Sunday, July 18, 2010


The word "hospitality" comes from the Latin word "hospes," guest. In the readings at Mass today, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, we have stories of hospitality.

In the first (Genesis 18: 1-10), Abraham and Sarah provide hospitality for three mysterious strangers who predict that in a year the two of them will have a son. The famous icon of the Trinity by Andre Rublev shows these three heavenly visitors under a terebinth, a tree. How is it that this story served as the basis for Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity, three Divine Persons who are One God? The passage begins, "The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth," and continues with, "Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby." He addresses them in the singular: "Sir, if I may ask you this favor...." Abraham and Sarah showed hospitality to God Himself who blessed them.

In the Gospel (Luke 10: 38-42), Martha and Mary provide hospitality for the Son of God. Martha served Jesus and Mary sat at His feet listening to Him. Both were forms of hospitality and Jesus praised Mary as having "chosen the better part" for, in listening to Jesus, Mary made Him a guest of her mind and heart.

In the Eucharist we receive Jesus as a guest in the Word and then in the Sacrament where we become a home for Him to enter in a most marvelous way. Then, nourished and transformed by the Eucharist, we are sent forth to provide hospitality for Jesus present in our brothers and sisters who are in need.

There is a story that when Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day were starting the Catholic Worker movement, they thought about different names for the houses where those in need would be received as Christ and given shelter, food, clothing, and, perhaps most important given what Jesus said about Mary in the Gospel, an open heart and listening ear. One possibility was to call the houses "Houses of Charity." But the word "charity" often has the connotation of giving a handout and sending people on their way. Hospitality, on the other hand, captures much more the sense of reverencing the dignity of someone made in God's image and likeness. Hospitality is charity in action.

Peter Maurin wrote about Houses of Hospitality in simple poems that are known as "Easy Essays." In one he contrasts Christian hospitality with the hospitality of the "Muni," a city-run shelter. He writes:

So people no longer consider
hospitality to the poor
as a personal duty.
And it does not disturb them a bit
to send them to the city,
where they are given the
hospitality of the "Muni"
at the expense of the taxpayer.
But the hospitality that the
"Muni" gives to the down and out
is no hospitality
because what comes from the
taxpayer's pocketbook
does not come from his heart.
So hospitality, like everything else,
has been commercialized.
So hospitality, like everything else,
must now be idealized.

We need Houses of Hospitality
to give to the rich
the opportunity to serve the poor.
We need Houses of Hospitality
to show what idealism looks like
when it is practiced.

Another of Maurin's "Easy Essays" contains a similar thought:

In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hunger were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at a personal sacrifice.
And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
"See how they love each other."
In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
but at the expense
of the taxpayers.
And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
"See how they pass the buck."

Those are tough and challenging words. Dorothy Day liked to quote from the Russian novelist Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov": "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." How true. That's why hospitality is "at a personal expense."
In showing such personally sacrificing hospitality we are imitating God who first showed hospitality to us.

Out of pure love God created human beings to share existence, life, and love. When humanity rejected God's plan, He did not close the door on us, but sent His own Son "at a personal sacrifice" to open heaven for us. God is Infinite Hospitality. God created us to share His own home--heaven--with us. There is a unique place in God's Heart that only you can fill.

In the Letter to the Hebrews 13: 1-2 we read: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels." I would add today: "and God Himself."

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