Sunday, June 28, 2020

Respect, Courtesy and Hospitality


(Thirteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on June 28, 2020 at Watch Hill Chapel, Watch Hill, R.I.  Read 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a; Psalm 89:2-19; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 10:37-42.) 

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirteenth Sunday 2020]

In a book I was reading recently, I came across the following little story:

During the second month of nursing school, a professor gave the students a quiz. One of them was a conscientious student who had breezed through the questions, until she read the last one, “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely, this was some kind of joke. Everyone knew that the cleaning woman was tall, dark-haired, and in her 50s, but they did not know her name. The student handed in her paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward the grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” The conscientious student later commented, “I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”

Respect.  Courtesy.  Hospitality.  The professor in that story understood and believed in all of those things.  So, of course, did Jesus, who spoke to us in today’s gospel about the importance of showing hospitality and respect toward prophets, the righteous and all those who call themselves his disciples.  He says that those who do so will be rewarded for their efforts (if not here on this earth, then most certainly in eternity).  But Jesus, as we know, didn’t limit charity to believers only.  In the mind of our Savior, every human person is to be loved and respected: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”

Even in the Old Testament we see the importance of respect, courtesy and hospitality.  We see it in stories like the one we heard in today’s first reading from 2 Kings 4: this story of Elisha the prophet and the childless Shunammite woman, who showed Elisha hospitality by welcoming him into her home whenever he happened to be traveling in the area.  God rewarded her for her efforts by blessing her with a son.  The promise Elisha made to her at the end of this story was, indeed, fulfilled.

Which brings us, finally, to our modern world and to our current cultural situation here in the United States of America.  If you look up the words respect, courtesy and hospitality in a modern dictionary of the English language you will certainly find them there.  And they will be properly defined.  (At least in most dictionaries they will be!)

The problem is that very few people seem to believe in these things nowadays.  The sad reality is that to a growing number of men and women in this country right now respect, courtesy and hospitality have become words on a piece of paper—and nothing more.  And isn’t this precisely what we’ve been seeing on our city streets in recent weeks?

·       A policeman needlessly stomping on another human being’s throat
·         People rioting in the streets and attacking anyone who disagrees with them
·         People destroying the property and the businesses of law abiding citizens
·         People looting many of those businesses (some of which, incidentally, are owned by African Americans—the very men and women these looters claim to support!)

All this, my brothers and sisters, is not only disrespect and a lack of courtesy and hospitality—it’s insanity!

And the scary thing is, this insanity is fast becoming mainstream. This kind of disrespect and craziness is beginning to manifest itself more and more frequently in our schools, at athletic events, in social gatherings, in workplaces—and in families.

Which means we need to address it PRONTO—before it destroys us as a nation.

“But what can I do, Fr. Ray?  I’m just one person.”

Actually, each of us can do a lot!  No, as individuals we don’t have the power to transform our entire society in a positive way.  But we each can do our personal part to help make it happen.

For example, here are some simple, everyday activities that we can engage in on a regular basis: actions that will help to promote respect and courtesy and hospitality toward other people (this, by the way, is not an exhaustive list—these are just a few suggestions):
  •  Stop your car when people are trying to cross the street in a designated crosswalk (that’s courtesy—plus it’s the law!)
  • Allow someone to go ahead of you in traffic every once in a while—or in the church parking lot
  • Refuse to use ethnic or racial slurs—ever!
  • Say “please”—and “thank you”
  •  Write thank you notes to people who give you special gifts
  •  Pay more attention to the people you’re with and less attention to your cell phone
  •  Turn your cell phone off in church—even if the organist doesn’t ask you to do so
  • Don’t text when you drive
  • Try to be on time for things (including Mass!)
  • Speak about people in authority respectfully, even if you don’t like the things they say and do (young people, that includes your parents!)
  • When you disagree with someone, stick to the issues and avoid arguments directed against the person himself or herself
  • When you see somebody new at church, say hello
  • When you’re in a social setting where you notice someone being left out of the conversation, try to find a way to include them in it
  • Support the right to life of every human person, from natural conception to natural death
  • Oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide
  • Support immigration (that is to say, legal immigration!)
  • Choose to be “colorblind” when it comes to race.  In other words, treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve.  Physically speaking, as we all know, colorblindness is a condition—a medical condition that some of us may, unfortunately, have.  But in the area of personal morality, colorblindness is a choice: a good choice; the right choice.  So make it.
  •  Make every effort to live your life by the “Golden Rule” (which, of course, was given to us by Jesus himself): “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Those are all simple but very important things that we can do in our lives right now to counter the disrespect, discourtesy and lack of hospitality that are literally infecting our American culture at the present time.

It’s even worse than the coronavirus!

May God grant us the grace—and the determination—to put suggestions like these into practice, to help our nation get rid of the infection.