Faith Calls Us to be Neighbors: “You Must Stay!” An Experience of Not-So-American Hospitality
Editor’s note: Fr. Brad Milunski, OFM Conv., is an FMS Board member and serves as Vicar Provincial of his Franciscan Province and Director of PostNovitiate Formation. As a guest blogger for FMS’ Advent blog series, Fr. Brad recounts a time he was generously welcomed into a friend’s home in Jordan.
It was the spring of 1999. My Franciscan community blessed me with the opportunity to do postgraduate studies in Rome that included a semester in the Holy Land. Needless to say, that Holy Week was one I would never forget as I celebrated the Paschal Triduum with my Franciscan brothers as well as my blood brother and nephew who made the trip to Israel to be with me and experience the places where the first Triduum happened.
One of the acquaintances we made that week was a young Palestinian Christian nicknamed Jack, a law student in Jordan who had come to Jerusalem to help his uncle who owned a coffee shop and small restaurant in the Old City. That coffee shop had become our daily haunt, and so we got to know Jack and his uncle as we stopped by for a snack or to have lunch. When it was time for Jack to return to Jordan, he told me that if I came to Amman, I had to stay at his apartment.
Being a native of the USA, I heard that invitation as I might have heard it at home. With no definite time frame in mind, Jack’s invitation was the equivalent of something like this: “If you’re ever in town, stop by…we should have lunch….” If the truth be told, we never really hold someone accountable to answering that invitation. I had a lot to learn.
As it turned out I did travel to Jordan with some classmates for a few days at the end of the semester. We had only one night in Amman and were committed to being the guests of a local pastor who wined and dined us at the parish house. At about 8:30 p.m. I felt I should at least phone Jack to say hello, let him know I remembered him, and that we would be leaving early the next day. So American. In contrast, Jack greeted me with a big, joyful hello, along with insistent demands that I stay at his house. As I tried to wiggle out of such a late-night invitation, Jack demanded I hand the phone to the pastor so he could give him directions to the church. A half-hour later Jack arrived—in a taxi!—and again demanded that I stay at his house. So I did.
I accompanied Jack back to his basement apartment, he ordered food, and we stayed up talking until 2 or 3 a.m. Since he was leaving early the next morning for class, he left his room all to me and told me to wake up whenever I wanted. “Help yourself to whatever I have. When you leave,” he said, “lock the door and just throw the keys through the window.” Talk about hospitality and welcome! In the Middle Eastern mindset, it was very clear to me that to have a guest in one’s house was to be totally devoted to providing a warm welcome and 100% attention. And a guest would expect no less.
I’m often struck by the fact that in our ever faster-paced lifestyle, sometimes, we can barely manage to pull ourselves away from our cell phones or turn off the TV or computer when guests arrive at our house. Each Advent, when I prepare anew to welcome the Word-made-flesh into my world and into my life, it helps me to remember that Jesus’ idea of hospitality is more like Jack’s than mine. If I invite Jesus to my home, he takes the invitation seriously and will demand my total attention and unlimited access to everything in my “house”: my religious community; my places of ministry and the people I encounter; my heart—including my sin and struggle as well as my deepest desires.
Take a chance this Advent and really invite Jesus to your house. But be ready. He takes that invitation very seriously. Your house won’t be the same. Come, Lord Jesus!
Reflection question: In what areas of your “house” are you feeling called to invite Jesus?