Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (HEB 13:1) This familiar adage greeted me as I turned to the morning’s lectionary. What got me thinking though was what came next that was not so familiar. Paul writes: Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment and of the ill-treated as of yourselves for you are also in the body. Some of the qualities of hospitality that I found in the dictionary to expand my reflection were kindness, geniality, courtesy, generosity, entertainment and food to guests, visitors and strangers.
I think of the overcrowded prisons in our country and elsewhere as well as wrongful imprisonment and the violent outbreaks that occur because of prisoner malice or mistreatment by guards. This seems in our society a problem that cannot be fixed; it is so complex that it defies any solution. In the face of this monumental conundrum, I see as well our Sister Maura Rhode, chaplain to the Onondaga County Correctional Facility, who greets and treats each prisoner as “another self” – consciously living the total message of what Paul has articulated this morning. I am proud of her example, as I am of the heritage of the first Sisters of St. Joseph who, unwilling to embrace cloister in the service of God, went out dividing the city among them and ministering to prostitutes and prisoners that all might come to recognize the universal and profound love of God. It is only that love that will save us from our divisions.
Today I will pray for prisoners and those people who are distained or ignored. I will examine myself for my failure to open my heart to these “other selves” and pray God for the grace to recognize more each day our common humanity. May it be so!