Below is a special blog post written by a friend. It is well worth the read.
I feel blessed for living in the south where it seems hospitality is second nature. However, we do have to remind ourselves from time to time that our hospitality is an extension of our faith and a form of evangelization.
I hope you will enjoy the post.
God is good.
JMJ, pray for us.
I grew up in a German culture. Hospitality was a normal day to day life-style among many different denominations of Christians. Some Christian fellowships were more open to strangers than others. Over the years, I learned to be open to cooking for strangers, to those in the parish, to those I met in the towns where I lived as an adult.
If a neighbour was ill, one brought food. If a neighbour experienced a death in the family, one brought dinners to help the family get through the time of grief. If someone needed a place to stay, doors opened. Now, we seem to be living in a fear culture, wherein strangers are more likely to be judged and avoided than invited in for tea, coffee, or dinner.
Hospitality is a hidden gift among Catholics. For some reason, hospitality has now become either something someone does for one’s family, or for one’s work connections. Hospitality on the more formal level, which my parent’s practiced well in the 1960s and 1970s, died long ago. No longer does one see wine and cheese gatherings, or intimate dinners where I learned as a child to listen to adult talk. And, most importantly, where I learned manners.
Hospitality is not an option. It is a virtue and a command. The Benedictines practice it well, still, after all these centuries, setting extra places at the convent guest house or monastery guest table in case someone drops in and needs sustenance.
What has disappeared is common hospitality among Catholics. Catholics may not even know their own neighbours, unless they live in the southern part of the United States, where true “Southern hospitality” is not a lost art. Barbecues may include newcomers to the neighbourhood, or new friends.
However, one must ask the question why people no longer entertain in their home, open up their doors to those who may be interested in the Gospel message? Catholics seem to be satisfied with tea, coffee, doughnuts and maybe fruit after Mass on Sunday, but forget that true hospitality takes place in the home.
In this post, I explore the elements of virtue associated with hospitality. Now, I do understand that in this generation of broken families, of dysfunctional relationships among family members, it can be almost impossible to see how hospitality can be a pathway to healing, forgiveness, evangelization, and the spreading of the Gospel, which all of us were commanded to do by Christ as He left the earth at the Ascension.
Evangelization cannot be seen as an option. We are all called to be witnesses to Christ.
I suggest in this article, that there is a ministry of hospitality which was second nature in past generations, but which has died out as even a thought in the minds of Catholics.
In these sharing of thoughts, I address Catholics, as we are the one Church which seems, at least in the West, to have forgotten that an open door to one’s house can lead to an open door in a person’s heart, a door in which Christ may enter in and dwell.
What Is Hospitality?
As there are many definitions of hospitality, I have chosen one from the Cambridge Dictionary online. And this is the first definition: “the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors.” The second definition has to do with business entertainment or hospitality. My little essay will not deal with that obvious type of openness for the sake of cultivating work relationships.
The act of being friendly and welcoming may seem like a simple gesture, but this entails one of the greatest virtues missing in today’s society—that of trust. To trust other human beings, one must be in a trust relationship with God, with one’s companions on the way to heaven, such as members of one’s family or church. Trust implies that one sees the goodness in the other, not merely the negative aspects of that person’s character or personality. All people, as we know, or at least heard once in our lives, reflect Christ in some way.
Let me give an example of the type of trust which would lead to hospitality. Friends of friends invited me to their home for a week so that I could look for property a while ago. I had never met this couple, although we had lived in the same city, and had mutual friends. Their home was open to me while I visited places in their area, as they had moved to another city, where I was considering moving. Although we had never met, I experienced one of the most comfortable and loving weeks in my recent history. The couples hospitable actions included generosity and meeting my needs for that week. Behind their relaxed and happy manners was a deep faith in God. As older Catholics, the couple had grown up in a gentler, more “Christian” world. Even though they were savvy as to the growing darkness of the times, their faith led them to a trust and openness. In other words, they had not succumbed to the present danger of cynicism.
We did have much in common, beginning with our strong Catholic Faith. That Faith drew us into a quasi-family relationship, and I was reminded of the phrase in the Scriptures which marked the early Church, “See how they love one another.” In my personal definition of hospitality, I include this Faith, which reaches out to those who one may not know well. One of my friend’s told me years ago that in over twenty years, no one had ever invited her, a single, elderly woman, over for dinner. To be honest, I was shocked.
Why had this lack of hospitality marked that particular parish? Later, I became aware of the fact that this type of absence of hospitality is not uncommon among Catholics.
As one who loves to cook and looked for opportunities to invite others into my house, I could not understand this oversight. A woman never invited into anyone’s house; lovely, lively, talented, and full of grace was gracious forgiving those who for over tweny years living in the same parish, ignored her.” How could anyone ignore her?
Yet, this was the case. Over and over I hear from young single men and women that their parish has no outreach for 30-somethings. Again, I have been perplexed at the lack of hospitality among families who could easily add one more plate at the dinner table for a single person in their parish.
What has happened?
Part of the problem is simply that Catholics do not understand the value of hospitality.
Opening one’s door and cupboards enriches one’s life. Sharing ideas and ideas can strengthen one’s faith and even praying together, as that couple and I did for that wonderful week, can encourage one’s own spiritual life. Hospitality not only feeds the stranger, the guest, but the giver.
A priest long ago told me that he had never been invited into his parishioners houses. Again, I was amazed, as my parents frequently had priests over for some type of gathering with food. Indeed, years ago, on Saturday afternoon, our house would be open to our parish priest for afternoon tea. I had fun providing his favourite things to eat. Small things like asking what someone prefers seemed second nature to me.
Hospitality is thinking of the other, creating an environment so that the person feels at home. My extended definition of hospitality would include the openness to praying together, such as inviting the guest to join the family rosary.
Imagine if ever catechetical team made it a rule to invite the neophytes to their homes, sharing dinners and prayer. To me, this is one of the basic building blocks of evangelization.
To be friendly and welcoming implies a person confidence and trust in Divine Providence. God provides. God invites people to Him, through us.
Guests, those who have been invited for an evening or a weekend, will sense the faith of a family or individual who invites them. As to visitors, I recall the “old days” when a pot of tea and biscuits were saved for those who just happened to “drop in.” Are we too busy to set aside time for those who want to visit?
How many of us actually know our neighbours? Do we want to know them? Do we desire to spread the Good News of Salvation to all, as Christ commanded us to do?
Therefore, a definition of hospitality must include being open about one’s faith, sharing the joy of the Lord among those who come into our homes. Joy is infectious. Once a visitor or guest sees the joy of a Catholic household practicing the faith, that person will want to come again and again.
In the next few paragraphs, let me evaluate why hospitality is now the forgotten virtue.
Fear, time, money, stress
Many of us work or have worked. The couple I extolled above for their hospitality is retired, and yet, many retired people live in fear. Years ago, I watched a television program in Dublin, when visiting friends there, about home invasions. Several individuals and couples were being interviewed concerning their horrific experience of being held hostage while people ransacked their houses. This show went on for two hours. At the end of it, a disclaimer in small print floated across the bottom of the screen with the credits. The statistics of home invasion and or robbery in Ireland at that time was .1%. It is now, at this writing.6%. Two hours of interviews concerning .1% of the population created a fear, as this show was on prime-time television. Giving that much attention to a very small number of crimes created a false impression of those types of crimes in Ireland. Those watching could become paranoid about home invasions or robberies. This fear could lead to a fear of being open to societies in which one lives.
Fear usually is based on unrealistic expectations, or is a reaction to a trauma. As Christians, Catholics are called to live without fear. The basic relationship to Our Father, God, is one of a trusting child. Such saints as St. Therese of Lisieux reminded us of this loving kindness the Father has toward each one of us. Trust in Divine Providence defeats fear. However, one can say without exaggeration that we in the West seem to be more and more obsessed with fear. Fear kills love.
One cannot love if one is wrapped up in fears, and such fears can lead to a mental digging of the moat, putting the crocodile in the moat, pulling up the drawbridge and double locking the door. Yes, society is more dangerous. Catholics have always lived in danger, of some sort.
In this great country of Britain, one only has to read the stories of the martyrs during the recusant times to be reminded of dangerous times. However, families opened their doors to the seminary priests to say Mass, and even stay in their houses, in the face of a horrific death for doing so. Hospitality did not die because of the fear of punishment, Or, did it? I wonder if fear still holds many Catholics in bondage, to the point where they cannot open their doors or contemplate being hospitable.
A second problem may be time. So many of us work long hours and commute to our jobs. In opposition to this complaint of some who hold that they do not have time to be hospitable, I think of my ancestors on the small farms, working extremely long hours, and pulling themselves out of poverty, yet having others in for dinner, for talk, even sharing musical evenings. Time is a gift to be used wisely. Can we not make time for the guest, the stranger? One thinks of the many stories of the saints who entertained a guest only to have that guest reveal himself as Christ, or an angel. Do we not have a phrase, perhaps being lost as the memory of hospitality is lost, that one never knows if one is entertaining angels.
Time must be made for the “other”, or we risk the chance of not being open to Christ Himself. What about the complaint that it cost too much to entertain, to be hospitable. My answer is this, Share what one has. If one has tea and biscuits, one can still invite a person in. If one has coffee and biscotti, that is enough to start a friendship, a meaningful conversation. If one has a rosary, one can invite another to prayer. If one has a beer and pretzels, share these.
Dinners are not the only venue for hospitality, although I think dinners are the best way to share and be friendly. One does not have to show off and have the “best” of food, only what one usually eats. Hospitality is not a competition as to who serves the best, but an opening of the heart and mind to another.
I think one problem for GenXers and the subsequent generations is that they eat out more than the Baby Boomer generation has done. Eating out is now a regular way, a normal way, many people eat daily, rather than sharing a home meal. True hospitality takes place in the ordinary eating of one’s home meals, the opening up of one’s space, the sharing of one’s time. It is too easy to ignore hospitality when one is eating out all the time. At one time in my life, I was guilty of eating out too much and thinking that going out with a friend was the same as hospitality in the home. It is not.
What about finances? Money does not have to be an issue. My priest friend only wanted tea and flapjacks, a type of oat and raisin sweet unknown to Americans, but common here in Europe. He was content to sit and converse over such a simple tea-time. He was delighted that we catered to his sweet tooth for flapjacks, which are amazingly healthy except for the sugar. Simple, warm, friendly. Tea, sweets, conversation surrounded by the host, hostess and children.
What about stress? Some acquaintances tell me they are too stressed to be hospitable. What does this mean? Sometimes stress is caused by one being too wrapped up in one’s own problems and becoming so involved in one’s unhappiness that reaching out seems a huge effort. Setting aside one’s self, called “dying to self” among Catholics, is the very thing to beat stress. When one reaches out and forgets self, problems can seem trivial.
Again, trusting in Divine Providence, having confidence in God, alleviates stress, which is a reaction to outward negative experiences. Putting all in the Hands of God, daily, and praying for His Will to be done, takes the focus off one’s self and puts it on God.
Perhaps that person who is new in the parish and lives alone, who has never been invited out to dinner, has gifts to help one deal with stress, not that we invite others in order to get, in a mercenary sort of way. But, God has a way of answering our prayers in unexpected relationships. Again, trust is key.
One can complicate one’s life by focussing on the negative. Reaching out to a guest may change one’s life. It did for Lazarus, Mary and Martha of Bethany, who entertained Christ. All are saints recognised not for anything but being friendly and open to Christ. Lazarus gained a second life by opening his heart and door to Christ. Which leads me to my last point evangelisation and hospitality.
The Call to Evagelise
Where I live, Christianity, and especially Catholicism, are minority religions. Most people in my world are secular. Christ gives all of us Catholics the command, not the option, to bring others to Him. This thirst for souls come with the graces of baptism.
Let me quote St. Paul on this subject from two sources only. I alluded to Hebrews above.
Paul writes in Hebrews 13:2 –“And hospitality do not forget; for by this some, being not aware of it, have entertained angels”
Of course, Paul is referring to the famous episode in the Old Testament when the Trinity came to Abraham in Genesis 18.2. Abraham did recognise his God, in this first revelation of the Trinity in the world. His wife, whose name was changed at this encounter, became the mother of Isaac, thus passing on the covenant of the Chosen People to further generations. God revealed Himself in Three Persons. The hospitality of Abraham was an expression of Abraham’s relationship, his friendship with God. Because of this love, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost appeared to the Patriarch. It was the custom of the time to invite strangers to sit and eat and drink. God rewarded Abraham by revealing more of the Mystery of the Trinity.
In Romans 12:13, Paul reminds the Catholics of their duties —“Communicating to the necessities of the saints. Pursuing hospitality.”
These are commands, not “extras.” Perhaps the older customs of Abraham were dying out in the Roman Empire. Perhaps the Gentiles to whom Paul was writing needed reminding of their duties.
“Pursuing hospitality” is not waiting for it to happen. This directive from the great Apostle to the Gentiles indicates that all of us must go out of our way to create times and venues for hospitality. A lovely time together getting to know each other in a homey atmosphere can easily lead to discussions about God.
Many people today decry the decline of the Church, and Church membership, especially here in Europe. Could one reason be simply that we have put up the drawbridge and locked our doors?
“See how they love one another….” is a cry which would be difficult to hear in many Catholic circles. In John13:35, the Evangelist tells us, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciple, if you love one another.”
Does the world see us loving each other? Are we open about our love of God and love of neighbour? Hospitality can create bonds of love. Such bonds of love lead to conversion. This is your job and mine….Evangelisation. The open door is one key way to bring souls to Christ.
Ernst Hoffman is a retired chaplain and educator, who lives on the edge of a national park.