Homily: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Writer, editor and social reformer Dorothy Day was born on November 8, 1897, in New York City. She was the third of five children born to her parents, Grace and John. Her father worked as a journalist. Because of this, the family moved to California when Dorothy was six years old. Later, however, they would live in Chicago.
A bright student, Day was accepted to the University of Illinois. She was enrolled there from 1914 to 1916, but she abandoned her studies to move to New York City. There, she became involved with a literary and liberal crowd in the city's Greenwich Village neighborhood. She worked as a journalist, writing for several socialist and progressive publications in the 1910s and '20s. Socially and politically active, Day was arrested several times for her involvement in protests. In 1917 she went on a hunger strike after being jailed for protesting in front of the White House as part of an effort to secure the right to vote for women.
In her personal life, Day experienced turmoil. After a couple of failed relationships, one of which led to her procuring an abortion, she entered a common-law marriage with Forster Batterham, a biologist and an anarchist. They gave birth to a daughter named Tamar Teresa, but Day’s choice to have the child baptized at a Catholic church caused her anarchist husband to leave her. It was this decision, however, that started her on the path to her spiritual awakening; and, in late 1927, she converted to Catholicism.
In 1932, Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant and former Christian Brother. The following year, they founded The Catholic Worker, a newspaper that promoted Catholic teachings and examined societal issues. The publication became very successful and spawned the Catholic Worker Movement, which followed its religious principles to tackle issues of social justice. As part of the movement’s belief in radical hospitality, Day helped establish special homes to help those in need. Peter Maurin’s influence is evident here as he often quoted Hebrews chapter thirteen, verse two, which says: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”
Day would go on to do many more things in her life, but through it all her insistence on radical conformity to the Gospel, not just in words, but in concrete action, was a constant. Thus, her cause for canonization has been accepted by the Vatican and she has received the title “Servant of God”.
Hospitality was an important value among the people of the Ancient Near East and in our Scripture readings today we see the truth of what the author to the Letter to the Hebrews was talking about. In the reading from the book of Genesis it describes how the Lord appeared to Abraham as three men on a journey. They appeared at the hot part of the day, when the day’s journey would be most difficult. Upon seeing them, Abraham jumps to action: not just offering them some relief from the heat of the day, but rather insisting with them that they allow him to show them this act of hospitality. He did not know them, and his first reaction wasn’t suspicion, but rather generous hospitality. As it turns out, he was entertaining angels: true messengers of the Lord who then gave him good news; that his wife, Sarah, whom all thought was barren due to her old age, would give birth to a son within a year.
In our Gospel reading, we read that Jesus, upon entering a village, was welcomed by Martha. It doesn’t say that Martha was the first to offer him hospitality, but I suppose that we might assume as much since the rules of etiquette require that we accept the first offer we are given. There, much like Abraham did for the Lord’s messengers, Martha busied herself with preparing food and refreshments for Jesus and his disciples. Thinking it rude that her sister Mary was not as occupied with trying to serve their guests, she asks Jesus to reproach her so that she might be embarrassed and begin to help with the serving. Jesus, however, reminds Martha that, while serving is a good thing, it is not as important as recognizing who it is that is in your midst: for when you do, you may just find that you’ve been entertaining angels (or, in this case, the Son of God) and that those angels may be ready to bring you good news.
My brothers and sisters, as I reflect on the high-profile acts of violence that have been happening, most recently the horrific attack on innocent life that happened in Nice, France, last Thursday, I am convinced that one of the root causes of this violence is a loss of this value of hospitality. This is because to be radically hospitable one has to acknowledge the inherent dignity and value of every person, regardless of whether or not they are known to you. When we look at others with suspicion, instead of rushing to serve them, like Abraham and Martha did, and like Dorothy Day did, that sets us up to believe that it’s “us versus them”; and if it’s “us versus them” then their lives automatically become less valuable to us; which then makes it possible to harm them for our advantage, instead of to serve them for theirs.
Friends, if we want to see a real change in this world, then we must start right here in our own families and in our community, changing the prevailing mentality from “us versus them” to “us for them”. We must begin, however, where Martha’s sister Mary did—sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him speak—because he will be our solid rock supporting us as we serve and the angel whose face we will see in the faces of those whom we serve. Therefore, let us make it our task this week to open our hearts a little more to Jesus by giving him more time in prayer and our lives to him by practicing greater hospitality to all whom we meet. Because in doing so, we may find that we, too, “unknowingly entertained angels”.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – July 17th, 2016
"Entertaining Angels" is a good film on the life of Dorothy Day.
See a trailer here.