Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Hospitality and the outrage in Zimbabwe

Today's First Reading at Mass, taken from Genesis 18:1-15 is sometimes called the 'Hospitality of Abraham'. It is a popular subject for iconographers and none is so famous as the beautiful and serene icon by Andrei Rublev (c.1370-1430), a Russian monk of the Trinity and St Sergius Monastery.

There is a wealth of writings and reflections on this icon of the Holy Trinity and its rich symbolism: one only has to google it to come up with many interesting results and indeed, I might encourage you to do so, or you may simply click on this link here.

However, I just want to say something of the theophany which Abraham received here. Although the Genesis account is concerned with the hospitality of Abraham and Sarai towards their three visitors as they sat under the famous oak at Mamre, there is also a wondrous realization of God's hospitality. As that modern hymn with the rather whimsical tune puts it: "God and man at table are sat down."

Far more beautiful is George Herbert's (1593-1633) poem simply entitled 'Love (III)':

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.

What has always struck me about this lovely poem is its tenderness, its sense of enticement and attraction, the gentleness of Love with the Beloved. For the truth expressed in that poem and in the Genesis account is the truth of the Eucharist. It is the truth of God's love for humankind. It is the truth of God's longing for us to share in the divine life. Indeed, God's longing for us to have communion with Him is so great that he not only shared Abraham's meal under that oak tree, He also took human flesh and became one of us and He continues to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. Moreover it is the Eucharist that draws us into the very midst of the divine Trinitarian life. This accounts for the symbolic 'chalice' in the icon above, which is the central object.

However, this radical hospitality of God is such that it places upon us a grave duty to give hospitality to others, especially to strangers, the lost, the dispossessed, travellers and the poor; all in need. As St Paul said to the Corinthians: "Make hospitality your special care" (1 Cor 12:13) or indeed, the Rule of St Benedict, 53 (echoing Hebrews 13:2) says: "All visitors who call are to be welcomed as if they were Christ..." It seems to me that a people who take these admonishments very much to heart are the Filipinos, whose hospitality is justly famous as the warmest in the world. Never have I encountered such generosity, warmth and love; a veritable glee in welcoming the stranger and making him part of the family. For hospitality is not just welcoming guests with courtesy but to take them into your heart and make them one of your own... Again, the Eucharistic motif of communion comes to the fore as we ourselves are drawn into the very life and heart of God.

In contrast, I must mention the terrible, heart-breaking and heinous deeds perpetrated by Mugabe in Zimbabwe. There, a man who is sadly among the baptised, one who shares the Eucharist with us, commits the most horrifying violations against the Christian duty of hospitality. Just yesterday, his police bulldozed houses so quickly that two children were trapped and killed in their own homes! Daily reports of these acts against the already desperate, sins against God's justice and love for his 'little ones' continues unabated... and the world seems helpless, only able to watch in horror and shake its head piously as world leaders - once so eager to oust dictators in the Middle East - allows this one to destroy his nation and torment his people.

The Bishops of Zimbabwe, in their recent Pastoral Letter highlight the situation thus:

"Countless numbers of men, women with babies, children of school age, the old and the sick, continue to sleep in the open air at winter temperatures near to freezing... These people urgently need shelter, food, clothing, [and] medicines... Any claim to justify this operation in view of a desired orderly end becomes totally groundless in view of the cruel and inhumane means that have been used. People have a right to shelter and that has been deliberately destroyed in this operation without much warning."

Surely the very ground cries out to God for vengeance! As the prophet Habakkuk said:

"O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and thou wilt not hear? Or cry to thee 'Violence!' and thou wilt not save? Why dost thou make me see wrongs and look upon trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is slacked and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted." (Hab 1:2-4)

How long indeed? The Church, the Body of Christ, suffers with our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters... Let us pray for mercy and Our Lady's intercession and expect the return of justice and peace and where possible, let us act and speak up in their behalf, for that is surely what genuine Christian hospitality demands of us.


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