I was recently at a National Franciscan Confab for the youth, Justice, peace, integrity and creation at our Lady of the Snows Shrine. I marveled at the gathering of my Franciscan family from all over the Nation and how much everyone truly exuded the spirit of love, acceptance and family. This Franciscan charism ignited a proper sense of belonging to an extended family not of blood, but of spirit with the essence of St. Francis.
I became well acquainted with a newly professed Franciscan named Celia, who had a lot to teach me. As we entered the metro train for the airport we realized we needed assistance to get our boarding passes. Standing next to the machines were two young gentlemen from the Mormon Latter Day Saints eager to help us. We thanked them for their assistance and as we proceeded to wait for our train Celia shared with me how much she admired these two men and those like them. She told me that when they go door to door throughout her neighborhood she invites them in to dinner. I thought to myself why? and found myself asking her just that, as everyone I know tries to get rid of them as fast as they can including me and the thought of inviting them to supper never enters our minds.
Her response was that she admires their courage being so far away from home and family. How they dedicate 2 and sometimes 3 years of their lives to stand apart from society which views their dedication as a weakness. She sees it as the opposite, strong in their beliefs, sincere and lonely. At dinner they share what they believe with them and they do not impose those beliefs on you. Instead they listen to your beliefs as well and the entire encounter is an exchange of beliefs. They enjoy each others company so much that they often come back just for a visit before they move on to another state. Celia says what better way to build relationships than over a meal. We all believe in the same God and we should be welcoming and hospitable. These people are so far away from family and friends sacrificing for the love of Christ, why not be the light of Christ in return, by inviting them to share a meal with you and your family as an extension of Christian unity.
This is the ministry of presence. Celia and her family were very present to them by being active listeners on their spiritual journey. She blew me away with her generous hospitality and she stopped me in my tracks to question my own behavior to those who knock on my door. I can recall a time right after Super Storm Sandy hit the Jersey shore and this group of Kabbalah worshippers came to my door all smiles to offer me the book of Zohar (which is not a cheap book) to help me heal after the devastation and I turned them away. I remember how disappointed they looked as they returned to their car and drove away discouraged. I felt so bad I got in my car and tried to find them to apologize and accept their gift. I could not find them anywhere and the thought did cross my mind that maybe they were angels in disguise and I was rude to them. To this day I regret my coldness towards them. I should have graciously accepted their gift to me. It reminds me of two scripture passages.
Luke 10:7 Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay
Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
This act of hospitality Celia and her family extended is an example of the ministry of presence. This ministry is very Franciscan and a ministry that is often over looked. People now more than ever are looking for community and acceptance and “who are we to judge?” ~ Pope Francis, and why can’t we be better listeners? what are we so afraid of?