Friday 25th September 2015: Culture of Encounter!

As I write this I am half way through the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Often when we know we have a visitor coming to our home to stay it’s an ideal opportunity to tidy up, finish off some of those chores around the house we’ve been putting off because generally we want the visitor to feel truly welcome, truly special, and honoured. The city of brotherly love has certainly given a huge welcome so far to the 18,000+ pilgrim delegates to the congress.

But amidst all the inspiring talks, workshops and myriad of creative ideas, resources, apostolates and ministries on display in the exhibition hall, nothing compares with the deep sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit that’s been at work in my own life these past few days. And that presence, that inestimable grace has come through encountering others one after the other in an almost endless stream of gifts of faith, hope, and love. I have literally bumped into dozens of different individuals some of whom I’ve never met, most of whom I’ve known through work in personal collaboration or via the Internet over the years, and one or two outstanding senior prelates whom I have admired greatly from a distance. Encountering Christ in these fellow pilgrims has been extraordinarily edifying. However none of these even compare with the love warmth and hospitality I have received from my hosts, Brian and Joan Gail, who were 46 years married the day of my arrival. I’ve known them since 2010 when I hosted Brian to deliver the annual diocesan theology of the body lecture in the wake of the publication of his great trilogy of novels, “Fatherless” “Motherless” and “Childless.”

Staying with these faithful Catholic spouses in their beautiful home sanctified by prayers, sacrificial love, and deep solidarity with the poorest of the poor, the unborn, has felt like being on retreat. Everything I hear and experience at the congress about the beauty and truth of the family and the Christian homestead is made concrete and real for me in the domestic church of the Gail household. Yes, this is where God deliberately planned many months ago to have me stay during these extraordinary days rather than a soulless hotel room. Just as St Peter said to Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration “Lord it is wonderful for us to be here” so too have I prayerfully embraced that sentiment in another genuinely Catholic home. So let’s pledge ourselves, whatever our circumstances, to make our homes a cultured place, a place where the Lord of all family life is tangibly present especially in the way we exercise hospitality. For it is the lived experience of the encounter we can offer our visitors that by God’s mysterious grace makes a huge contribution to the missionary work of salvation to the world. Imagine the warmth and hospitality that must have greeted an endless stream of visitors at the home of the Holy Family in Nazareth. If we can replicate in just some tiny way the breadth, the depth, the height and the width of that love when in our own home when we receive visitors, we will not only be building the Kingdom of heaven on earth, we will be granting ourselves a significant foretaste of it.

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