Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I Was A Stranger and You Welcomed Me: Reflection for the Year of Consecrated Life

By:  Elizabeth Davis, rsm

In Matthew 25, when Jesus was asked how we could best walk in God’s way, his words were starkly clear, “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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt 25:35-36). 

The Sculpture of Hands by Gerald Squires:
The Gathering Place, St. John's, Newfoundland.
We have a poignant living out of this scriptural passage at The Gathering Place*. There, every day, we – Guests, volunteers, staff members and Sisters – live the words “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, a stranger . . .” There, every day, the Gerry Squires’ sculpture of hands reminds us that we cannot always tell who is giving and who is receiving. 

This is the first in a series of reflections during the Year of Consecrated Life giving our two congregations – Presentation Sisters and Sisters of Mercy – a moment of shared rejoicing in our blessed life expression as women religious. We will explore one of these markers along God’s way, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Who is the stranger? How do we welcome the stranger? How are we welcomed as the stranger?

The first stranger we are invited to welcome is God. God has chosen to come to us as a guest. Indeed one of the many names by which the early Rabbis called God was Shekinah, the divine presence among us. The angel told Joseph that the baby born of Mary would be Emmanuel, God-with-us (Matt 1:23). At the beginning of John’s Gospel (1:1, 14), we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Our God has expressed love for us by dwelling among us, by becoming one of us and by pouring the Spirit into our midst, “I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions and your old men will have dreams” (Acts 2:17-18, Joel 2:28-32). How rarely we take the time to contemplate the depth and richness and enormity of the Trinity present within and among us – Shekinah, Emmanuel, Spirit outpoured!

After his Resurrection, the transformed Jesus appeared to his disciples and friends as a stranger. Mary, weeping in the garden, thought him to be the gardener until he softly said her name, “Mary!” The disciples, sad and dispirited in their night fishing, did not recognize the stranger on the beach until he told them to cast their net to the right side of the boat (John 21:6). Mary and Cleopas, returning in despair to Emmaus from Jerusalem, walked and talked with a stranger, invited him to supper in their home, and did not recognize him until he broke bread with them. Only then could they exclaim in joy-filled delight, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Mary and Cleopas showed the hospitality which was an essential aspect of their Jewish culture, embedded in sacred codes of conduct requiring that strangers be given food, water and shelter. Abraham’s first action after God’s call into covenant was to offer hospitality to three strangers, not knowing that God sent them, “Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree” (Gen 18:4). About Woman Wisdom in Proverbs, we are told, “She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Prov 31:20).

This same sacred code toward the stranger is embedded in the New Testament. Jesus frequently shared meals with strangers: tax collectors, rich men, a prostitute, and five thousand men, women and children. He met a Samaritan woman at a well and asked her for a drink (John 4:7). He defined “neighbour” by a Samaritan traveller’s response to a complete stranger who had been injured, “He put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Lk 10:34).

Bruidean of Ireland - public houses mandated for the
hospitality of the stranger, newcomer and traveller.
In later Jewish culture, there were haknasat orehim, houses where travellers obtained lodging. The Rabbis suggested that every house should have doors on all four sides, so that poor people and travellers might find easy access from everywhere. In a remarkably similar way, in ancient Irish culture, the Breton Laws mandated hospitality for the stranger, newcomer and traveller. The bruideans were public houses designated for this purpose and placed strategically at major road intersections with doors open to every direction. This openness is still echoed in the lovely Irish greeting, “Céad Míle Fáilte!” – “A Thousand Welcomes!”

There is a beautiful French hymn, Laisserons-Nous À Notre Table, the verses of which are loosely translated: “Will we leave at our table a little space for the stranger – when they come, will they find some bread and friendship? Will we leave in our words a little time for the stranger – when they come, will they find an open heart to listen? Will we leave at our feast, a dance step for the stranger – when they come, will they find outstretched and inviting hands? Will we leave at our fountains a little water for the stranger – when they come, will they find free and thirsty people? Will we leave at our churches a little space for the stranger – when they come, will they find poor and hungry hearts?” Who are the strangers whom we encounter every day – in our own communities, in our places of ministry, when we go to church or to shopping malls, when we travel? Inclusion at its most daring will lead us to take risks, make us uncomfortable and cause us to challenge a social order which keeps the stranger, the other. 

We, too, are often strangers ourselves. As we grow in awareness that we are members of a sacred community of all life, we are coming to realize that we are not owners or masters of Earth but strangers who are ungrateful guests, slowly destroying this life-sustaining place into which we have been invited. The words of the theologian Leonardo Boff call us to a very different response:

Human beings must feel that they are sons and daughters of the rainbow, those who translate this divine covenant with all the beings existing and living, with new relationships of kindness, compassion, cosmic solidarity, and deep reverence for the mystery that each one bears and reveals. Only then will there be integral liberation, of the human being and of Earth, and rather than the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth there will be common celebration of the redeemed and the freed, human beings in our own house, on our good, great, and bountiful Mother Earth.

The mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg, said, “How should one live? Live welcoming to all.” As we enter more deeply into this year 2015 and begin our celebrations of the Year of Religious Life, let us renew our promises to welcome the stranger and be radically inclusive. Let us remember that we are often the stranger being welcomed. Let us receive respectfully the welcome from Earth.  Let us make our own the Irish greeting and blessing, “Céad Míle Fáilte!”
*The Gathering Place, located in St John's Newfoundland,  is a community centre for vulnerable persons who are homeless or living with inadequate supports.  It is a joint initiative of the Presentation Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland.    It was established in 1994 to respond to the needs of those seeking food.  In recent years programs and services have been added such as foot care, hair care, a clothing room, literacy programs, computer training and access  to housing experts, nurses and social workers.

Memories of a Very Simple Beginning

By:  Peg Madigan, A-cnd

When recently asked to share an article on the founding of ARCAN (Atlantic Religious Congregation Associate Networking) I was flooded with memories of our very simple beginning.  

As Sr. Alma MacLellan CND and I were working as co-coordinators in Associate Relationship we had often wondered how other congregations were making out in this relatively new venture. After a time of discernment, letters were sent off to our Maritime communities to invite those who were involved in associate leadership to gather together for a two day sharing session with us in Pictou.
We began our meeting with prayer followed by a very open agenda, which offered lots of opportunity to share thoughts, ideas and ended with plans to gather again.

From these simple beginnings ARCAN has grown into a vibrant network for all religious and associates in Atlantic Canada.

At a recent ARCAN Conference, Margie Gillis-sc, presented an overview of ARCAN:

‘ARCAN owes some measure of gratitude to it founders, Alma MacLellan CND & Peg Madigan CND Associate. Twelve years ago when they came up with the idea, it was new, it was a risk.  As with most things of this sort one usually doesn’t realize it’s significance, it’s future value, until much later.
It’s rather interesting perhaps even prophetic that the original committee members chose the word ‘networking’ to describe this new Atlantic wide accumulation of sisters and their associate.’

Both Alma and I would like to thank the ARCAN Committee sisters and associates who have attended and worked so hard in building and keeping the spirit of ARCAN alive and growing.  May ARCAN continue to grow and deepen in it’s mission and vision of associate relationship.

Presentation Sisters and Sisters of Mercy: Prayer and Reflection for Year of Religious Life

"I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

GATHERING HYMN:    One of your own choosing – 
(suggestions: John Foley’s Come to the Water, Marty Haugen’s All Are Welcome, Marty Haugen’s Gather Us In) 


I saw a stranger today. 
I put food for him in the eating-place 
and drink in the drinking-place 
and music in the listening-place. 
In the Holy name of the Trinity 
he blessed myself and my family. 
And the lark said in her warble 
often, often, often 
goes Christ in the stranger's guise. 
O, oft and oft and oft, 
goes Christ in the stranger's guise. 
            Carmina Gadelica, “Celtic Rune of Hospitality”


Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 
     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, 
     I was naked and you gave me clothing, 
     I was sick and you took care of me, 
     I was in prison and you visited me. 
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.    (Matt 25:34-36, 40)

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ 
     So he went in to stay with them. 
     When he was at the table with them, 
     he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 
     Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; 
     and he vanished from their sight.
     They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us 
     while he was talking to us on the road, 
     while he was opening the scriptures to us?’    (Luke 24:28-32)


The Servant-Girl at Emmaus  

She listens, listens, holding 
her breath. Surely that voice 
is his - the one 
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd, 
as no one ever had looked? Had seer her? 
Had spoken as if to her? 
Surely those hands were his, 
taking the platter of bread from hers just now? 
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well? 
Surely that face-? The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy. 
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb. 
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning, alive? 
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table 
don't recognize yet with whom they sit. 
But she in the kitchen, absently touching the wine jug she's to take in, 
a young Black servant intently listening, 
swings round and sees 
the light around him 
and is sure.
                            - Denise Levertov

Which image, phrase, word captures my heart and my spirit and my energy in celebration of religious life?

BLESSING:       Pilgrims on the Road 

We are once again pilgrims on the road to Emmaus . . . 
Our heads are bowed as we meet the Stranger 
who draws near and comes with us. 
As evening comes, we strain to make out His face 
while he talks to us, to our hearts. 
In interpreting the Book of Life, 
He takes our broken hopes and kindles them into fire: 
the way becomes lighter as, 
“The Servant-Girl at Emmaus” by Diego Velazquez
drawing the embers together, 
we learn to fan the flame. 

If we invite Him this evening, He will sit down 
and together we shall share the meal. 
And then all those who no longer believed 
will see and the hour of recognition will come. 
He will break the bread of tears at the table of the poor 
and each will receive manna to their fill. 

We shall return to Jerusalem to proclaim aloud 
what He has whispered in our ear. 
And no doubt we shall find brothers and sisters there who will greet us with the words: 'We, too, have met Him!' 
For we know: the mercy of God 
has come to visit the land of the living! 
                              Brother Roger Schutz of Taizé