The Art… or Heart of Christian Hospitality

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus which commandment is the greatest… and He more or less gives two answers. (Jesus is very clever like that.)  The first commandment is the greatest and “the second is like it.”

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:37-40


Jesus teaches us that loving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul is inherently connected to loving others. 


I recently listened to a Catholic podcast on hospitality (for link to the podcast episode, see below or click here – I highly recommend listening!).  This has had me thinking and praying…  What does hospitality mean for us as Christians and what does it look like lived out?  I know it can look different for each person, depending on stage of life, vocation, etc, so it calls us to pray about what it looks like for each of us.  But at its heart, hospitality is a universal Christian call.  One of the priests on the podcast makes a beautiful connection between hospitality and receptivity.  In fact, ‘warm reception’ is a synonym for hospitality.  This receptivity, or openness, is not only at the heart of a hospitable person who opens their door to warmly welcome a visitor, but also at the heart of the visitor who openly accepts (receives) this gesture.  Being hospitable doesn’t require a perfectly clean home, the ability to cook a fabulous meal, or having a guest room – it requires a heart open to a visitor, or any person you encounter.  At the heart of Christian hospitality is a quality of being present to the person and the moment.  Thusfar, I’ve spoken of hospitality in specific terms of welcoming a guest, which is what I initially think of when I hear the word.  While this is a very tangible and beautiful example of hospitality, it is a specific example and many of us can think hospitality doesn’t really apply to us unless we often welcome visitors into our home.  (Though I do hope we will think of these things the next time we do host a friend or family member in town). 

The Christian essence of hospitality is its sacrificial and serving nature.  It’s the sacrifice of your time, your energy, yourself to receive another person, even, and especially, when it’s unexpected or last minute.  This can happen with a visitor from out of town, or a stranger at church who strikes up a conversation maybe looking for someone to talk to for a moment, or something as simple as being present and receptive to the person working the register at the coffee shop or grocery store.  For many of us, welcoming visitors into our homes may not happen often, but we all encounter strangers, acquaintances, friends, family – others – everyday.  These are all our neighbors.  Our current cultural challenge is to be present or to be receptive to our neighbors…  to love our neighbors… to welcome each as though he or she is Christ.  This can be more simple than we think.  Making eye contact with the person ringing up my coffee order, instead of checking my phone.  Saying hello to her and asking “how’s your day?”  Taking a moment to ask an acquaintance at church or work how he is doing.  Being receptive to those around us, as Christ is to us in every moment.  The two commandments Christ speaks of today are so interwoven because loving God is to receive from Him… and this moves us to love to our neighbors.  “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  When we love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, we are transformed to see every person for who they are – a soul loved by God, a soul whose very human nature reflects God.  We see Christ in them.  And we learn to welcome them as such. 

In our culture of inwardness, where it is easier to stay inside of ourselves, in our bubble, and not extend ourselves out into the reality around us, we can easily begin to lose touch with our call and ability to be present.  This not only challenges our ability to extend hospitality, but also to receive the hospitality of others.  We feel bad if someone offers to help us…we don’t want to inconvenience them…it will be easier to just take care of this on our own…  We are uncomfortable receiving. (Listen to the podcast for more on this).  This doesn’t mean we must forgo all sense of personal boundaries and, for instance, lose the ability to end a conversation when necessary or decline a visitor at a truly inconvenient time for your family.  Though, if we fail to practice and become aware of how to live hospitality and receptivity in our day-to-day lives, we may miss opportunities to share Christ’s warm reception and hospitality with others when He is calling us to.  It can be a great challenge to stay present to our reality.  But it is in this very reality that we meet God and others.  This is the receptive heart of hospitality – being present to opportunities, big or small, to serve another. 

It may just be my perception… reading through my modern lenses and bias… but in the first reading today, I perceived Naomi being uncomfortable with Ruth joining her.  As though it would be easier if Ruth stayed with her native people and Naomi was able to go on her journey alone.  But Ruth has a heart full of love for God and wants to be with her mother-in-law Naomi out of her total love – heart, mind, and soul – for the Lord.  His love takes us outside of ourselves and our inner worlds and connects us to each other in the tangible world.  It leads us to our neighbors.  But the source of this kind of service must be the love of God.  We must first allow ourselves to receive His love so we can emulate this authentic love to our neighbors. 

As the Lord leads each of us into our vocation, our mission, or as He guides those of us already in our vocation, I pray we are each given opportunities to extend Christian hospitality in many ways.  Some days it may be sacrificing time you ‘need’ to get something done to be present to a friend, a parent, your spouse or child, or a fellow friar or sister in your community. And sometimes it may be hosting visitors you know through a friend of a friend and welcoming them into your imperfect (maybe even slightly disorganized) home with the respect and attentiveness you’d give to Christ. The Christian host is not defined by the perfection of her home, but by the warmth and openness of her heart.  But a Christian does not have to own a home to be hospitable or to be a host in the Spirit of Christ.  He can be a young person, living anywhere, who extends a warm, open heart to those he encounters. 

Let’s pray together for an awareness of what Christian hospitality can look like for each of us – in our individual stages of life, in our vocations, or wherever we are on our path of discerning our vocations and the mission God is calling us to. 

Lord, how are you calling me to be more hospitable in my life?  How can I be more receptive of others?  Help me to receive your love more deeply into the crevices of my heart, mind, and soul.  Transform me and conform me to your heart, so I may understand what it means to be truly hospitable, to truly love my neighbor.  Thank you, Lord.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray all of these things.  Amen.         


Catholic Stuff You Should Know Podcast – “Chateau de la Rode”

An Infinite Love

edith stein

I will espouse you to me forever:
I will espouse you in right and in justice,
in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity,
and you shall know the LORD

These words were read at Mass today in celebration of a very special saint of our times, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). A saint very close to my heart, St. Teresa Benedicta is one of the main reasons for my conversion back to my faith.

Edith was raised in a Jewish family in the early 1900s in Germany, eventually converting through an encounter with Christ through philosophy and the lives of the saints. A prominent philosopher, teacher, and speaker, Edith earnestly searched for the answers to who we are as human beings, what that means regarding our call to relationship with God. She died in Auschwitz during World War II, serving others whole-heartedly until her final moments.

The words from Scripture today are from the book of Hosea, words which God spoke to Israel. He desired an all-consuming and faithful relationship with His People. Even in their unfaithfulness, He kept pursuing them with this love.

The reason the Scripture reading was picked for St. Teresa Benedicta’s feast is that she lived her vocation as a human person, in particular, as a woman, to the fullest. She knew that she was created by Love and for Love. She had been captivated by the love of God, and in that, felt she could not contain that message of His love. Her life is a witness of what it truly means to allow God to love us.

When I read the words of the Scripture reading today, in all honesty, my heart is uneasy. I desire to be loved with such unconditional, all-consuming, and infinite love. But how often do I settle for less? In my own heart, I find that when I resist these words from God, it is because I doubt He is enough.

While we each have these desires for such love, it is so much easier to settle. We fill our hearts with finite things which give temporary satisfaction, in order to fill that inner void. But these temporal goods, while gifts from God, are not enough. They are finite. They are gifts which ultimately are meant to point us to Him. 

Today, as we pray through these words of Scripture, place yourself in a position of receptivity. Hear them as Jesus speaking them directly to you. Let us ask ourselves, “What are those things which I grasp onto to try and fill that spot in my heart meant only for God?”

Give these desires to Him, and allow Him to fill them. Give him the doubt in your heart, and allow Him to surprise you!

As we celebrate today’s feast, let us ask for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to intercede for us. She received the love of Christ the Bridegroom, trusting that her heart’s desires were given to Her by God for a reason. She was one who was not afraid to allow Herself to be loved.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, intercede for us and help us to surrender wholeheartedly to the one who loves us. Give us the interior freedom to receive His all-consuming love without fear!

For more information on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s life, go to http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19981011_edith_stein_en.html

Recommended reading on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross:

Life in a Jewish Family: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Jewish-Family-Autobiography-Collected/dp/0935216049

Essays on Woman: https://www.amazon.com/Essays-Woman-Collected-English-German/dp/0935216596

Your Heart Is My Home

About 8 months ago, while on a retreat, I glanced through the retreat house’s library to borrow a book for the weekend.  Though I can’t even recall the title of the book, the spiritual nugget that the Lord gave me through it has stuck with me.  And on today’s Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I am reminded of this nugget. 

The book was a sort of prayerful and guided walk through St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, and while I barely had time to skim the book, this specific principle stuck with me.  The author encouraged the reader to prayerfully discover a personal representation of the place within her (or his) soul where she meets and dwells with God.  I wish I could more accurately remember how the author guided this meditation, but the point is, it was an opportunity to create a visual “place” that resonates with you personally to help you enter into the presence of God in the innermost chambers of your heart and soul. 

For me, as I took time to allow the Lord to show me this “place,” I began to visualize a flower.  The flower petals opened gently, and there, safe within the beauty of the petals, I saw a tiny version of myself.  I was “Honey I shrunk the Kids”–sized, peacefully dwelling in the center bed of this flower.  A peace came over me as I received the gift of this image from the Lord.  It was like He had given me a new way to enter in to His presence in prayer through the uniqueness of this image of my heart and soul. 

Even though I began this prayerful meditation trying to visualize my own heart, as I sat with the image, I felt this security of being enfolded in the Lord’s Heart.  It is difficult to describe the experience, but I think it represents the reality of the exchange of hearts we partake in when we are in covenant with the Lord.  A Christian covenant is more than a contractual exchange of goods—it is an exchange of persons.  And we are loved enough by Him to be in a covenant relationship, a dynamic exchange of love, with our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our heart, the place where He dwells, is swept up in His own precious and Sacred Heart.  I believe it is this mutual abiding of hearts, mine and His, that I was experiencing in prayer.

I invite you to spend some time in prayer, asking the Lord to help you see your own heart in which He dwells, and so come into contact with His Heart.  Today’s readings illustrating Jesus’ role as our Good Shepherd remind us of His overwhelming love for each of us.  He will go out in search of you, His single lost and beloved sheep, to bring you back into His Sacred Heart.  He loves you personally, deeply, and unashamedly. 

Allow yourself to sit and receive this immeasurable love of His Sacred Heart today.  Dwell in the joy of your covenantal relationship with Him.  May this remind us that Jesus’ love is this genuinely personal for each and every person.  I pray that we can receive this great love of our Savior each and every day, so we can in turn reflect this love to every soul who has yet to experience this love.  Right now, I hope you will take a few moments to dwell in the reception of His love for you.

“Why should I love God? …if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us.”

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God

To further your meditation, check out this song that guides me right to His heart… Will Reagan — “Your Heart is My Home” Listen on Spotify | Listen on YouTube

 

 

Love One Another

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
—John 15:12–14

Jesus, knowing that He only has a few more hours to spend with His disciples, knowing that they will soon be tested in ways unimaginable to them, speaks these words with great care and intention: “Love one another as I love you.” Just hours later, He shows them what His love really looks like. Spread out upon the Cross, pouring out His love and mercy until the very end, He gives us a model of boundless, sacrificial love.

How could we possibly keep this commandment, to love one another as He loves us? Amidst our sins and human frailty, the love that is shown to us on the Cross seems utterly unattainable for us. We are neither courageous enough to face martyrdom nor humble enough to accept insults in silence, and our love for others is guarded by our fears. But Jesus does more than just tell us to follow in His impossible footsteps. When we receive His love, He begins to love through us. In order to truly love one another with a love that echoes Calvary, we must know—really, truly know at the core of our being—that He loves us madly.

When we deeply know this truth, it changes us utterly, and we see the proof of this through the saints. Look at the radiant love of Mother Teresa as she serves the poorest of the poor, or the devotion of St. Damian, sacrificing his life serving the lepers who had been cast out of society. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was beloved by so many because he loved so well, and he always credited this to his devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, saying, “Jesus comes to me every morning in Holy Communion; I repay Him, in my very small way, by visiting the poor. The house may be sordid, but I am going to Christ.” Pier Giorgio, too, expressed God’s radiant love in his very being, not by trying to achieve greatness but by allowing himself to be loved.

When you are totally consumed by the Eucharistic fire, then you will be able more consciously to thank God, who has called you to become part of His family. Then you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in this world have never experienced, because true happiness, oh young people, does not consist in the pleasures of this world, or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure of heart and mind.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Stay Close to Me, My Child

I was moved deeply by today’s psalm… 

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted”

Lent is a penitential season – a season for us to grow in self-awareness, to look inward and acknowledge our sins and weaknesses.  It is a blessing to be reminded to reflect in this way, especially as we are called simultaneously to be drawing near to Christ’s Passion, reminding us to do this in the presence of the Lord.  Facing our weakness and sin without being immersed in God’s mercy and grace can be detrimental.  In our self-reflection, guilt will likely come up and this is a wonderful thing inasmuch as it draws us to contrition, confession, God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and freedom.  If we have confessed, we must trust God’s forgiveness and allow ourselves to receive that mercy and blessing.  Though at times, guilt, rather than being constructive and leading us to God, can be destructive.  At times it may tempt us toward focusing and dwelling so much on ourselves and our sin that, instead of drawing us to God’s grace, it draws us further away from Him as we dwell on our failure, our weakness, our inability, our hurt pride, or our disappointment. Did you notice a pattern there?  Note the emphasis on ourselves. This way of thinking is subtly undermining God’s power and revealing that we may be trying to achieve holiness in our own power. Now, we mustn’t fall into even more destructive guilt upon realizing this, but ask God for forgiveness, trust in His mercy, and be led to dwell on the awe-someness of His power. We can’t achieve holiness in our own power – it is only in humbling ourselves, receiving His power and His divine life within us. 

This is the goal of a penitential season – to increase our self-awareness of our weakness, not so we may dwell in it, wallow in it, and so be led further into a self-centered mindset, but to understand our weakness and so empty ourselves to allow Christ more fully in.  To feel true sorrow for our sins and weakness so we understand better the Lord’s love for us and be drawn more fully into it.  Receiving the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist are beautiful and integral ways of encountering God’s grace during this time, in addition to personal Lenten commitments (personal prayer, fasting, almsgiving). (NOTE: if you haven’t been keeping up with your Lenten commitments very well, don’t wallow! I’m right there with you. Let’s ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and strength in these last couple weeks. He wants you to draw close to Him. It’s not too late to have a beautiful Lent!) 

The key is to approach this time in close proximity to the Lord and His grace.  He is close to the broken-hearted.  As sins and weaknesses are revealed to you this Lent, even throughout the day, immediately invite the Lord into those places.  As you reflect, keep Him close.  The Lord desires a truly contrite and sorrowful heart, and wants to bring His mercy into that heart – in fact, when He is invited in, he can’t help but rush in.  Love and mercy are who He is.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes to God that he is recalling his “most wicked ways and thinking over the past with bitterness so that you may grow ever sweeter to me” (2.1.1, emphasis mine).  It is my prayer that our Lent does not draw us further into our guilty selves, leaving us feeling self-pity or disappointment or with a hurt pride, but that it draws us ever more deeply into the sweetness of God.  As we are emptied out and His love pours in, He will heal us and lead us into deeper freedom.  We cannot do it.  It is only in His grace. 

Thank you, Lord, for your inexhaustible love and mercy! Thank you that self-awareness may help us know your sweetness all the more. Lord, we invite you into our hearts now and throughout this season of Lent. Draw us close to your heart. We come to you with hearts sorry for our sins and we ask your forgiveness. Help us to see ourselves the way you see us, most loving Father. We surrender and consecrate the remaining days of Lent to you in gratitude for this beautiful season. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

Rooted in Love

The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding, 
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself

is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

—Mark 12:32–34

If we truly love God with all our heart, all our understanding, and all our strength, then our natural response will be to keep His commandments—not out of a sense of guilt or mere obligation, not out of a desire to prove our worth to Him, but joyfully in love. When a person is in love, it affects their every thought and every action; when our hearts are infused with the love of God, that love will overflow into every aspect of our lives, and we will naturally desire to keep His commandments.

God commands us to love Him. By that very command, He makes it possible. He gives us the grace to love Him with a sacrificial love that echoes Jesus’s love for us on the Cross. He awakens us to recognize Him in every soul we meet. It is nearly impossible to love your neighbor as yourself if you are not already receiving God’s love, but when we have that awareness of the beauty of each soul, we can deeply and sincerely love people even when they are difficult to love.

The spiritual life is rooted in relationship; everything else flows from that. And a healthy relationship with God produces the fruit of trust in Him, from which flows obedience to His law. We must never fall into the mindset of viewing our relationship with God as transactional, consisting of a series of offerings we must make to atone for our wrongdoings or requests that we ask God to grant. God is not interested in a transactional relationship with us; He desires something much more meaningful—a close, loving, intimate relationship that wholly captivates our hearts.

Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.

—Hosea 14:2–5

Hope and Trust

Have you ever noticed that the themes of Hope and Trust normally are paired together? These two themes also tend to point us to the Lord and the promise of happiness. If we place our trust in the Lord we will be blessed. The readings today focus on trust and hope, pointing out the difference between one who places his or her trust in earthly possessions and one who places his or her trust in Lord.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.” –Jeremiah 17:7
 
The Gospel makes a comparison between a rich man and a poor man, Lazarus. The rich man was rewarded during his time on earth, as opposed to Lazarus who received his reward in heaven. I must admit when I was younger I would read this passage and focus more on the rich man. I focused more on the fear that I might end up suffering the same fate as the rich man instead of focusing on the inspiring story of Lazarus. As humans, I think it is easy for us to fall prey to fear, and by doing so we lose sight of the hope that the Lord is really trying to show us. For the first time, I was able to read this passage without fearing I would endure the fate of the rich man. The truth is that our Lord is calling us to grow and draw closer to Him by asking us to place all our trust in Him. By doing so we will never have to worry about successfully enduring the hardships of this earthly life or even ending up like the rich man in the afterlife. We can be like the tree in the first reading from Jeremiah: “In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.” The reason why the themes of trust and hope are always paired together is because by placing our trust in the Lord we are promised the gift of hope, the hope of eternal life with Him and in Him.