Urgent Care

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, April 2011
– PDF version –

Every morning our parish welcomes lost street pilgrims into dry shelter. Our staff and dozens of volunteers strip away our preconceived notions about stinky people and jobless wanderers. We hear the frightening outbursts from homeless sufferers of undiagnosed mental illness and we welcome all people to rest awhile.Our acceptance of these forgotten people barely holds back the waves of citywide discussions of the undesirable homeless teens, the filthy street urchins playing guitars while sitting on public sidewalks. Our open-door hospitality barely sways public opinion about the lazy, crazy and filthy people who do nothing for society. We welcome people because stomachs are empty, bodies are tired and naked, feet are dirty, wives are abused, jobs are lost and friends are still imprisoned. This is the urgent, daily work of hospitality in our parish community.

Living the gospel call to true, authentic hospitality challenges our parish community daily. Our morning hospitality remains scrutinized by the judgmental opinions of so many jobholders walking by our building. Some people in long-term recovery accuse us of being in denial and label us as “enabling.” Welcoming the lost and forgotten, without bias, judgment or superiority tests our faith to the core. This core of authentic welcome lies within the persons of God, the relationships among the Trinity.

I rest in this message of the Holy Trinity. I believe with my whole heart that the hidden relationships among God the Father, Christ our Savior and the communion of the Holy Spirit offer all Christians a definitive model of hospitality. As I reflect on the liturgical gospel for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, I feel this urgency of hospitality. I capture a glimpse of eternal life when tired folks rest with a cup of hot coffee, enter into an honest conversation and receive some clean clothing.

Every Christian community must take the risk of living the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Sign of Cross is not just a mark on our mortal bodies, but radical welcome for all people to live within the love of God. The Trinity is not an obscure concept celebrated in our sanctuaries, but an invitation for all people to risk love, kindness, compassion and true hospitality. Radical acceptance among strangers enables people to experience a glimpse of eternity. Living the mystery of the Holy Trinity suggests that all people must be welcomed no matter their place in life.

Every morning we circle our volunteers around a table to reflect on the upcoming Sunday gospel. College students, retirees, parishioners and other volunteers from all walks of life hear the sacred text proclaimed in our hospitality center. The formation from these gospels propels even non-believers to connect the foundations of the Christian faith to service among God’s beloved. In these morning sessions, we all experience this urgency of hospitality because we understand we may only have one opportunity to welcome a stranger.

Our parish is just a few blocks from the train station and bus terminal. People step off the train and hear by word of mouth that our parish is the place to go for basic needs. A young unwed mother hops off the bus and is told that we can help with diapers for her infant. An elderly man needs a blanket for the night and a runaway teen is looking for someone to listen to his story. The Trinity manifests love in the simplest of places, among outcasts searching for basic belongings.

I also feel this urgency because so many young people do not experience the Church as a meaningful place for their lives. Our staff connects with over fourteen colleges, universities, seminaries and schools of nursing over the course of a year. Hundreds of high school students participate in formation sessions that invite students into the depths of people’s suffering. Hospitality is not wasted among the young, the lost and those who question everything.

The celebration of the Holy Trinity in every parish must open us all to the overwhelming compassion and mercy of God. We must not allow our fearful judgments and familiar prejudices to put boundaries on God’s relationship with people, or to suggest that some people are more deserving of love than others. The liturgical celebration reminds me to calm down among situations I cannot control, fix or heal. I must remember that God longs to be in union with God’s beloved.

I enter more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Trinity and experience an insistent need to welcome people who think they live far out of the bounds of God’s love. Every Christian becomes a messenger for the hidden life of the Trinity, an expression of deep love, commitment and belonging. I discover every day that the true mission of the Church is to live in the tight circle of the Trinity, accepting everyone into the life of God’s redeeming love.

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