Welcoming strangers


By School Sister of Notre Dame Linda Stilling

A 7-year-old boy runs into McDonald’s, quivering with anticipation. It is his birthday and his mother told him he could have anything he wanted. So he orders not one, but two of his favorites.

“Two Big Macs,” he proudly tells the teenager behind the counter. “One for now; one for later.”

After enjoying his first Big Mac, chocolate milkshake and fries, he carefully bags his second to eat later while watching TV.

As he walks out with his treasure, he notices an old man sitting in the corner of the parking lot, nursing a small cup of coffee. His coat is torn and tattered, and his tennis shoes are no match for the winter weather.

The little boy walks over and gives the man his Big Mac.

As the little man walks back over to his surprised mother, she says, “Son, I’m sure God is very proud of you for sharing your Big Mac with that poor man.”

The boy replied, “How do we know that man isn’t God?”

Jesus teaches that God often comes into our lives disguised as the stranger, the sojourner, the stricken soul: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).

Sometimes we welcome the stranger; sometimes we don’t.

Last summer, I was visiting friends in Arizona. They picked me up at the airport. On the expressway, a front tire blew out, and we were stuck in traffic. The police came and spoke only to me, ignoring my friends who were born in Puerto Rico – and therefore are fellow American citizens.

Brown skin placed them in an alien category in the officer’s eyes. My friend’s daughter Anita, a physician, confided to me: “Sister, thank God you were with us. We get mistreated like this all the time.” That’s the way it is in Arizona these days, where those who look like immigrants are immediately considered suspects, rather than strangers to be welcomed.

Sometimes we don’t welcome the stranger; sometimes we do.

In my Spanish language and culture classes at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore, I challenge my students to use not just the Spanish they learn, but also the cultural sensitivity we strive to appreciate in our classes.

One of my students was driving in Baltimore when her new car was dented as a workman backed out his car in a narrow parking lot. Frustrated and angry, she got out of the car to exchange information with the Latino driver. Looking at the license he gave her, she said, “This is not your picture.”

“I know,” he said as tears brimmed in his eyes. “Please don’t report me. I will be deported and I need this job to help my family.”

“But this is my new car,” she said, as she began to cry in yet more anger and frustration.

“It’s pretty,” he said sincerely.

Somewhat disarmed and not knowing how to respond, the woman burst out, “Oh, just go!”

She drove home discombobulated and confused. Not knowing how to handle this mess, she turned to God in prayer. Grace began to calm and teach her the significance of the incident.

“I decided to leave the dent in my car,” she said. “It reminds me that people are more important than things. That day, I think I really helped somebody. I realize things had become too important to me and I was losing sight of the real values in life.”

Again the Gospel resounds in our hearts: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Thank God we as a Catholic people, a universal community, are opening our minds and hearts to the presence and needs of the stranger among us. Our Catholic bishops have a wonderful website giving us the facts about immigration, justiceforimmigrants.org.

Give it a try. If not giving a Big Mac or forgiving a dent, try at least sharing a smile with the next stranger you meet. How do you know that person isn’t God?

Copyright (c) Jan. 25, 2013 CatholicReview.org 

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