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That Time We Joined a Pagan Homeschool Co-op

“I think we should join this pagan homeschool co-op” – those are words you don’t hear every day. Yet, sure enough, about two years ago my wife made that announcement from the other end of the house.

Sufficiently derailed from my work in the office, I joined her in the living room to try and make sense of this. We should join a what?

My wife laid out her reasoning:

• This family opens their home to other families once a week for social and educational activities
• Their website is cheerful and friendly
• They welcome all families: big ones, small ones, weird ones, messy ones
• They promptly replied to my wife’s request for more information
• They’re not trying to proselytize anyone
• It’s inexpensive
• It’s close to where we live

That all sounded great, but I couldn’t get past the “pagan” part. Exactly how pagan are they? Were there no Catholic co-ops we could join?

I was concerned, to say the least. But, after talking to the lady who runs the co-op and after researching other options in our area, my wife was convinced that this was worth a shot.

The Line

Before you can appreciate the impact of this decision, you need to know something about my family: We’re not easy to accommodate.

We’re loud. We’re messy. We’re awkward. We’re needy. We break things. We require heaps of mercy and forbearance.

As such, we’re always wondering, “Where’s the line?” What’s the mistake, the offense, or the misbehavior that will finally make people say, “Enough”? Sometimes we can foresee where the line will be, other times we have to feel it out and hope for the best.

Feeling Out the Pagans

When our family enters someone else’s space, we’re basically asking them, “Are we more important to you than your peace and quiet? Your sense of order? Your need to be in control? Even your prized possessions?”

Thanks be to God, when we entered this family’s home, they said yes every time, and they said it resoundingly. Far from just putting up with us, they have invited us to join them for trips to the zoo and backyard barbecues. My wife has made close friends with the moms in the group, and the other kids are always excited when my kids arrive.

Speaking of my kids, so far they have broken two glass lanterns, spilled tiki torch oil all over the family’s deck, eaten their food, invaded every room in their house, and even snuffed the life out of the pet goldfish (accidentally) and this family still – still – welcomes us with open arms.

Do you know what that’s called? Radical hospitality.

Defying Expectations

Radical hospitality is more than pointing in the direction of the coffee and donuts. Radical hospitality means making someone feel welcomed, valued, and affirmed far beyond expectations. It’s a hospitality that doesn’t count the cost. It’s a yes to the prospect of the other that establishes the other as the highest good.

This is the hospitality of Abram before the three visitors (Genesis 18:1-5), of Jesus at the feet of the apostles (John 13:3-5), of the master of the feast before the poor (Luke 14:12-14), of Mary before the transforming power of the Spirit (Luke 1:38).

What makes this hospitality so powerful and, ultimately, so healing is that it’s rare and it meets an intense desire. In a society that fosters egocentricity and obsessive cost calculation, it’s rare to be truly welcomed. It’s rare to be treated with the dignity you deserve. It’s rare to be genuinely loved – and at the end of the day, that’s all anyone really wants.

As Catholics, our families and our parishes are called to extend that kind of radical hospitality. Are you prepared to “remove your sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 169)? If not, why not?

It’s never too late to learn a thing or two from the pagans.

 

Nicholas Hardesty

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