Thursday, September 4, 2014

CHAPTER 53: How Guests Are to be Welcomed

All guests should be received as Christ, because He will say: "I was a stranger and you took Me in" (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to every one of them, and especially to fellow Christians and travelers. When, therefore, a guest is announced, the Superior and the brethren should welcome him with every mark of charity. Let the greatest care be taken, especially in the reception of the poor and travelers, because Christ is especially present in them.

     After sixteen years of teaching, there are two things I’ve learned about my students:  they can be very, very funny; and they can be very, very annoying.  I had one student in my seventh grade English class who stands out in my memory as excelling all the others in both these qualities.  His name was Chad, and he considered it his special vocation to question me in such a way as to lead me as far as possible from any relevant topic of class discussion.  (Creative genius is a lot like nature, I think.  99% of what it produces is just useless.  But that remaining 1% is worth waiting for, so I tended to give Chad at least one shot every day.)
     This particular afternoon, Chad raised his hand in the middle of a class discussion on the literary merits of Edmund Spenser and said:  “If Jesus loves us so much, why doesn’t he just come down and show himself to us?”  This, of course, struck me as profoundly irrelevant to the topic at hand, but at the same time, I needed material for my next homily, so I decided to run with it.
     “Jesus does show himself to us,” I told him, “every time we receive the Eucharist.”
    “Right. Right.”  He said, “but what I’m asking is: Why doesn’t he personally, physically come down and visit with us?”
     “He does,” I answered.  “In the Eucharist, he personally, physically comes down and visits with us.”
     “That’s not what I mean,” he said, “I want to know why Jesus doesn’t make personal, face-to-face appearances to people like you and me.”
     “Well he does that too,” I said.  “You just have to be patient.”
     Chad wasn’t going to be put off that easily.  “So you’re telling me,” he said, “that you have personally, physically, met Jesus Christ face-to-face.  You’ve seen him.  You’ve personally seen God.” 
      I looked him in the eye and I said, “Yes, Chad, I have.”
     “Fine!” he said, “Then what does he look like?”
    There was a nervous silence in the classroom as he and the other students waited for my answer.  And for a moment or two, I was a little afraid I was going to have to back down.  But the answer came to me.  “Chad,” I said, “I have met Jesus.  Face to face. And you know what?  He looks a lot like you.
    “You see, Mother Teresa used to say that we should serve Christ in ‘the distressing disguise of the poor.’  And this used to bother me a little because I thought Mother Teresa loved the poor; but clearly she found them just as icky as I do.  By her own admission, she found their presence disturbing.  But what she could see (and I couldn’t) is that whenever you find someone distressing or annoying or off-putting in any way, that’s a sure-fire way of knowing that the person you’re dealing with is Jesus.  You want to know what Jesus looks like?  Think of the one person in the world who annoys you the most.  And there you have it.  That’s what Jesus looks like.”
     It is true that guests often arrive at inconvenient times.  It is also true that they can sometimes be demanding or rude.  But hospitality is a special vocation for the Christian, and he must resolve to be heroically patient and charitable, drawing superhuman power from the sacraments and from his prayer.  Thus, in the faces of those who distress us the most, we are given power to discern the very face of God.
A few of my students.  You can probably guess which one is Chad.