Recently a married couple told me about their Memorial Day weekend. The couple’s daughter and son-in-law and their two young children came for the holiday and accompanied their parents to Mass. This young couple was quite surprised when they found themselves walking down the center aisle to find a place in one of the front pews. The couple protested as they were led with their young toddlers toward the front of the church. They worried about fussy behavior or the possibility of having to escort a child back down the aisle out the back doors. In the end, after the Mass finished, the young couple looked at their parents and said, “You were quite brave today.”
Isn’t this what church is about? Belonging to a parish community where one feels so comfortable and at home, walking to the front of the church with two young children causes no worry about what others might think or say.
We want our parishes to be such places of welcome and comfort. In the next several installments of this column, I want be take a deeper look at hospitality, the first lens of our stewardship process to promote A Catholic Way of Life. In the January issue of West River Catholic, Bishop Robert Gruss described the stewardship of hospitality as one in which, “each person in our presence is important to us. Each person is deeply valued because they, like all of us, have been created in God’s image and likeness.”
Hospitality is an attribute of God. Because we have been made in God’s image and likeness and are united to him in our baptism, we have become partakers of the divine nature and temples of the Holy Spirit (CCC1265). It is through our baptism that we are called to share in the priesthood of Christ. It is through our baptism that we begin to realize that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19).
Even with the graces received at our baptism, we still struggle to live generous hospitality. Selfishness persists within us. For the most part, we have not cultivated a habit of reaching out to one another. Often our own thoughts, needs and desires consume our time and distract us from seeing the needs of those around us. At times we simply do not want to be bothered with the difficulties of our neighbor, as we attempt to juggle our own problems. Other times we shrink from getting involved in the life of a stranger out of fear. How do we rescue this lost art of kindness?
Father Robert Rivers, CSP, in his book, “From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and the Revitalizing of the Parish,” describes hospitality in these two terms. First, “the word hospitality is derived from the Latin word hospes which means host as well as guest. It has been defined as the act, practice, or quality of being friendly and solicitous towards guests or new arrivals.” Secondly, “Christian hospitality goes back to the practice of philoxenia, a Greek word that means to make the stranger a friend.”
These two definitions of hospitality give us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on our baptismal call to really imitate the life of Christ not only as a host, but as a guest and to truly make the stranger among us a friend.
This month have the courage to introduce yourself to the stranger or the visitor in your parish. This month look for an opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. This month invite your neighbor over for dinner and dessert.
I encourage you to spend some time this month with this passage from Matthew, as Christ calls us to hospitality:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (25:31-35).
Remember when welcoming the stranger, one welcomes Christ. As we continue to embrace A Catholic Way of Life through the lens of hospitality, let us recommit ourselves to live the grace of our baptism more fervently by being more aware of the needs of our neighbor and the stranger in our midst.