Monday, December 3, 2012

First Monday of Advent: A Season of Hospitality and Hope?

“When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.’ He said to him, ‘Shall I come and cure him?’ The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed …’” – Mt 8:5-8

There is evidence from this encounter with the centurion that Jesus was taken aback by the man’s request. Jesus could have been slightly annoyed as well, because the request stretches him beyond his primary mission of seeking the lost sheep in the house of Israel. It also puts him in an awkward position of transgressing Jewish norms forbidding free associations with Gentiles or non-Jews.  The centurion replies with great faith and offers an alternative way for Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus is moved with wonder and amazement at the man’s faith. Responding to an inconvenient request, Jesus is challenged to greater hospitality and hope.

It occurs to me that much of life happens when I’m busy doing other things. God happens when I am open to inconvenient requests for my time and attention. When I respond to a brother priest in need, I am surprised by joy. When I cared for myself with stomach flu, I discover God’s tenderness for me. When I become flexible with a deadline, I encounter a lonely man whose kindness stretches my own sense of gentleness. Joy, tenderness, and gentleness are surprising guests visiting my heart when I become a little more hospitable. Honestly, I begrudgingly welcomed these inconvenient guests because they rearrange my inner furniture. (Sometimes, they do more, as Rumi describes). Yet, hope also accompanies them.

Is Advent a season of hospitality and hope? Could it be an invitation for our busy schedules and encumbered hearts to be disrupted by unexpected guests and requests to be present? Will we allow ourselves to be challenged to greater hospitality and hope?

p.s. – Happy Feast of St. Francis Xavier, a man whose heart was wholeheartedly given to the divine guest and became an arsonist of the heart, stirring faith in so many people, especially those of us from Asia!

A suggestion for daily prayer/reflection during Advent:

1. Relax. Take 5 deep breaths. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Ask for the grace to listen.
3. Read the reflection slowly and pay attention to what stirs within you.
4. Speak and listen to God about what is happening within.
5. Rest in God who rests in you. Express gratitude when you finish.

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