Learning Radical Hospitality from Las Posadas

“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me…”
-Matthew 25:34

“So… how did your family get here?”

Growing up, I was asked that question so many times. It seemed so odd that people wondered this, especially because my answer seemed so… boring.

“We drove.”

Whatever it was that they pictured in their minds when they posed the question, I replied with the not-so-thrilling truth: my parents, with the help of a good friend, packed our things into a car and a moving truck and then drove a couple of hours to our new home in the United States.

Though it’s not the most action-packed story, I now recognize it as an incredible blessing that my family had a safe passage to get here. We didn’t face robbers or people just waiting to take advantage of us along our vulnerable journey to the north. We weren’t at the mercy of nature and all her threats along the way. We were not met by a barricade of people on the other side of the border to gas or detain us. We didn’t live in fear that we might one day be sent back. We just drove right in.

Fear was still present in us, though — of the unknown; of the newness of this country, language, culture, etc. — but it was wildly different than what thousands of others had felt before and after us as they sought out the American Dream.

On the other side of that fear, my family and I discovered something beautiful: a community of faithful and kind people, ready to help us adjust to our new lives. One of the very first things my mom did as we settled into our newly-found American lives was register us at the nearest Catholic parish. It was there where she found help to enroll us kids in the local elementary school, was handed registration forms for our religious ed classes, and met our very first family friends in this country.

These people were there to translate, carpool, suggest, accompany, and welcome. They were like a built-in family, linked to us by the virtue of our Baptism, showing us what radical hospitality looked like. Thank God!

Lessons from las Posadas

I have seen this lesson on hospitality taught pretty concretely in the tradition of las posadas, an event that originated in Mexico that leads up to Christmas. The whole event recounts the experience of Mary and Joseph seeking a place in which to give birth to the Messiah.

At the start of the festivities, half of the participants head outside of the hall or home wherever the event is being held, while the other half remains inside. The group outside represents the Holy Family and asks for lodging by way of a (super catchy!) song. They are refused time and again by the group indoors, and this song persists, with alternating verses between the inside and outside groups. In the final verse, the “outsiders” are finally permitted to enter. Prayer and song continue throughout the night, alongside food and piñatas.

The act of extending a welcome to a group of outsiders through this traditional celebration has confirmed that my faith in Christ means I should have a wholehearted commitment to receiving others. While I don’t necessarily live in an age or place where a young family might knock on my door hoping to deliver a baby safely, I do come across people who feel alone, outcast, and afraid. If I can go out of my way to welcome them into my life, heart, and prayers, I am actually welcoming Christ Jesus Himself.

Making Room for Guests

It is a scary thing, making room for people in our lives. It almost always involves what feels like a risk: How do I approach them? What do I say? What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t like them? What if I just leave both of us feeling uncomfortable and/or embarrassed?

Henri Nouwen says, “When hostility is converted into hospitality, then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them.” The act of welcoming guests in our lives, whether they are new kids at school or a person we encounter at a movie theater, is about more than just being kind or overcoming self-conscious tendencies. It is being a Christian. The promise that these new people reveal is nothing short of the promise of who they are as a son or daughter of God — a promise that was written by the Creator long before they came into the world, a promise waiting to be satisfied the moment we are all welcomed into the eternal house of the Father.

Our faith teaches us that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and that we are responsible for one another. To welcome each other into our lives, to make room for us to encounter the promises we each hold, is a radical expression of our Catholic identities. Though it can be a bit daunting to approach strangers or assist them in their time of need, we can take courage in knowing that the Lord has made them in His image and likeness and that we will see Him in them. He wants to make Himself known to us through the other.

Living with Radical Hospitality

Even if you won’t have the Mother of our Lord knocking on your door any time soon, you are still able to to make room for people in your life and allow your faith in Christ to lead you to live radical hospitality.

I challenge you to reach out to someone you find difficult to connect with, asking that God show you the promise they carry within them. Look up ways to help and support refugee and migrant families detained at the border, and in that way giving them a glimpse of the hope they are searching for. Join the posadas celebrations at your parish. Invite a classmate that you don’t usually spend time with to have lunch with you and your friends at school and see how that experience helps you to recognize Christ in others. Be on the lookout for new neighbors on your street, and make a point of saying hello to them as they settle in, and let them see Christ in you.