Hospitality is the foundation of Benedictine spirituality. St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing:
“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.”Rule of St. Benedict 53:1
The “guest” may be a stranger, a friend in the making, those in our community who are marginalized, or our closest friends and family. Hospitality includes being truly present to others, becoming aware of their needs and challenges, and respectfully responding to them as much as one is able. For those close to us, we must welcome each other over and again, forgiving each other as we grow together or apart, giving each other grace and space as we become.
Recent news has caused me to reflect on how essential extending hospitality is to the health of our spirit and to the soul of organizations, communities, states, and countries; to consider how I have given and received hospitality, and how it has been withheld by myself or others.
Inadvertently or intentionally, we often do not extend welcome to others. We are human—busy, thoughtless, unaware—this is forgivable, but what we have witnessed—immigrants being lured to an undisclosed location with the promise of shelter and work—goes beyond withholding hospitality.
Diana Butler Bass writes about Radical Hospitality in her Cottage Sunday Musings, with commentary on the appalling news of “immigrants being lured from a shelter in San Antonio by the governor of Florida and shipped off to Massachusetts as a kind of political stunt is a profoundly cruel use of distressed people for political purposes. And the mirth and amusement that this episode inspired among self-declared “Christian” politicians has been nauseating… A church on Martha’s Vineyard sheltered unexpected arrivals, “angels unaware,” as guests worthy of dignified treatment, is a testimony to goodness and generosity, a vision of the world as God intends it to be — practicing hospitality toward strangers.”
I encourage you to read her letter which includes an excerpt adapted from her book, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (2004).
She “makes the point that NO ONE can call themselves Christian unless they practice hospitality to strangers…Would that every faith community was like a swarm of bees, running out to meet the displaced, the lost, and the unexpected strangers with the same delight, zeal, and alacrity as the earliest Christians. Theologian Letty Russell once noted, “The word for hospitality in the Greek New Testament is philoxenia, love of the stranger. Its opposite is xenophobia, hatred of the stranger.” Philoxenia turns strangers into friends.
What a difference philoxenia would make a difference in our world — and in our politics — right now.”
I also offer excerpts and links to other reflections I have written on hospitality:
Friendships, both old and new, are a treasure, a gift of hospitality, and a welcoming of another into your life. Friendships create space for coming home to oneself, an opportunity to be fully seen as who we are and who we want to become. Friendships are an opportunity to accept the hospitality of another as well, to see ourselves through the eyes of our special friends. Friendships with women are all-at-once sistering, mothering, armchair counseling, and spiritual direction.
We must look up long enough from our cell phones, and all the distractions of a busy life, to remember the Benedictine value of practicing hospitality. Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us. Hospitality is being present to others—taking time to enjoy one another’s presence and being attentive to what the other is sharing.
Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality.
Fr. Thomas also gave us a special gift, a replica of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity Icon. An icon, an image or religious picture, communicates a deeper spiritual meaning often used in prayer and meditation for Christians throughout the world. It was a special image for him, used as the holy card for his ordination and First Mass in 1992.* He enthusiastically shared with us why he also felt it represented how we would welcome those who entered as guests and the hospitality we would extend in our new home.
The three angels in the icon symbolize the three strangers that Abraham welcomes into his tent in Genesis.
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent…he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them …He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice calf, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them, waiting on them under the tree while they ate (Genesis 18:1–8).