Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2016
In the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a large influx of immigrants to the United States from India. When they arrived here, they entered the working class, lived frugally, and saved their wages. Then, when they had enough money set aside, they would buy failing businesses and build them back up. They were living the American dream.
The largest number in this wave of immigrants came from one particular part of India where they were members of a specific “social caste,” sharing the surname Patel. That name, Patel, is one of the most common in India, and in this country, ranks 174th out of the 500 most common last names.
For whatever reason, members of this family who came to America gravitated towards the hotel and motel business, making an enormous impact on the hospitality industry. Statistics show that approximately 1/4 or about 22,000 of the hotels/motels in the U.S. are Indian owned and operated with an estimated value nearing $128 billion, the vast majority owned by a member of the highly successful and extremely affluent Patel clan. In the hospitality industry, this trend is called “The Patel Hotel Phenomenon.”
I recently heard a young man interviewed who has co-authored a book with his sister about what it means to be a Patel. He described a forced family vacation, where the two teenage kids grumbled every mile of the cross-country road trip intended to help the family become better acquainted with their adopted home. In some remote part of the west, after a long day of traveling, everyone exhausted from being cooped up in a car all day, the family finally pulled into a hotel to spend the night. They walked into the lobby and recognized a person of Indian descent behind the counter who greeted them formally and politely. However, when the father registered and the proprietor saw the name Patel, he rushed around the counter and excitedly hugged and kissed everyone.
He waved them past the registration desk and ushered them directly into his family’s living quarters, calling out to his own family that Patels were visiting. The response was immediate. The Patel family who owned the motel welcomed the Patel travelers like long lost relatives. The best of everything in the house was brought out and shared graciously and with a sense of real joy. There was a holiday atmosphere and an evening long celebration. In the morning, the families parted like loved ones who knew it was unlikely that they would ever meet again. And, of course, the host Patels rejected the offer of repayment from the guest Patels. Nor was this an isolated incident…this is simply how Patels treat one another.
The experience of “being Patel” on the young travelers was profound.
There is a family spread around the whole of planet earth that is far larger than the Patels. This family does not share a surname…but shares something far more meaningful than a bloodline. This family consists of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream,” share faith, and be identified by the name “Christian.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to recognize, embrace, and celebrate a common identity that, by far, transcends country of origin, cultural heritage, or family name.
We are all children of a good and loving God, Who provides the most gracious and elaborate of hospitality to all humankind. We are all guests in this world, and our heavenly Host wants us all to enjoy our stay here…and to be respectful of the rights of our fellow travelers…our sisters and brothers…so that everyone can take full advantage of the Creator’s hospitality. It is God’s will that all humanity have the opportunity to live out the “American dream.”
And, if the occasion arises for us to provide hospitality, we are expected to be lavish in our response…like Abraham. When we are privileged to have a guest in our homes, we should work tirelessly to accommodate their needs, like Martha…although probably with a little less complaining. When we are the host, we should be completely present and attentive to our visitor, as was Mary.
The Patel phenomenon is said to have had an impact on the hospitality industry in this country. Christianity is called to have a profound impact on the whole universe. The Christian phenomenon should have an impact on every aspect of life. But specifically, when we have the opportunity to play host, we should be images of God, manifesting in our attitudes and actions the phenomenon of Divine hospitality. Our guests should be made to feel like family…not just welcome… but completely “at home.”
Now, the obvious application of all of this is the appropriate Christian response to the enormous migration of people…all over the world. Immigrants, refugees, those seeking asylum are sisters and brothers and should be made to feel at home. But, today’s Readings also speak to a more local issue. As our parishes become more cooperative…blending and merging…closing and changing names…it’s critical that we remember that there are no strangers in our midst. We are all members of the same family of faith. There are no hosts…and no guests… in our churches. The Table of the Word and the Communion Table belong to each of the Baptized. We are at home wherever we go to celebrate Eucharist, and we are expected to make one another feel just that way.
After all, if the Patels can do it…why can’t we?