Wednesday, 1 July 2015


"Hello, my friend!" That was how Brother Joe used to greet everyone who came to the door of our Dominican Priory. To him all were welcome, everyone was a friend. No matter that they were strangers or looked rather unkempt. If they wanted a cup of tea or a sandwich he gave it to them.

What was much more important, Brother Joe’s warm greeting gave respect to these outsiders, living on the fringe of society -people who were ignored or despised. As far as he was concerned these social outcasts were not rejects. They were people with dignity, who had fallen on hard times. The respect he showed them helped them to respect themselves.

As they were welcomed as friends they ceased to be strangers and outsiders. In this there was a great healing. Could it be that these ‘regulars’ came to Brother Joe so frequently for the very reason that no-one else gave them such a genuine, warm welcome?

This incredibly strong ex coal-miner had a wonderful gentleness with vulnerable people. It’s not surprising that Joe was much loved, not only by every community in which he lived, but also by those who were guests at our priories. I know this, since I lived with him in four of our houses.

Thinking about Brother Joe and the welcome he gave strangers led me to reflect on the way God welcomes the outsider.

St. Paul tells us that sin had alienated the whole human race from the friendship God had wanted us to have with Him -a friendship beautifully expressed at the very beginning of the Bible, where we are told that God, the Creator, walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening.

Once that friendship had been disrupted God set about repairing the damage sin had caused. That’s the central theme of the whole of salvation history. That’s why the Son of God became man, lived among us and died for us. In everything He did Jesus reached out to us sinners and offered us the hand of God’s inviting. loving friendship.

God could personally identify with the castaways of this world - Jesus was despised and rejected, unjustly executed as a criminal. He died between two thieves. On His shoulders He carried the burden of all our sins. He certainly knew what it was like to be an outcast!

Now He continues to identify so closely with all who are in any kind of need that He has told us that whatever we do for them we do for Jesus Himself, (cf. Matt. 25).

So when Brother Joe said to the stranger at the door, "Hello, my friend " he was meeting and greeting Jesus Himself! And the stranger at the door met Jesus, in the person of Joe, as Christ identifies with all, including Joe, who continues to express His loving compassion for the needy.

At different times we have all met Christ in those who have helped us in any way. And we’ve also met Him in the needy we have assisted. As we come to their aid we identify with the compassionate Christ. The needy meet Jesus in us, when we open our hearts to them, as did Brother Joe. For many people that will be the only way they will get to know what being a Christian really means, the only way they will meet the compassionate Christ.

The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus reaching out to those who have in different ways become marginalized as social or religious outcasts. He made friends with those whom respectable religious people shunned. Above all, even now, glorious in heaven, He reaches out to us sinners, and through the healing balm of God’s love and mercy draws us into the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity.

As God abides in us and we in Him we cease to be marginalized outsiders and become God’s children, sharing His divine life and happiness. Now we have a wonderful sense of belonging to God and His family.

Today the developed world is faced with the special challenge of reaching out to the thousands of desperate refugees seeking a place where they will be welcomed. Amidst the uncertainty as to the best way to respond to them we must be guided by Pope Francis’ recent encyclical.

In this he reminds the world that each and everyone of us has been created by a loving God. He Himself is the bond, uniting us as brothers and sisters in His one family. Furthermore, our shared humanity unites us in the one Family of Man. We have family obligations for each other. We cannot say, “Not my brother or sister. Not my problem.”

But back to brother Joe! I like to think that at the moment of his death Our Lord greeted His good, faithful and loving servant with the words, "Hello, my friend!" That’s not too fanciful, since in the Mass we pray for "all those who have left this world in your (God’s) friendship." Knowing Joe, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had responded to the welcoming Jesus with the same words he had used when he had met Jesus in the stranger at the door -"Hello, my friend!"

And I hope and pray that when we meet our Saviour at the moment of our death He will say to each of us, "Hello, my friend."

"This," Jesus tells us, "will depend on whether or not we have extended the hand of loving friendship and compassion to the outsider, with whom Jesus identifies.

Brother Joe certainly did!

Isidore Clarke O.P.

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