It’s that time of year again for our family; the season when we use this home God has given us to welcome in new and old friends. We enfold them into the mantle of our family life and invite them to walk alongside us in whatever stage they find us. Fall seems to bring about open doors, and open hearts in this family when it comes to our home. Over the years, I have learned the important distinction between hospitality and entertaining. Entertaining seeks only to impress whereas hospitality seeks to welcome. We welcome in others and treat them as family, inviting them to join the chopping of the veggies for the meal or the matching of socks with you while you sit in conversation on the couch.
Hospitality translates from the Greek, philoxenia, as love for the stranger. In early Christian times, hospitality referred to the act of assisting one or more travelers for a short period of time. Deemed a fundamental moral practice and radically equal in its attempt to serve both rich and poor, early Christian hospitality sought to imitate Christ in its outreach to all. No one is above the other — not the giver or the receiver. This humility and gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon both is a virtue honed through service to the other. The Catholic Christian needs to know that opening their home should be like opening a window of their heart. We need to strive for vulnerability instead of recognition and from that all virtue and charity can flow.
I think people long for community. We were created for family and community. Being vulnerable enough to welcome someone as family immediately breaks down walls of comparison or unease and sets a tone of fellowship and ease. There is also something incarnate in us all that relaxes at the opportunity to break bread together. I try to always brew a pot of tea and take some muffins or cookies from our freezer to share when someone comes over. An extra plate is always available for “Elijah” at our table. As someone enters, the message is “Here, let me serve you and give your soul rest”. I am often left smiling and shaking my head in wonder when our guests tell us how relaxed they feel in our home of eight children three dogs, including a new puppy, two cats and a partridge in a pear tree. There is something here in the aspect of serving one another that is reminiscent of our roots as a people of community.
I have some very fond memories of living this style of life. We frequently host seminarians from the Pontifical Josephinum, which is near our home. One such night, our parish priest joined us for dinner with about twelve seminarians. These men arrived and because I have eight children and we live a very full life, dinner was not quite ready. These young men helped chop peppers, play with younger kids, and set the table. They made themselves at home, grabbed a drink, and made a fire for the living room. As they worked alongside members of my family, relationships grew. We shared a wonderful meal together and ate dessert gathered by the fire. As bedtime approached, my husband and I excused ourselves and began our bedtime routine. I heard our parish priest suggest to the men that they do the dishes for us. As they did the dishes, my children overheard them praying evening prayer and the Salve Regina being sung. This glimpse of sacred mixed with the ordinary was a beautiful witness to my children; making the notion of work and play an everyday occurrence.
In this period where we have lost a sense of connecting with the other, I am reminded of the call by Saint John Paul II to “Open wide the doors for Christ”. As we approach a season of gathering as friends and family more formally, may we remember our roots of hospitality and welcome in all who seek, crave and truly need that which we can so easily share.