Editor’s note: Paula J. Scraba, O.S.F., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Physical Education Department at St. Bonaventure University and a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington, D.C. As a guest blogger for FMS’ 2017 Advent blog series, Paula shares some of her service experiences and reflects on how much she has learned from others about hospitality.

While reflecting on the Advent theme of hospitality, as well as the recent mass readings featuring the story of the Good Samaritan and the hospitality offered to Christ by Martha and Mary, the experiences I had as a child with my grandparents came to mind.

My grandparents had a small grocery store and were very generous to their customers. People would come into the store in the 1960’s still thanking my grandparents for the door of their grocery store always being open to them during The Depression. If they had no money in hand for food for their family, they could pay when they had it. One customer had a number of foster children and was not always able to make it to the store to pick up the groceries. My grandparents would take the woman’s order by phone and bill her, and then either myself or one of my siblings would deliver the groceries to her house. My grandparents would always be very generous with portions of fruits, vegetables, and meat for the children.

Living in various Franciscan communities in the States and in Ecuador, I saw that same hospitality. In Fall River, MA, we lived near a boarding house for women run by Catholic Charities. People would always knock at the door for assistance, and we always had sandwiches made to hand out.  

In New Mexico, living in the colonial in Chamberino, it was very much a family atmosphere. People would stop by to share their stories and needs. Our house was open for faith-sharing, children’s religious education, and other activities. For the traditional Los Pastores and Las Posadas celebration, parishioners would open their homes to all, taking turns welcoming everyone each night as they reenacted Mary and Joseph seeking shelter. To keep up the tradition of making tamales and exchanging them with neighbors as small tokens of thanks during the holidays, people would save the little they had. I learned so much about hospitality from the simplicity of our neighbors, through their strong devotional traditions and by the way they always saw Christ in those in need.

In Ecuador, the people of the Amazon region of Lumbaqui were also very hospitable and supportive of each other. The mission house was a place where all were welcomed. One time, a husband carried his wife, with their children in tow, over 10 miles to seek medical attention for the wife who had a contagious disease and needed immediate care. We provided the woman with a warm bed until someone could travel with her the next day to the hospital in Quito—a full day’s bus ride away. As contagious as the disease was, people were there for the mother, and her health—not infection—was the major concern.

Ultimately, we have so much to learn from each other through simple hospitality and the act of being there for our neighbors. For so many people, however, these things are often missing. But recently, with the natural disasters our world has experienced, we have seen neighbors reaching out to each other across states and nations. This kind of reaching out, truly, is the greatest gift we can give and receive.

Reflection question: Who are your neighbors in need and what can you learn from them?