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.”
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.