Imagine Joseph and his wife, Mary, about to give birth, approaching our inns — our homes and parishes — in their search to find shelter. How would we welcome them? Are we prepared to
welcome them? Who is the Holy Family knocking at the doors of our inns? What is our response?
The Holy Family was a family on the peripheries who depended on the kindness of strangers at a difficult time in their lives. We encounter the Holy Family in our daily lives; in our parishes, schools, workplaces, the grocery store and on errands. They may be individuals struggling with poverty, hunger, disability, depression, the loss of a loved one, separation from family because of misunderstanding or alienation or simply in need of a good listener.
Among the innkeepers who answer the knock on the door in our diocese is Iowa City Catholic Worker, which currently provides shelter to 28 immigrants in two houses that the community owns. Iowa City Catholic Worker’s response to the knock on the door extends to building community, creating a true sense of belonging through the difficult work of advocating for fairness and systemic change. Last week, Iowa City Catholic Worker brought together people of different cultures and backgrounds, most of them immigrants, to celebrate Mass and to share a multicultural meal afterwards (see story on Page 1).
John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager for St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, responded to the knock on the door of his internal inn, his heart, this past summer. He was walking along the Mississippi River when a man he recognized as a patron of McAnthony Window asked for help with the broken wheel on his rollator walker. John writes about that encounter in a column in this week’s Catholic Messenger (Page 2).
His column begins with an observation that merits our reflection. “Each Advent we recall Joseph and Mary’s looking for a room in the inn. If you think about it, we spend much of our days either letting people in or turning them away (usually not consciously) to the doors of our lives.” McAnthony Window, a meal site with ancillary services, is an inn that responds to the knock on the door daily. Cooper oversees that effort.
Other inns and innkeepers respond to the knock on the door in our diocese. They include St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry and Transitions DMC in Burlington, Humility Homes and Services and Cafe on Vine in Davenport, Whatsoever You Do homeless housing program in Ottumwa and L’Arche Clinton community, among others.
Answering the knock at the doors of our homes and parishes with a sense of welcome requires the same level of intentionality practiced by the previously mentioned inns and innkeepers. Jane Angha, a national speaker and consultant, advised attendees of a faith formation event in Iowa City earlier this year to greet people with joy. Give them something to do, make them feel listened to, give them a chance to care, treat them as a friend and help them to feel acknowledged. Hospitality sets the stage for an encounter with Christ (The Catholic Messenger, 3-10-22).
“The early Christians understood the connection between receiving Christ in the Eucharist and sharing hospitality with others. In Acts, we read that ‘they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts’ (Acts 2:42, 46). Their homes truly were domestic churches with doors open to receive others” (catholicculture.org, https://tinyurl.com/3hyffhp9).
We innkeepers in our homes and parishes respond to the knock on our doors with warmth, welcome and hospitality as our mandate from Christ. Other suggested actions:
• Call each person who enters our home or church by name. If we don’t know a person’s name or have forgotten, we ask, even at the risk of embarrassment.
• Invite people to Mass, offering to pick them up if they need a ride.
• Call or visit people who have been away from the church and listen to their stories.
• Practice patience with individuals dealing with disabilities, loneliness or other challenges.
• Avoid gossip.
• Avoid cliquishness.
• Treat everyone with respect.
• Offer and accept forgiveness.
• Pray with and for people known and unknown to us.
This Christmas season reminds us that we are innkeepers as individuals, families and parish communities who respond to the knock on the door with Christian love.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor