(The Nationalist, 24 June 2005)
Tourists say that Ireland is a less friendly country than it used to be. We’re all in a rush, tied to deadlines, to efficiency and output. But wasn’t the poet right when he said, ‘What is this world, if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’
I remember a friend who had a delightful habit: whenever you called to his house, his first word was always, ‘Welcome!’ My calls must sometimes have been at inconvenient times, but he still said, ‘Welcome!’ and made you feel it. He had the gift of hospitality, a word which comes from hospes, a guest.
Hospitality takes many forms: a word of welcome, a letter written, a phone call made, a visit to a sick neighbour or elderly relative, time given generously to another, a smile when we feel more like a scowl. It could be in the family, or to a relative, or to someone who is not part of the scene but is out on the margins. Hospitality is more about attitude than plenitude, more about a listening ear than tea and talk.
What of our attitude towards refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants? They meet racism on the streets and at work, and the darker their skin the more likely they are to be meet it. Some Irish people consider themselves entitled to insult them, and think the other should see it as great craic, when it is simple bog ignorance.
The extended family is on the way out, we’re told. Maybe we should re-build it. Families can be difficult and demanding, but blood is thicker than water. We need them; they need us. Give them time. If we choose to be self-centred, we get what we have chosen – the self. Then we will find ourselves alone and isolated, and there’s no joy in that.
All our relationships are themselves inter-related: to God, to others, to self and to nature. They interact on each other: one affects the other, like the threads of a tapestry. Generosity evokes generosity. It is in giving that we receive.
For those in a hurry: ‘We discover ourselves in discovering others, above all in discovering others in love’. (Gerald O’Collins, The Second Journey, Dove Communications, Melbourne, 1978, p.83)