This Sunday our scripture lesson will be taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the 12th chapter, which includes these words in verses 9 through 13: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
In my HarperCollins Study Bible, that portion is entitled, “Marks of the True Christian”. Notice that “hospitality” is an important mark of the Christian life. Paul is referring to hospitality in its deepest, spiritual sense, which is about creating a safe place for the stranger or for one in need, as opposed to having a nice dinner party with your best china for your closest friends. The 23rd Psalm has the image of God as a shepherd, but toward the end the image of God is that of a host, “preparing a table before me”. That’s a reference to the Middle Eastern custom of welcoming strangers in need, even if they were from a different tribe, because you yourself never knew when you might be on a journey, run out of water, and need to knock on a stranger’s door.
Words that include the root of hospitality are, of course, “hospital” and “hospice”, and it’s no accident that the Christian Church going back many years established the first hospitals and hospices to care for the sick and the dying.
Which leads me to my sermon for this Sunday: “Why I Love the Catholic Church”. I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink it. Here’s a clue about what I plan to preach on: it’s not about doctrine, it’s not about church structure, it’s not about the hieararchy—-it is about how the Catholic church in mission very directly impacted my father’s life. My father lived his life in a very small geographical circle, never going any further than perhaps 20 miles or so from New York City, but in his early years and in his last days he was nurtured by the Roman Catholic Church, and for that I am eternally grateful. It’s about how an Irish kid named Johnny O’Brien learned some important lessons that made him into a very good man, and how the people of the Roman Catholic Church were very much part of both his living and his dying. So, on Father’s Day, I invite you to be at church, sing “Faith of Our Fathers (and Mothers)”, and let me share the story of “Why I Love the Catholic Church.”