|Girls on an inflatable slide,|
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ...
Today's first reading and the gospel, chosen to complement each other, celebrate the virtue of hospitality. Abraham eagerly invites three dusty travelers off the road to come and join him. He and his people will go through an enormous amount of trouble -- killing and butchering the "tender, choice steer," kneading and baking bread -- as he washes the feet of his guests.
Perhaps he had some inkling of who the three guests were, or perhaps the Holy Spirit moved in his as a Hospitable Impulse; but he was delighted that his God had come to visit with him. There in the cool of the evening Abraham and Sarah offered what Adam and Eve should have given, a courteous welcome to the Lord.
Our Gospel also celebrates hospitality as Martha and Mary welcome Jesus of Nazareth to their home. Like Abraham's three visitors, God appears as a man to the women, along with his entourage, and they make every effort to make him feel at home. Jesus promises his disciples, both men and women:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. (John 14:23)Hospitality appears in the Bible as more than a nice thing to do; it is an essential -- if not the essential -- attitude to have toward God and life, others and oneself. It is a natural grace, taught in one way or another by every human culture. Inspired by the Holy Spirit it opens one's heart to faith, hope and love.
Saint Paul demonstrates how deeply hospitality can change one's heart and mind in today's reading from the Letter to the Colossians. He welcomes -- "rejoices in" -- his suffering. We know that he is writing from a jail, but which jail may never be discovered. He was often in jail as he announced the good news of Jesus. Sometimes he aroused the anger of his fellow Jews, and at other times the suspicions of gentile authorities. His fellow Christians -- the so-called "super-apostles" -- also might have conspired to get him arrested.
That would seem to us a huge interruption in his missionary work, but Saint Paul took it in stride. As embarrassing and uncomfortable and tedious as it might be, the Apostle believed his suffering also would accomplish God's work. With amazing insight he saw that he was
...filling upMany of us grew up with the expression, "offer it up." That is so much better than "suck it up." Anyone who is human will meet frustration. That curse was laid upon Adam in the Garden of Eden:
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his body, which is the church,
of which I am a minister...
Cursed is the ground because of you! In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field.and upon Eve: I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.
But for the Christian frustration, disappointment and suffering are never signs of futility. We make them holy as we welcome then with the hospitable spirit of Paul, Jesus, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, Sarah and Abraham. The saints will call them privileges, as did Saint Francis who suffered grievously the stigmata of the cross.
If you're old enough to remember your parents or grandparents say, "Offer it up" you know this is not an extraordinary virtue. It's something we can do everyday, and many times a day.