Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. I Peter 4:8 – 9
Offering hospitality is so completely entwined in the virtue of charity I don’t think it can be separated. When I think of hospitality, I instantly think of my Granny. Her home was not elaborate, there were no ornate tea cups or formal sitting rooms, yet she embodied all that is hospitality to me. There is not a memory I have in which someone didn’t drop by unannounced to her home. Those that stopped by my Granny’s would find themselves welcomed and enveloped in a sort of unspeakable warmth. She knew instinctively how to make anyone feel “at home” in her home. Her offerings were humble, but you never left without a full meal and delightful afternoon of chatting and visiting. Never one to go on about herself, she was thrilled to sit and listen to you.
My Granny offered the gift of time and attention – precious gifts indeed in our hurried and frantic world of cellphones, email, tv, computer games. Life these days seems to get more and more impersonal. Hospitality is needed now more than ever. It offers civility to rigid and structured schedules by allowing us to take that time to engage someone in a personal way, to greet them as Christ.
Taking the time to make a room more pleasing to visit in, arranging a seating area, setting out a small bouquet of gathered wildflowers, setting out the nicer china for tea and cookies are just a few ways one can show in a tangible way the gift of hospitality to another. It is so much an outward expression of an interior disposition of charity. These efforts can be small and humble – some effort in this area may be hidden (like the time it might take to polish the rarely used silver service) but so much the better. A hidden gift is such a valuable one.
These small tokens of effort and time are only part of the gift of hospitality – you might say they set the stage. The real gift is in the time spent, the offering of self. This aspect of hospitality is so Christ-like. Even from the Cross His arms are open, reaching out and welcoming. It is His gift of Self that encompasses all of time allowing for the ultimate gift of hospitality – the opening of the gates of Heaven and our being welcomed at the Heavenly Banquet.
I like to meditate on the Blessed Virgin and her hospitality. Certainly, she must have opened the home of the Holy Family to strangers, friends and family alike and welcomed many to visit, introducing them to the Word made flesh. She was certainly attentive to the practical needs of the everyday – look how alert she was at the wedding feast at Cana when the wine was running low. It was Mary that asked Our Lord to perform His first miracle. Her soothing manner and confident assurances surely brought peace, and practically speaking, more refreshment for the wedding party.
It is Mary who helps us make preparations in our most interior self to receive the greatest visitor, the most extraordinary guest – that of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. She helps us clean out the corners of our soul through confession, and then, once clean, she goes about the work of helping us to focus more quietly, more thoughtfully on her Son. He knocks at the door of our Soul. He enters in most humbly in the Eucharistic Host. He waits for us to welcome Him, sit with Him, adore Him, thank Him, ask graces of Him. How often I open the door and then run off in my mind to some other place, how often it must grieve Our Lady that I leave her Son standing at the threshold by Himself. I am consoled then that she is there to welcome Him if I do not do so worthily.
This homemaking course is named for St. Martha. I identify with her so much. I’m all about the preparation, but I don’t want to neglect the one thing needful. Hospitality is so much more than the lovely flowers and the pretty china, so much more than the invitation to tea. I believe that ultimately offering hospitality is all about making a gift of one’s self – being present to, engaged in and welcoming every guest as Christ. It is Mary, the Mother of God that offers the ultimate example of serene hostess – knowing when to tidy and prepare, and when to sit and warmly welcome the Guest.
“…as you did it to one of the least of these brethren, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40
A basket of books for nurturing the spirit of hospitality:
Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Daniel Homan, OSB
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl
A Life That Says Welcome: Simple Ways to Open Your Heart and Home to Others by Karen Ehman
Simple Hospitality by Jane Jarrell
Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Burton Mains
The Gentle Art of Hospitality: Warm Touches of Welcome and Grace by Alda Ellis