Hospitality - Entertaining Angels

At the heart of the Catholic Worker Movement’s philosophy lies the theme of hospitality, which is why our founder Dorothy Day would often quote this verse from Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
I’m not sure if I’ve ever unknowingly entertained an Angel throughout all my years as a community worker but once or twice, I’ve certainly encountered folks who could very well be described as an Angel or a Saint.

For example, I once met an elderly gentleman volunteering at a Church run support group for those in recovery from addiction and substance abuse issues. He was quietly putting out chairs and buttering rolls when I asked him how he got involved in helping out at this very worthwhile project and he proceeded to explain to me that he was once a taxi driver in quite a rough part of town.

Over the years he had gotten to know where all the local dealers were located and more often than not he’d find himself late at night, taxiing various individuals across town to each of these drug dens.

The project volunteer then went on to describe to me how he began to develop trusting relationships with young men and women with serious addiction issues, until he eventually became skilled and confident enough to empathetically and gently encourage each of his passengers to seek help without any condemnation. “You don’t need to do this; there are good people out there who can help you”, is what he’d say to them, or “I know it doesn’t seem like it just now but there is a way out of this”. The cabbie would then give his passenger a leaflet with information about a friendly, discreet, non-judgemental drop-in cafe for people in recovery, the very same recovery project which our retired taxi driver had volunteered with, for over 20 years!

I’m unsure exactly how many lives this particular Angel of God has saved over the years or how many others even know about these little miracles taking place night after night in the backstreets and housing schemes of Glasgow but I’m certain that there are secret armies of Angels just like this one, out there right now, carrying out their hidden vocations in different places and situations.

The late Russian theologian Alexander Schmemann once said ‘Every personal victory over evil, maybe even unknown to the world, has an impact on the whole situation. A saint leaves the world, lives somewhere else, no one knows about him but he is participating in that great struggle which will be going on until the end of world’.   

Indeed, there are many saints who we’ll never know about and some who we only know about by sheer chance. For example, we only know about the Austrian conscientious objector and martyr Blessed Franz Jägerstätter who refused to swear the oath of loyalty to Hitler, because of Gordon Zahn’s research and encounter with Franz’s widow which led to the publication of his seminal book ‘In Solitary Witness’ in 1964.  
For me, Franz’s witness for peace offers the perfect example of a life and a sacrifice, which at the time seemed futile, meaningless and utterly forgotten but is later vindicated. Indeed, Franz’s Nazi prosecutors even told him that nobody would ever know about refusal to swear the oath.
Yet, just a few decades later, the life and faith of this simple peasant farmer from the remote village of Sankt Radegund in the mountains of Upper Austria, is informing the Second Vatican Council and helping to develop Papal Encyclicals on Conscientious Objection and Church teaching.

Perhaps the final word on hidden lives should go to brilliant Catholic philosopher Professor John O'Callaghan at the University of Notre Dame. Writing beautifully about the life of Franz Jägerstätter, John tells us that - ‘We all live hidden, “unhistoric” lives, lives hidden from the world, yet lives that change the world around us for good or ill in untold unknown ways. We have a choice—to live a hidden life of deceit or of integral holiness. Nothing is hidden from God, nor even man entirely.’

Ross Ahlfeld