The Challenge and Blessing of Hospitality
What is hospitality? You might say hospitality means welcoming people and making them feel at home. It means being friendly and generous, especially toward strangers. This is true—but when we turn to the Bible, several themes indicate there is much more at stake.
A SALVATION ISSUE
The Modern Catholic Dictionary has a shocking definition of hospitality: The virtue of kindness and generosity toward guests. It is characterized by the spirit of welcome to visitors and strangers, and is one of the conditions for salvation, foretold by Christ: “I was a stranger and you made me welcome” (Mt. 25:35).
“One of the conditions for salvation!” That seems harsh, but since it comes from Jesus, we can’t dismiss it. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that, at the end of time, we will be judged by how we served strangers and the needy. Specifically, we must serve them as if they were Jesus! If we don’t, we will “go away into eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46).
Hospitality is not optional to the Christian life. Our souls are measured by, among other things, how faithfully we provide hospitality.
THE BEST KIND IS RADICAL
Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). The part about entertaining angels is a reference to a couple you might know: Abram and Sarah.
In Genesis 18, Abram (later Abraham) is sitting at the door of his tent when three visitors suddenly arrive. Eager to serve, he promises water to wash their feet, a place to rest under his tree, and bread (Gen. 18:3-5). Interestingly, what he ultimately delivers is much more: cakes, curds, milk and even a calf to eat!
This isn’t bare-minimum hospitality; this is hospitality that defies expectations. This is radical hospitality, and since Abraham is our father in faith, this should be the hospitality we strive to offer.
BLESSINGS ALL AROUND
We tend to think of hospitality as our way of blessing others, but in hospitality, the stranger also blesses us. If Abram rejected his visitors, he would never have received the good news that Sarah would finally conceive a son. Like Mary and her “Yes,” all of salvation history hinged on his hospitality.
When we say “Yes,” we are blessed, too. After all, every person we meet brings his or her own gifts, talents, charisms, knowledge and experience with them. We have no idea how the next visitor could enrich our lives and parishes, which is all the more reason to warmly welcome everyone.
CHARISMS AND CULTURE CHANGE
The final theme comes from St. Peter: “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:9-10).
A gift employed for another—that is a charism. Hospitality is one of the “varied graces” God dispenses for the benefit of others and the Church. Charisms bring great joy and fruitfulness. But, just because some people have the charism of hospitality, the rest of us are not exempt.
We might tend to think of hospitality as the sole realm of the usher and secretary. But the warmest greeting by an usher can be immediately undone by a parishioner’s harsh word or dirty look. The only way parishes become beacons of hospitality is for all of us to make hospitality our responsibility. When everyone in a parish is welcoming, serving, blessing and being blessed, then we can be sure that when we meet Jesus, He will show us the greatest hospitality by saying, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34).
Nicholas Hardesty is the associate director of Adult Evangelization and RCIA for the Center for the New Evangelization. [email protected]
This article appeared in the November 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here