The last words attributed to St David were ‘Be joyful. Keep the Faith. Do the little things.’ They are singularly appropriate for the theme of this year’s Women’s World Day of Prayer, when we are asked to think about welcoming the stranger. We Benedictines are in the middle of reading the so-called penal code of St Benedict and today’s chapter, RB 24, brings home the desolation of excommunication, of being excluded from the group.
What makes us strangers? It can be almost anything from the colour of our skin to an inability to speak the local language. We may stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, or our difference may be hidden, something only we know, but our separation from others is real enough and is like ice at the heart. To be welcomed, to become not a stranger but a friend, is a magical moment in anyone’s life. It is to experience joy and warmth quite independent of our circumstances, and so often the welcoming consists in someone’s doing ‘the little things’ of which St David spoke.
I have mentioned before how my sister and I were affected by our parents’ habit of welcoming immigrant workers to their house every Sunday for a family day. We were resentful and difficult as only children can be (‘nasty little blighters’ was, I think, the phrase our father used of us) but something rubbed off on us eventually. Today, as we unite in prayer with women the world over, I can think of nothing better than to try to extend a welcome to others. It may be just a smile we give, but it may be the only smile that person receives today; and if the person in question is one of those who are not-quite-clean-and-respectable or in some other way a person we are tempted to avoid, so much the better. We may discover that in welcoming others we are ourselves made welcome in a way we did not expect.