Editor’s note: Sister Pat Klemm, OSF, a Franciscan Sister of Allegany for 54 years, has ministered in education, healthcare, parish ministry, formation ministry and leadership. As a guest blogger for FMS’ 2017 Advent blog series, Sr. Pat shares her experiences serving (and being welcomed) abroad and reflects on the story of the Nativity.
A number of years ago, I spent two months in Mexico in order to learn Spanish, a language with which I was totally unfamiliar. I was met at the airport by the family with whom I would be living and began the journey into immersion in a bit of a fog! I believe that my hostess probably understood much more English than she let on since she had hosted a number of other students before me. She was, however, faithful to her job of helping me to become familiar with the language and culture by only speaking Spanish to me. (I was fortunate that her grandchildren attended a bilingual school and could occasionally interpret for me!) Despite the language difference, I soon became part of the family.
Travelling alone to a foreign country, navigating airports, customs, and signs that I could only hope to understand, finding my way around the neighborhood in which I lived, attending classes in Spanish for six hours each day, and worshipping daily where it took weeks to understand even a part of a homily all gave me some understanding of the loss of the familiar that refugees experience. I was blessed to be safe and able to live with a family who welcomed me and made me at home.
For Mary and Joseph, the experience of forced migration under less than optimal circumstances with the impending birth of their child is reflected today in the way refugees across the world struggle to exist. Jesus was born into an alien environment, yet his open arms are a powerful symbol of the way we are all welcomed into God’s kingdom.
Joseph was told in a dream to take his family and flee into another alien land because of religious and political persecution. What a way to start their life together! Hopefully, in Egypt, the family found a way to live in peace in new surroundings. But it still was not “home,” and as foreigners, they may not have been well received. Eventually, they were able to move to a place where they could settle and live among their own people.
Watching the news with pictures of refugee camps in so many countries, I have to wonder how people adjust, how children grow up in such a transient environment, how families struggle to find relatives and friends among the throngs of people in minimal survival situations. I wonder how they are able to live love on a day to day basis. I wonder what forms hospitality takes when no one has anything to call their own.
I like the definition of hospitality that calls it “making space for the other.” The Scriptures invite us to open our hearts to the other—to make space in our homes, our countries, our parishes, and our very lives for those who are strangers and aliens.
The ministry of Jesus depended on the hospitality of others, and where he was welcomed, people were transformed. He himself welcomed saints and sinners alike, making no distinction among those to whom he offered love, forgiveness and healing.
We too are welcomed by Jesus, accepted unconditionally, forgiven and loved beyond measure. We too are called to welcome others, to forgive those who do us harm, to love all as sister or brother.
We have all seen children’s pageants about the Nativity and smile as the “innkeepers” turn away Mary and Joseph because there is no room. But we also can ache for the conditions that caused Jesus to be born among the animals and laid in a manger. Can we extend the hospitality that we wish Mary and Joseph had received to all those who are strangers in our midst? Can we be open to those who are different from us and be willing to truly live as children of the one God? This is our call, this our challenge!
Reflection question: How are you making space for others in your life?