Indeed many of us sat down to a meal at our tables with people who we truly love, folks whose presence we relish. I would hope that we sat down to the other kind of meal, too, the one with the friends and strangers alike. That latter meal was the meal with our faith communities in our churches. At our Christmas worship services we were indeed gathered with strangers, some of whom may have arrived unannounced. You know the ones I mean: those who come at Christmas, but may not come all that often to the table of the Lord. These unannounced ones are our present-day shepherds who followed some sort of inner light which led them to the church though they may not be used to entering into a religious house of worship. It does not matter why they came, but that they followed an inspirational ‘star’ to come and adore with those who go to church every Sunday and Holy Day. They came and worshiped with us. What a doubly joyful event!
If we look to the Holy Family on the Feast of the Nativity, we see that Mary and Joseph were poor. When it was time to go for the Presentation in the Temple, the next joyful mystery after the birth of Jesus Christ, they could not bring the usual offering, so they brought the offering of the poor. They had just welcomed a bevy of strangers into their stable 'home' having nothing within but that which they carried upon their donkey for their trek. Yet they had the Wealth of the Nations under their roof, the very Son of the Living God. Who could ask for more and expect it? But after sharing the joy of that holy night, they eventually made their way into Jerusalem so that they could carry out that which was expected by religious custom. They were obedient to the requirements, but they were also filled with so much joy that they needed to share it with others in the house of God, the Temple in Jerusalem. Once again, they shared their bounty with strangers, and they did it with great joy.
The gospel for this Sunday was about Jesus as a boy. (Luke 2:41-52) Once again Mary and Joseph were following the requirements of the Law because it was Passover, and so they traveled at a distance to get to Jerusalem. However, Jesus chose to stay behind while His parents began the trip home, unknowingly without Him. Though later He said, “I must be in my Father’s house,” we do not know why He did this. Perhaps it was because He was sharing the welcoming attitude He had learned from them. Whatever it was, after three days His parents found Jesus sitting in the Temple teaching the teachers; that means for three days Jesus had welcomed those learned men into what really was His house. The Gospel says His parents were astonished to find Him there and were equally astonished at His reason for remaining behind. But He did return with them, obediently trusting their wisdom: His time for teaching had not yet come.
Certainly what we learn from these joyful mysteries is that the stranger is important to Jesus. He never turned anyone away. From the moment He entered into the world His life was filled with meeting strangers, welcoming them in, and desiring with His whole heart that they would accept the invitation to friendship with Him. Jesus was also the stranger to everyone around Him. None of us has divinity in our nature, so Jesus as God (though still fully human) is the ultimate stranger in the sense of being different from us in that way. Yet His welcome to us never grows cold and His ability to persevere in places with little welcome for Him is without limit. If Jesus is the ultimate stranger in our world, maybe it is time for us to look in a new way at those whom we designate with the label of ‘stranger.’ Perhaps the joyful mysteries are wide enough for us to enter into so that we can welcome the stranger as Jesus has welcomed us. Perhaps meditating upon the mysteries with Mary and Joseph is the way to opening our hearts to the ‘ragtag’ among us, the poor materially, spiritually, and emotionally. And perhaps these mysteries will help us to be less distrustful of those unlike ourselves or toward those who have customs that we do not understand.
May we continue to welcome the newborn Child by opening our hearts to one another and by accepting the welcome which is extended to us! May we receive with gladness those who come to the table of the Lord and those at the table in our homes! May we recognize Jesus in those who are strangers, and may they recognize Jesus in us! May we be shepherds to those who are searching for the Child in the manger! And may we find joy in the mysteries of the coming of Christ! Let us continue to meet in Jesus, the friend of strangers! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first icon is the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. It is called The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-nativity-of-our-lord-jesus-christ-034-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Next is a photo of Fr. Bill McNichols praying over the gifts at Mass. All are welcomed at this table.
Following this are three of my photos of churches, representing the various places where people worship. The first is St. Peter's in Rome. The second is in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the third is in Coppell, Texas.
Next is a painting by the great medieval artist Giotto. It is The Boy Jesus in the Temple. (1305-1306) It is found in Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy. You can view it at: http://www.christianiconography.info/boyTemple.html
Finally is another of Fr. William Hart McNichols Holy Family icons. This one is called The Holy Family for the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem. It can be found at
(If you think that star looks familiar, it was the star that was at the beginning of my post for last week.)