust contribution of a large Latino community. Our church can’t ignore the stress and strain caused to our Latino members by the government’s removal of “Temporary Protection Status” for persons from Nicaraguan, and for other nationalities to follow. Their option is now very harsh: try to survive in a hostile environment here, or return to places that are very unsafe.
For all of us, hospitality is going to mean more than just opening the church. It will call us to share our time, resources, and inner centers of care and solidarity, to stand with the most vulnerable. This is the Scriptural call that comes to us from Jesus who gave these basic spiritual and moral services the highest honor. “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
In the peace of Christ,