I often think about how I would have behaved in situations easy to judge today, because we already know the outcome of the story. It’s a bit like facing the problems of Mathematics already having the results.
I refer, in particular, to the Nazareth family’s story: they sought accommodation and could not find it because there was no place for them in the hotels. Since I was a child, going to catechism, I have been clearly taking the parts of the family and thinking about what a blatant mistake those hoteliers and owners in Bethlehem committed, by refusing hospitality to Jesus and his parents.
Knowing the outcome of the story, it is clear that the hotelier or the shrewd owners could have overlooked the fact that Joseph and Mary couldn’t pay, that they were foreigners, that they looked like beggars in search of alms.
Instead, the Holy Family was forced to choose the anonymous cave. A stable. A place our Local Health Authority would certainly not have given permission for living in, let alone giving birth: beyond any health regulation.
The point of view of the family has always been clear to me: let’s hope someone helps us. We trust in Providence.
The hotelier’s point of view has always eluded me. All in all, actually, it seems very clear to me: if you can’t afford the hotel, you don’t enter; if it’s already sold out it’s not my fault, you had to act sooner; if you go around looking for a room today for today, you won’t find anything. Therefore, the negative responses to the request to be hosted are absolutely reasonable.
What makes the difference, then, in this common sense of logistical-economic-rational choices?
I believe that the human feeling of piety is fundamental, meant both as a profound value of the unity of the family, and as the Christian meaning of mercy.
And, at that point, after hearing the pietas, from an unwelcoming attitude, the hotelier would enter into a relationship with the family and the problem of hosting it would arise.
Out of mistrust, fear or simply out of prudence we often keep the door ajar to see who is in front of us and to prevent them from entering.
We don’t know who’s at the door.
We live with the idea that others can be dangers to our safety.
Therefore, we try to shut ourselves up and barricade inside our houses in order to avoid unpleasant events.
The problem is that, doing this, we also deprive ourselves of the possibility of opening up to new relationships that could be important for our lives.
The relationship almost fortuitously triggered, in a distracted way forces us to take care of people.
Cardinal Martini would say: “become your neighbour”.
Meetings, comparisons, analyses, decisions, verifications, are all logical steps that develop in our mind and try or sketch solutions to problems in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
But love goes further. Love doesn’t measure what it gives. Love is courage, novelty, life, unpredictability. Love is a shower of emotions on the arid terrain of our history. Love is the lasting sensation that gathers our feelings, emotions and certainties to transform them into something new.
Love transforms life. The life that is gathered around love also transforms the people who are close to us.
It is love, eventually, that drives choices. The choices that change us are dictated by love.
Choosing to enter into a relationship means enhancing love. To put oneself in the hands of God means to trust in love. Love is the source of good choices. The good is contagious. So letting oneself be infected by good means changing the reality that surrounds us, even if it’s uncomfortable.
With these feelings, I face the family that comes to me. After a long insistence with the high school principal of our school, the Rossi family repeatedly asks for a meeting with the headmaster because they want a place at our school. However, there is no place because Maria’s handicap is of a kind we cannot manage. Good must be done well and not everything can be done (I keep thinking with Murialdo in my mind).
This family insists and knocks impertinently at the doors of our school. Other state and private Catholic schools have already rejected this family. There is no place for them in these schools.
And in the Catholic school I run?
I begin to think of being consulted as a person. I am personally asked to give an answer. It is at my door that they are knocking. The good must be done well.
“Ok, I will receive them and I will mention the limits of the school. Then they will understand and choose accordingly”, I think within myself. I also have only one ‘stable’ where to host them.
The parents arrive and what happens is a scene that I will never forget in a lifetime.
The mother, after telling me about the refusals received from the many schools she had visited, including the Catholic schools, kneels down, gives me a letter and begs me to welcome her daughter into our school.
They put their foot on my closing door. I tried to understand whom I was facing, but at this point, with that gesture, the contact had become a relationship. The relationship compromised me. Now there is no longer the Family institution that meets the School institution that must give a bureaucratic answer to the problem.
There is a meeting among people.
People who meet have in fact more possibilities:
Decide to ignore each other. Decide to know each other. Decide to take time.
This, or any other reasoning you want to do, becomes a choice. It is no longer a non-choice.
The kneeling mother strikes my heart deep inside. I am touched! Who am I to say no? But it is others who will have to take care of Mary later. What will they think of my choice of reception?
I talk to the teachers and also ask for advice from our Psychology and Pedagogy Service. On both sides, I receive the most beautiful answer I could expect: it’s a love challenge, let’s face it!
Love must first be offered. It cannot be measured. It just gives. Often, the consequence is that we can feel betrayed by the love granted. The closed doors do not represent the fruit of love, but of selfishness. The lack of confidence that we develop over time in relationships with people is likely to become so invasive that it changes us, destining us to a dryness of heart that leads us to close the doors of the relationship. It leads us not to choose, to become passive and therefore indifferent.
I, personally, wish to continue to keep the door open. The sincere welcome always surprises and changes people. If the world evolves into a system of open relationships, people would be happy. They would know they could be, without the need to appear.
Maria has been attending our school for three years now. Comrades have become more sensitive to the issues of disability. The teachers are more careful to the personal needs of the students, not just those of Maria. The system has changed, because the reception accorded to love changes everything.
A school that chooses to open the door, to be welcoming and to live what it preaches, is the school I dream of, what I see and how I would like to expand its service horizon.
Head of GSO School