One of the essential dimensions of cultivating the social virtues is the capacity to both greet and welcome individuals as well as groups. Most would agree that the first impression we receive from another has a profound impact for good or for bad.
On the negative side, when somebody ignores us, overlooks us, snubs us, or even glares at us ending with a sarcastic and derisive smile, it truly cuts to the heart and can leave an indelible wound. Expecting a warm greeting and receiving quite the contrary, totally ignored, can result in anger, resentment and even a desire for revenge in the depths of our heart.
Therefore, as authentic followers of Christ, why not make a concerted effort on our part to improve and to upgrade our greetings and welcoming attitudes? Even in the realm of apostolic efficacy, a warm greeting can open a closed heart to the following of Christ; a snub and cold stare, can shut the door to Christ.
This may catch many of us by surprise or even shock us but there are many Biblical passages that deal directly with both greeting and welcoming others. Let’s contemplate a few.
1. THE ARCHANGEL GABRIEL AND MARY. (Lk. 1:26-38) Of all of the greetings in the History of the world, the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting to the Blessed Virgin Mary would be the most prominent. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you….” This greeting would culminate in Mary’s consent to conceiving the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in her most pure womb. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (Jn. 1) In fact, every time we pray the Hail Mary, we renew this Angelic salutation. For that reason, the technical name for the Hail Mary is actually “The Angelic salutation”.
2. THE VISITATION. (Lk. 1:39-45) As a rapid sequel to the Archangel’s greeting in the Annunciation to Mary is Our Lady’s quick response, moving in haste to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth who is with child. Upon arriving Mary greets Elizabeth, most likely with the Hebrew manner of greeting: SHALOM—PEACE BE WITH YOU! Saint Elizabeth responds: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? At the sound of your greeting the baby in my womb leapt for joy. Blessed are you for your firm belief that the word of the Lord would be accomplished in you.”
3. ZACCHAEUS, THE CHIEF TAX-COLLECTOR OF JERICHO. (Lk. 19:1-1) In the case of this short tax-collector, who was ready and willing to climb a tree to at least view Jesus, we witness another greeting and welcome. Almost always Jesus was formally greeted and welcomed into homes. In this case, Jesus actually invites Himself into the home of Zacchaeus; and the little man joyfully welcomes Jesus. Overflowing with joy, Jesus responds: “Today salvation has arrived at this home.” How often has Jesus knocked on the door of our hearts seeking entrance? How often have we failed to open the door?
4. SAINT MATTHEW. (Mt 9:9-13) Jesus approaches the tax-collectors post—where Saint Matthew is seated—and peering into the eyes and penetrating the depths of the soul of the Publican says two words: FOLLOW ME! Without a moment of hesitation, Matthew accepts the invitation and leaves all that he has to follow the Master. That very night Matthew prepares a banquet for Jesus inviting many of his friends, tax collectors, women and friends so that they can meet the Lord. Saint Matthew greets Jesus and welcomes Him into his home with overflowing joy.
5. BETHANY: MARY AND MARTHA AND LAZARUS. (Lk. 10:38-42) Among the most dear friends of Jesus during the three years of His Public Ministry was the family of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Living close to Jerusalem in the town Bethany, they would invite Jesus, welcome Jesus to be their guest. Polar opposites in temperament, Martha and Mary served Jesus each in their own unique manner. Busy and active to the very core, Martha practiced the minute details of hospitality. Quiet, more reserved and contemplative by nature, Mary loved to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him, speak to Him and simply be present to Jesus as a friend.
The above are five classical examples of Biblical personalities and their attitude of both greeting and welcoming. We might even call these Biblical figures in these words: THE SHALOM COMMITTEE! (PEACE BE WITH YOU—SHALOM!)
Let us step back and examine our own lives, the people we meet and the opportunities that God presents to us to exercise the Apostolate of Shalom, the greeting and welcoming Club!
1. FAMILY MEMBERS. If you are a homemaker, as well as wife and Mother, you most likely have the Golden-opportunity every day to both greet and welcome family members. Welcoming your husband with a hug, a smile and a refreshing drink can turn his long and tiring day into an oasis of peace. Also, receiving and welcoming your children with a joyful smile, milk and cookies, and words of encouragement can make a world of difference from the tough, aggressive and cold external social milieu.
2. GREETING FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES. A simple question for your examination? Upon seeing a friend or acquaintance approach, do you wait for them to greet you, or do you make an effort to take the initiative to greet first? By taking the initiative, in a certain sense, there is real virtue practiced in this assertive approach. Humility, courtesy, and even charity emanates from the first to greet! Who knows, maybe you can even win a friend by taking the initiative in greeting first and with a winsome smile!
3. GREETING THE HOME-BOUND, THE SICK AND THE LONELY. One of the most pleasing gestures that we can do, so pleasing to God, is to go out of our way to visit those who are sick, abandoned, the lonely, and the depressed. A greeting, a smile, a kind word, a holy card, a hug or embrace can pull the lonely and those dwelling in the valley of tears into the light of God’s joy and happiness. Jesus will reward us: “Whatever we do to the least of our brothers/sisters, we do to Christ.” (Mt. 25:40)
4. GREETING JESUS IN THE CHURCH. Another noteworthy greeting is towards Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the context of the Church. This can be done in two ways: Eucharistic visits and Eucharistic receptions! One of the first short poems that I learned as a child was the following: “Whenever I see a Church I stop to make a visit, so when I die the Lord will not say: who is it?” Upon entering the Catholic Church we should immediately draw close to the Tabernacle, the Home of Jesus in the Church, and greet Him. First, we make a genuflection towards the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. Then we greet Him and welcome Him by opening up our hearts to Him in fervent prayer. Then of even greater importance, participate fully, actively and consciously in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The culminating moment is to greet Jesus and to warmly welcome Him into the very depths of your heart in Holy Communion. This Eucharistic greeting and welcome is by far the most important in this world. May we strive to improve and upgrade our Eucharistic greetings and welcome!
5. HEAVENLY WELCOME COMMITTEE. Now, as a conclusion, if during the short course of our earthly existence we have sincerely striven to be kind, warm, and attentive, a greeting and welcoming person towards our family, neighbors, the sick and even strangers, and most important to Our Eucharistic Lord, then one day we will have our own welcoming committee. Jesus, surrounded by the angels and the saints and His Heavenly Mother, will welcome us into the halls and eternal banquet of Heaven!