“[A] custom…existed among the first generations of Christians….In every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called ‘the stranger’s room’: not because…they could trace something of someone they loved in the stranger who used it, not because the man or woman to whom they gave shelter reminded them of Christ, but because—plain and simple and stupendous fact—he [or she] was Christ.”
——Dorothy Day, “Room for Christ,” The Catholic Worker, December 1945, 2.
“In classical Greek tradition, xenia and theoxenia are the obligation of hospitality. In her book, “The Anarchist Bastard,” my aunt looks to the world of Odysseus and sees parallels to this central practice in the social cosmology of our Italian American family: ‘for us in our closed communities, these were the absolute rules: we were not sure if that which lay beyond our neighborhoods would welcome us, so the rules of hospitality required rigid certainty. If you were a stranger in the land (an immigrant), away from your own people, would you be welcomed or harmed?’ The concept of the stranger is central to this practice.
“The most radical element is also the most essential: ‘The code of xenia rests on the fact that the host must be willing to take a guest into his household and take care of him [or her] before [the homeowner] has any idea who he [or she] is.’ And we see the stranger arrive on the doorsteps in the stories and codes of religious community, as well. I don’t know if the Catholic or anarchist family members about which my aunt wrote would be familiar with Matthew 25 or Hebrews 13, but they certainly would have recognized the possibility of entertaining angels in disguise.
“While the closest of kin, babies are also in a sense the most essential kind of stranger—arriving at our door unknown to anyone in this world, and knowing nothing of this world themselves.
“Perhaps this code of xenia, so deeply woven into communities within and across terrestrial borders, not only connects the fabric of our own social worlds, but allows us to practice for this most elemental moment of welcome.”
——Anna Mudd, “The Little Stranger,” drawmedy.wordpress.com
This time of year—autumn—people wait with bated anticipation for a natural wonder: the snow geese migration. It used to be that the snow geese migrated much further west, but in recent years, perhaps because of global warming trends, their migratory path has adjusted, just a small flock several years ago, to a much larger cacophony the past couple of years. Some people have conjectured that the migratory birds are drawn to the large corn fields along the Champlain Valley, and true enough, the birds ravage any late harvest fields until they have had their fill and move on within a two-week period to lusher, more mild southern climes. Hunting and wildlife restrictions prevent anyone from disturbing the birds, or shooting a couple to see whether that corn-fattening diet might make for a tasty fowl treat at the dinner table. No; in fact, locals keep the binoculars handy by the back door in order to have them view-ready for the fleeting visitation of white-bird-blanketed lawns. If anyone thought bird watching was a dead art, you should come to Vermont during snow geese migration season. Folks classify it a blessing if the white-feathered beasts come and bless their lawns with another kind of white… of the messier, gooey kind.
How do a people allow—indeed, hope for—indeed, legislate protections for—these foul, stinky, messy birds that deprive farmers of the gleaning of their fields, how is it that people invite them to alight onto their properties, give them refuge, as though they were the Holy Spirit in the shape of God’s doves,… but think it might be awful and are afraid of giving refuge to an animal of their own image? If an immigrant came wandering into a nearby field and desperately gathered enough stray kernels to make a mugful of disgusting hobo soup, would they be treated with the same joy as the snow geese?
I suppose the distinctions aren’t much different than when witnessing the parish celebrations that occur on the Feast of Saint Francis, when congregants bring every sort of pet—dogs and cats, parrots, ferrets, guinea pigs, turtles, and goldfish—to receive a special blessing from the parish priest.
…How nice that your purportedly soul-less pet Chihuahua or iguana can receive an official Church blessing, while gay human beings are in some parishes barred from approaching the altar of the Lord and prevented from receiving communion. I mean, I know your dog likes to hump your leg and everything…but apparently that’s okay. The Church is still happy to bless your dog because, you know, he doesn’t know what he’s doing when he fornicates with your pant-leg. And, how nice that your pot-bellied pig, with a brain the size of a small turnip, can have hands laid upon him by the bishop, while the same man recoils at the thought of making a sign of the cross over the the loving union of a lesbian and her same-sex partner…
It’s hypocrisies like these that stare us point blank in the face, that keep calling for us to notice them. With all of the million-fold increase in media images and stories and communication, what prevents us from seeing the obvious things in front of our eyes? What happened to the eons-old traditions of hospitality? When did we stop seeing Christ in the face of a stranger? When did we start giving greater blessings and homage to the souls of wild animals than to our own human brothers and sisters? Why do we take it upon ourselves to bestow so much suffering upon our fellow human brethren?
Don’t be afraid. Rather, be generous of heart.