HOMILY – JULY 17
When I went to Italy as a student many years ago, two of the Italian words I quickly learned were familiar from English, only they each dropped an initial “H.” The two words were ospiti (pron. AWSS-pee-tee) and umiltà (pron. oo-mill-TAH). Ospiti means “guests.” Think of the letters after “h” in our word hospital, where patients are the guests – PAYING guests, to be sure, but still there to benefit from hospitality, which is what we all offer to guests.
Then there’s the word umiltà, which means “humility.” You might have guessed! These two words really have a lot in common. The root of the word “humility” is “humus,” or soil, ground, earth – the same as for the word “human.” Humans display humility to the degree that we are in touch with where we came from. And when we remember where we came from, we are the most capable of receiving guests, recognizing that we share COMMON GROUND. Hospitality and humility go hand in hand. Humility is necessary if hospitality is to be sincere and successful. Our guests will sense immediately if they are there more for our benefit or use than for their enjoyment.
The Scriptures give us a couple of examples of humility and hospitality, and how they come into play with each other. St. Luke tells us that Mary’s words when she understood what God wanted her to do were humble words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” Her humility was such that even the tremendous announcement of the Incarnation could not keep her from thinking of others. Off she went into the hill country to care for her aging and unexpectedly pregnant cousin, Elizabeth.
Much later on, St. John lets us know that Mary’s personality hasn’t changed. There is a wedding at Cana, and she is there. When she notices trouble brewing in the kitchen, she doesn’t engage in chatter and gossip. She quietly goes directly to Jesus and presents the impending crisis of the young couple and their family. She turns to the servants and humbly directs them to Jesus: “Do whatever he tells you.” And then she recedes into the background while the waters behold their Creator and blush.
At the foot of the Cross, Mary is there, humbly suffering the agony of watching her beloved Son pour out the last drop of his blood for us sinners. Not a word of complaint escapes her lips. Later, when she gathers with the infant Church, the Apostles and other disciples in the upper room, she prays with them, but she does not demand attention nor expect special privilege. She is the model disciple.
Now, in whose home would you be more comfortable as a guest? The home of Mary, the Mother of Jesus? Or the home of Mary of Bethany, whose sister Martha, in today’s Gospel, is quite forward about her expectations of her sister? Martha, attentive to the details, the minutiae of hospitality, does the UNTHINKABLE: she asks their guest, the Lord Jesus, to get involved in her family squabble with her sister! Can you imagine how uncomfortable you’d be, going to someone’s house and having them demand that you take sides in a family argument? But Jesus of course, never loses his cool, with Martha or with us and our fretting and pouting over all sorts of hurts, real or imagined. “Martha, Martha,” he chides her gently, “you fuss, fuss, fuss, but you miss the most important thing, the one thing really necessary. Mary has chosen the better part.” Mary of Bethany, at this point at least, demonstrates humility. She sits with their guest. She listens. The guest is more important than the details. She exemplifies the faith and hospitality of Abraham, our father in faith about whom we heard in the first reading.
The second reading from the Letter to the Colossians is just a continuation of last week’s second reading. It doesn’t HAVE to fit in, but it does, beautifully. That famous verse 24 is for all of us Christians. The Apostle says, “I make up in my own body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his Body, the Church!” What, pray tell, could be lacking? Only our participation in those sufferings, my friends. We might not have to suffer the agonizing death of crucifixion. But we shall have plenty of opportunities every day of our lives to live hospitably and humbly, to remember that everyone whom God sends into our lives is a GUEST, even for a few moments. And that we share with them common ground, humus, the stuff of which we are made. We both come from it, we’ll both go back to it. And THERE is how we shed our pride and our arrogance, which can separate us from the common ground which God is so eager for us to share with him and with one another in the Kingdom of heaven.