Hospitality is one of the pillars of Benedictine spirituality. St. Benedict taught that we should receive everyone, without exception, as Christ himself. Yet even though I was close to making my final commitment as an Oblate of St. Benedict, I still needed to learn this lesson. And I learned it the hard way!
My chance came on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December 2013. After supper, I had just settled down to meditate when the doorbell rang. I needed to leave for a Legion of Mary meeting shortly, but I peered through the front door peephole. It looked like a fellow Legion member, Jack. But he lived miles from my neighborhood in the opposite direction. Alarmed, I opened the door.
Instead of Jack, there stood a tall, thirty-something stranger with remarkably similar features. In spite of the frigid weather, he was wearing only a long-sleeved shirt and a gold cross that caught the porch light. His arms were by his sides, at attention, and his hands were empty—no Jehovah’s Witness brochure. He smiled expectantly through the glass of the storm door. Apparently he was waiting for me to open it and invite him in.
“Please Come Back.” I was dumbstruck. This wasn’t Jack! All I could do was smile apologetically and motion him away with flailing arms. Instead of leaving, he smiled bigger. Mimicking my gestures, he teased, “What is this? Sign language? I can do that.” Feeling foolish, I shook my head and shut the door. As it closed, I heard him say, “Thanks for your hospitality!” Ouch. I may as well have slammed the door in his face.
What was I afraid of? Being delayed from something on my agenda? Or being asked to do something inconvenient? Ashamed, I opened the door to call him back, but it was too late. The stranger had already gone, leaving no calling card or flyer in sight. I tried to resume meditating, but my rhythm was off and my prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” rang hollow. It seemed like he had come, and I had not welcomed him.
I decided to stop meditating and visit the Adoration chapel before my meeting. There, I read and reread Mother Teresa’s “I Thirst” meditation. Writing in the voice of Jesus, it says, For me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I thirst for you. Feeling remorseful, I wondered, “Does Jesus really thirst for a sinner like me?” Facing the monstrance, I whispered, “Come, Lord Jesus, please come back to me.” But it was already time for my meeting.
A Second Chance. As I made a quick stop at my car, a middle-aged man bearing a bouquet of roses approached. He asked me a question in Spanish. Smiling apologetically, I explained that I didn’t speak Spanish. Honestly, I was grateful for an excuse to avoid conversation. But then he asked in perfect English if I knew where he could get water for the flowers (no doubt being brought to the church for Our Lady’s feast).
Caught off guard, I shook my head and repeated, “I don’t speak Spanish.” It was now an inexcusable and illogical brush-off. As I turned away, he said reproachfully, “I speak all languages.” Nailed again! I wanted to turn around and ask for another chance, but I knew this was my second chance and I had blown it again. Ashamed, I fled to my meeting.
Why hadn’t I been helpful? I could have suggested the restrooms in the building where I was headed. I pondered this on the way home and realized I was attached to my schedule. But perhaps there was more to it. All my petty sins felt magnified in the light of my neglect for the people whom God had sent my way. Instead of trying to quench their thirst or meet their needs, I had been worried about myself. Parked in my driveway, I wept at the hardness of my heart.
Amid the Cold of Winter. Upon entering the house, my spirits were lifted by a surprise. My daughter had strung Christmas lights in the foyer and added a festive flower to a nearly empty vase. It was a spotless red rose with a stunning head of velvety petals!
My daughter confessed that a woman had dropped the rose at the subway station. Before my daughter could return it, the lady had vanished into the rush hour crowd. “No worries,” I told her. “I’m sure the rose welcomes our hospitality.” I was grateful for a third chance to offer mine.
This rose, which arrived on a cold winter’s night, reminded me of the old Advent hymn “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” The rose in the song is a symbol of the baby Jesus, sprung from the root of Jesse. Caring for the rose suddenly took on greater meaning. Over the next few weeks, I kept it well watered and continued to enjoy its beauty.
I also became a better servant of the moment. I started to make sure not to turn away opportunities to welcome other people as Christ. I stepped up in an emergency to lead the next Legion of Mary meeting. I offered a parishioner a ride home from Mass in an unexpected snowstorm. I even wished a telemarketer a blessed evening, despite her having interrupted my prayer time.
A Rose E’er Blooming. On Epiphany Sunday, the day of my final commitment as a Benedictine Oblate, the rose was still lovely. It was remarkably preserved after several weeks. I still felt intimidated by the Benedictine promise to dedicate myself to the service of God and other people. But I was now ready to make my commitment. I sensed that Jesus, the “Rose E’er Blooming,” does thirst for me, infinitely. And he will keep giving me chances to “give him water” in many different forms.
Donna Marie Klein lives in Maryland.