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Easter 3

Just when the doctor advised me to spend a week of total voice rest, following the strain of Lent and Holy Week activities, it was then that I had a stream of visitors who came to see me last week. Former parishioners came to update on each other’s lives. Friends dropped by to say hello. At one point, our rectory rooms were all filled with visitors – to whom I could only communicate through writing.

I do not begrudge visitors. Like my parents, I love it when people come to visit and when I can exercise what is perhaps the most notable Filipino trait, hospitality. Both my parents are wonderful hosts and they passed that mark on me. The whole world talks of Filipino hospitality.

This is the 3rd Sunday of Easter and we are still discovering how we can experience Jesus alive in our midst. Last week, we saw how the doubting Thomas came in contact with the reality of the Resurrection – by keeping in touch with the other disciples. Yes, there were doubts in his heart, but he was wise enough to maintain close ties with Jesus’ companions and friends.

Today, the gospel shows us another way of encountering the Risen Jesus. It is through hospitality. Two disciples, returning disappointed to Emmaus, met a stranger who spoke to them convincingly and intriguingly. At the end of the day, they expressed the most ardent wish to this stranger: Stay with us… the day is almost over.

The stranger they met was Jesus Himself and when these two welcomed the Lord for the night, he revealed himself to them. The gospel is telling us that encountering Jesus is not meeting up with a spirit, a ghost, a mystical being. Meeting Jesus is meeting a person to whom we offer an open heart and outstretched arms. When we welcome people, friends and strangers alike, Jesus is alive in our midst.

That is why our hospitality is actually a virtue extolled by the Scriptures. When was the last time you were hospitable to people around you? When was the last time you indicated your willingness to receive others into your life? Even a simple but sincere smile can make a difference in the life of another person.

Hospitality is not primarily about food or entertaining people in our living rooms with stories, jokes and banter. Hospitality starts with the heart – were not our hearts burning within us? – when we stretch our hearts to accommodate people who need us. To be hospitable is to be loving, understanding, charitable even in situations when we are ourselves downcast and disappointed, like the two disciples. One mission we must never forget is the mission to be hospitable.

Today, we open our hearts to a special guest of the parish. He is not staying long. He is just passing by. Fr. Francis is a newly ordained priest, just about a month ago. He does not belong to our diocese. He will not serve in our country. He is a diocesan priest, but effectively, a missionary in a far-away diocese in Australia. Let us warmly receive Fr. Francis. This Mass is important to him, because this is his thanksgiving Mass in the Philippines as a new priest. So his family and friends are here.

We admire young people like Fr. Francis because as a missionary, he exercises the hospitality of Christians. Yes, he exports our Filipino hospitality to another country. He does this by opening his heart to a people and a situation very different from what we have here in our country.

It will take him hours of long-driving to travel to his various chapels, and then to celebrate Mass for maybe just about 15 elderly people. He will live alone in his rectory with no staff or assistants as we have here. He will cook his food. He will do his laundry and his cleaning and maintenance. He will open his church doors the morning and locks them at night – all by himself. He will ring the bells to call his parishioners to church. Quite strange compared to our own situation.

And of course, he has to speak English all the time!

Why is he doing this? Because Francis followed Jesus from when he was still 12 years old. Entering the seminary, he knew his heart must be bigger that others because God will demand from him a love that must accommodate not only many people but also, very different people. It may not have been his desire in the beginning but eventually it was God’s will for him.

Fr. Francis met Jesus on the road and that made him open his heart to God. But opening his heart to the Lord meant also stretching his heart wide open so as to receive people as his brothers and sisters.

May Fr. Francis be faithful in his hospitality. May the Australians gain a deeper respect of Filipino hospitality because of his presence with them. May you always have Jesus as your companion and share him with all who need your love.