“Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” This verse from St. Paul (Heb. 13:2) was the basis for the title of a movie chronicling the life of Dorothy Day, founder of Catholic Worker houses of hospitality during the Great Depression. Dorothy Day knew about hospitality and about entertaining angels.
Patsy grew up in a blue collar neighborhood and attended Catholic school on Chicago’s north side. Many of the residents were recent Polish immigrants. Their children went to school with Patsy and it was up to the religious sisters there to help them find their way in a strange country where everyone spoke a strange language. Patsy was a bright child and even though she spoke no Polish, the sisters often asked her to take one of the new girls under her wing. Patsy would walk the child to class and show her where to put her coat. She would sit with her in the lunchroom and introduce her to the strange new foods she found there, especially peanut butter. And at recess she would invite the new girl to play ball or jump rope, teaching her to count in English as they played.
Someday the “new girls” would tell their own children about the sisters, and about Patsy, who had welcomed them when they were strangers, introducing them to new tastes and smells and helping them to learn a new language. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me …”
Certainly Patsy would never have recognized herself in Matthew’s words. But the sisters knew.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink; when did we see you a stranger and welcome you …?” Every time you invited the stranger to join you at table, every time you released the captive from the prison of voicelessness. Did Patsy know? Probably not. Most of us don’t know Jesus when we see him. Perhaps, if we did, we would treat the stranger differently. Who knows, we might even find ourselves entertaining angels.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.