Friday, December 24, 2010

Welcome the Stranger

Running through my neighborhood, I came across what is certainly the most striking college banner I have seen in some time. Notre Dame fans and alumni are no stranger to this practice. We are not afraid to display our loyalty, perhaps ad nauseum. But this banner made quite an impression. Consequently, I ran a quick inventory through my head. Did Princeton capture an NCAA championship title? Did the Tigers pull a big defeat...in err...what?

I know their men's basketball team frequently plays in March Madness via the Ivy League title. Their men's and women's crew teams are strong, but their success in athletics is not what it is in academics. It is, after all, one of the "Ivies." Its alumni are as distinguished as Woodrow Wilson and one of my favorite authors, Michael Lewis; the likes of Albert Einstein are among their former faculty. What's up?

And then I realized this must be an unofficial "welcome home" banner. I could be wrong (see former posting for more information about that) but my guess is someone returned home from Princeton, NJ to find this orange and black banner above his or her door. 'Tis the season....

With little regard for that spirit, I must say--I often lack sympathy for college students. I have noticed that I have become increasingly more critical of the four to now six years known as college. I believe college students are given too much freedom, too little responsibility while receiving their parents' financial backing and a license to party. No, an expectation to party (yes, I'm using party as a verb here). College students are expected to study and many must work, train or practice. However, I often find a significant disconnect exists. I hear about this quite often when this lot is home for a month on Christmas break.

And this is exactly why the column Holy Night 2: Readers Share Suggestions for Keeping Christmas Sacred
from America Magazine stopped me in my tracks. Fr. Samula Esposito's parish has "adopted the theme “Welcoming the Stranger,” in an attempt to show the connections between Mary and Joseph as refugees and those who are immigrants and refugees around the world today and our own spiritual journeys. As Advent begins we feature an evening of reflection for adults on the experience of immigrants. Later we offer schoolchildren a “Journey to Bethlehem” breakfast and a walk past tableaus by slightly older children depicting Nativity scenes. In preparation for Christmas we set a table in the church with one place-setting missing to remind us that we ourselves must provide the welcome and place-setting for the stranger in our midst."

I think its important to recognize its not always easy to "welcome the stranger." They are often people who are ostracized or in duress. The "stranger" may also be someone we may no longer know but once did. They may be difficult to relate to or they may be someone as familiar as our son or daughter, brother or sister who is home from college. I began to think about the spiritual journey of a college student. What might be their pains and struggles? joys and challenges? "Welcoming the stranger" means to meet someone without judgement and open our hearts, even our homes. Once again, I need to set aside my bias and remember what the holy season of Advent is preparing our hearts and our relationships with one another for.

Photo Credits
Princeton banner
Princeton Postcard
Mary & Joseph

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