Today I want to talk about the fourth corporal work of mercy, which is giving shelter to the homeless.
On Wednesday night of last week, I went home for the night to spend some time with my nephews and niece, who were visiting my parents, their grandparents. I had planned to sleep on the couch, but my nephew Daniel, who is three years old, wanted me to sleep in his room. The more time I spend around children, the more I realize why Jesus said–if you want to get to heaven, you gotta be like a child. You see, Daniel not only allowed me to sleep in his room, he not only put up with me, he was excited about it. In fact he cried because he wanted me to go to sleep at the same time he did. It was kind of funny. When it was time for bed, I read him some stories and then I told him that it was time for prayers. I started, “We thank God for your mom and dad, for your brother and sister, for your house and car.” Then I asked if he wanted to thank God for anything. He thought for a second and said, “Toothpaste.” Then I asked if there was anything else, and he said, “No, that is good for tonight.” God love him!
In any event, my nephew reminds us of the importance of hospitality, in finding joy in taking others in and being present to them. I think we live in a very privatized kind of culture, where we often don’t even talk to our neighbors, let alone invite them in. We’re too often content in being closed in. Sometimes we are so busy-looking and plugged into our smartphones that we don’t have the time of day for another person.
I think that God came to planet earth as a homeless person, a person who didn’t belong, in order to teach us that we must be hospitable people, that we must give shelter to those without it, that we are meant to do our part to make others feel comfortable and at home in this world and around us.
Our readings tell us today that God is hospitable to us, that he gives us shelter first. In our first reading, we hear God reminding David that God gave him a house. “I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah,” he says. In our psalm, we are reminded that God himself is our shelter. We always have a home because we always have God. We always belong because we belong to God, we have a home in him. The crucifix, which is spoken of in our second reading, also reminds us of that truth. Every time we see a crucifix, we ought to think of hospitality. The arms of Jesus are opened as wide as they can be. They are opened to you and to me.
God is hospitable to us all, which is why our parish is, too. It’s why we have a food pantry that is open to everybody, it’s why we have an adoration chapel open 24 hours a day, it’s why we have a Habitat for Humanity ministry (which is coming back), it’s why we throw a big festival this weekend. We want the whole world to know that the arms of this parish are opened to everybody, that everyone has a home here, that everyone is wanted here–and that here is where you’re going to be fed and sheltered and have a good time and find the Lord. We are a hospitable parish, but we can do better. Maybe we should try a bit harder and talk to folks after Mass instead of darting out the door.
We’re meant to be a hospitable people. It’s how we’re wired. We’re happiest when we let others in. Of all the bad stuff we can say about the Pharisees, we have to credit them this: in our Gospel today, one of them invited Jesus to his house and let him in the door. He was hospitable, but not as much as the so-called “sinful woman” who Jesus holds up as the example of hospitality: she gets on her knees and bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. It is a sign that she is willing not only to let Jesus in the door, but to give her all to him.
We pray that we can do the same. Just as God is hospitable to us and gives us a shelter, we pray that we will be hospitable people also. We pray that when we walk the hallways of our schools and offices and cities, people will know we have the time of day for them, that we care, and that our arms are opened as widely as the arms of the Lord on the cross are to us all.