The first times in a new country are always exciting but a little stressful. It’s always a big deal when there’s someone who makes you feel at home.
My first times arriving in Lima, Peru to meet up with the St James Society always was always filled with great hospitality. Everyone made you feel welcome and at home. And as the days went by, I found that one man in particular had a real special gift of hospitality. The most senior member at 88 years (including 57 in Peru), a soft-spoken and gentle man, Fr. Gerry O’Meara was always ready at the main center house in Lima to welcome you in.
When I was looking for a beach to go to, he took me into a car and drove me down to his favorite place along the shore, El Silencio. He showed what ceviche and causa were. Later on, he showed me how he got the figs off the fig trees in the back yard of the center house, and how to tell when they’re ripe, how to peel them. My last time that I arrived in Lima this past January, I arrived after midnight. I came into the Center house and no one was awake except the guard to open the door. I walked into the main lobby and noticed a light on in the living area, so I went to see who was there – with an idea already who I might find. And there was Gerry, as he usually was, watching TV and waiting to receive whoever might be up and about with hospitality. I came in and sat down, and he prepared a whiskey for me. It was a good way to be received after a long day of traveling.
So, after he had spent about 6 months in quarantine, Gerry arrived here in Boston from Lima to spend a month. As the car pulled down into the parking lot here with Gerry inside, I made sure to be there to welcome him. And the first thing we all did was head up to the living room for a whiskey.
Gerry cooked up his usual storm during his stay, and at one point, I asked David – the director here – how long Gerry would stay. He said you never know with Gerry, he just decides it’s time to move on, and that’s it. He could go at any time.
Well, he left after about a month to go to his sister’s house in New York. And then one night about 3 weeks later, Gerry sat in his chair, fell asleep, and never woke up. He just decided it was time to go.
And, you know, I imagine that when he arrived at the gates of heaven, he was welcomed into God’s house with great hospitality – and a whiskey.
There is a secret of life in kind hospitality. Welcoming in and being welcomed in is a central theme of the Gospel. The judgment scenes in Matthew’s Gospel are about being welcomed in. “Come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you”, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. John’s Gospel talks a lot about being received into the Father’s house, as the bride. And throughout the Bible there are so many references to things like “receiving you” or “receiving me”. In fact, from the story of Noah receiving all the animals – and God – into the ark, to Moses receiving all the Israelites – and God – in their tents, to David preparing a place for the Ark of the Covenant and the Israelites in the world, to all the narratives of hospitality surrounding the coming of Jesus into the world, and then the church into the world, you could say that the whole story of God and us is about … hospitality.
Us receiving God into ours. And God receiving us into His.
A lot of people have published and preached about going to heaven, but the secret is simple. It isn’t about receiving a magical sacrament or piling up a list of good works, or confessing all your sins or believing all the correct doctrines or right “faith”. It’s isn’t about being saved through pronouncing a formula or simply “believing”. It’s really just one thing:
How have you received others in your life?
When it’s time to go and arrive at heaven’s door, God will welcome you in a way that is very familiar to you:
Just like you have welcome Him.
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me … And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Mt 10:40,41)
Gerry O’Meara, may you rest in peace, gentle friend.