Throughout Christian history, hospitality has been regarded as a sacred responsibility. From Chapter 53 of the The Rule of St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35).”
More simply, whoever welcomes the stranger, welcomes Jesus.
In chapter 2 of The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home, the authors explore family and the home and focus on this gift of hospitality.
The spirit of [a] home is palpable to the visitor, just as the visitor feels something real upon entering a church. The stranger goes away taking a piece of it in his heart, being affirmed in his own unique calling. A person doesn’t lose his identity upon being welcomed into a real, loving home; rather, he finds something in himself he didn’t know before. The experience of being in a happy home draws forth love in its inhabitants and in its guests.
… The home should be a place where a person can find rest, yes, and food. But it should also be a place where friends and family can gather to enjoy each other’s company — to relax and just have fun. And it should be a place to share the Faith and our devotion as well.
While we all have a role in welcoming people into our homes, it seems some people are empowered to do so in a special way, doesn’t it? People who have this gift, or charism, are energized by the very act of caring for others and providing food, shelter, and friendship. Do these thoughts bring to mind a person, maybe even a family, supercharged with this charism of hospitality? I have a family in mind who bleeds it, holy hospitality that is. This family is constantly welcoming others to their home for holidays, special meetings, baby showers for women in crisis pregnancy situations, or to offer a respite to a tired mom and her children while her husband travels for work … the list goes on.
When the father-daughter dance fell on a weekend when Joel was away for deacon formation, it was the Mr. of this family who was a surrogate father to our daughter for the evening. When the Mrs. recently celebrated her birthday, I dropped by with a couple of lattes so we could visit while the kids played. When my kids and I were packing up to leave, she sent me away with a plateful of cookies. Did you catch that, on HER birthday, I was the one cashing in with a few sweet treats. And when she brought us a meal after Lydia was born, somehow she even made me feel more comfortable in my home. Who are these people? I don’t care if they’re from Mars (they are kind of crazy). What matters is they are friends to my family and to so many other families here in the Des Moines area. They are a gift to our larger faith community; their kindness feeds so many.
Hospitality for them is not so much a task as a way of living their lives and of sharing themselves and their faith. Their home is inviting, comfortable, ordered yet lived in. The Mrs. of that house might disagree, but it truly is a sanctuary — body, soul, and spirit and are fed by their attention to small details. A statue of St. Michael the Archangel sits here, a print of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hangs there, handcrafted Stations of the Cross made of craft sticks sit on the mantle, rosaries hang from here and there and anywhere, a holy water font carefully placed so that visitors and family members can bless themselves as they come and go, handcrafted book shelves stacked with rich literature, furniture arranged in just a way to foster conversation and not television watching. And then there are their kids’ paintings and art work, framed and prominently placed throughout the home. Had I had my act together, I would have dropped by their house and snapped some photos to share with this post. But then again, I don’t want to leave with another plateful of goodies!
Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is quoted as saying, “It is always a feast where love is, and where love is, God is.” My friends’ home bleeds love, and visiting there draws forth love in me, too. Hospitality is not a natural charism of mine. When I completed the Catherine of Siena Institute’s Called & Gifted workshop several years ago, the gift of hospitality was low on my list of charisms. Sure, I can throw dinner parties. But there’s a lot more to hospitality than building a Pinterest-worthy table setting.
Hospitality flows from the heart; it’s first an act of love. When I first took the charisms inventory, Joel and I were newly married DINKs (double income, no kids). Since having children, the Holy Spirit has gifted me with the graces to be more hospitable, to give more freely of myself and my resources. I have a hunch that if I took the inventory again, my hospitality score would now be higher.
Hospitality will not significantly occur in our lives unless we give it deliberate attention, rooted first in prayer. For now, I pray the Holy Spirit will enlighten me as I contemplate these questions: What are the characteristics of a hospitable space? How can I make a place for hospitality in my life and home?
Lucky for me, Chapter 2 of The Little Oratory shares ideas aplenty. Also lucky for me, my friends who I write about above are bringing out the hospitality within me, too.
A few more resources on the gift of hospitality:
- The Gift of Hospitality: In Church, in the Home, in All of Life by Delia Halverson
- Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl