14 July 2022

'Jesus, in the person of Billy, a destitute man of the roads, sat down at table in my house.' Sunday Reflections, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C


Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

Tintoretto [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Luke 10:38-42 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Abraham and the Three Angels
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout [Web Gallery of Art]

And the Lord appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favour in your sight, do not pass by your servant” (Genesis 18:1-3, First Reading).


I have used this story a number of times in Sunday Reflections, maybe even recently, and have told it on retreats. It is one that this Sunday’s gospel brings to my mind and has been for me what I call ‘an abiding grace’’.

One of the poorest man I've met in my life was Billy Smith. Despite his name, he was a Filipino, though as far as we Columban priests knew, his father was an American. He was known to all the Columbans in northern Mindanao where in the 1970s we had many parishes, now staffed by Filipino diocesan priests. Billy would do his rounds of the parishes over a period of months and in each would get some food, some clothing, a little money and a place to sleep. He was tall and thin and in his latter years was going blind. He had a number of illnesses. He carried a sturdy staff. Sometimes children would make fun of him and even throw stones at him.

One afternoon more than 40 years ago in a place where I had been parish priest for a couple of months, the last Columban to serve in that role, but was then in charge of a spiritual-pastoral formation year for seminarians from five dioceses, I heard the 'clump, clump, clump' of heavy boots coming up the stairs to the living quarters. It was Billy. At the time I had a visitor, a young friend named Patricia who was in Grade 5. She never knew her father as he had died when she was an infant. She 'adopted' me as a father and called me 'Tatay' (Dad) and often dropped by after class before heading home. (She is now a widowed grandmother and still calls me 'Tatay'.) The family lived in a small house built on stilts that looked as if it might fall over at any minute but her mother managed to make a living. 

When Patricia saw Billy she immediately went over to him, took him by the hand, sat him down at the table and brought him something to eat and drink. I doubt if Billy had ever received such gracious service in his life. My young friend was unaware that I was taking all of this in.

Patricia had little in life and Billy had even less. But the young girl showed respect, kindness and hospitality to this man of the roads. She did this spontaneously, from the heart. When I told her about this incident years later she couldn't remember it.

The story in the First Reading of Abraham's welcome to the three strangers and the story of the welcome Martha and Mary to Jesus in the Gospel show us how blessed we may be by hospitality. Abraham didn't know that the strangers were visitors from God, who blessed him and Sarah, childless and well beyond the normal age for having children, with a son, Isaac, within the year. It is through Isaac that we can refer to 'Abraham, our father in faith' in Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon).

God blessed Billy through the hospitality of Patricia, a child, and gave me a lifelong blessing through that incident.

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:37-40).

In serving Billy Patricia served Jesus himself and revealed Jesus to me in Billy and in herself. And while reflecting on the incident and praying with the readings as a preparation for these Sunday Reflections, I was really struck by the inner freedom that this young girl had in the way she looked after Billy. Though a visitor, she felt truly at home. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.

And as I typed the words of the alternative Communion Antiphon below - a text that expresses what happened so many years ago - it dawned on me that while Jesus, in the person of Billy, a destitute man of the roads, sat down at table in my house at the invitation of my young visitor, Patricia, I didn't join them there. Yet the Lord, in his kindness, has graced me with the abiding memory of his visit that day.

The Infant Jesus Distributing Bread to Pilgrims

Alternative Communion Antiphon
Revelations (Apocalypse) 3:20

The recording above includes verse 21. The text of the words of the Communion Antiphon used at Mass are in bold both in the original Latin and in English.

Ecce sto ad ostium et pulso, [dicit Dominus], si quis audierit vocem meam, et aperuit ianuam, intrabo ad illum, et cenabo cum illum, et ipse mecum.

Qui vicerit, dabo ei sedere mecum in throno meo: sicut et ego vici, et sedi cum Patre meo in throno eius.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock, [says the Lord]. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Traditional Latin Mass

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 7-17-2022 if necessary).

Epistle: Romans 6:1-11Gospel: Mark 8:1-9.

A Workman's Meal-break
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]


Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
What a lovely memory of young Patricia and how she adopted you to be her 'Tatay'.
It shows that by the way she treated Billy, how much you had given to her soul!
Wish the giving of love would always get returned that way and for you it remains a rich memory till the end of your life.

grams ramblings said...

Love this memory.
A good lesson for us all.