A lot has been said about the virtue of hospitality. Does this mean welcoming into our home anyone who comes knocking at our gate? Does this mean that we must feed everyone who is hungry? Do we have to be welcoming and smiling to someone we dislike immensely, or someone who drives us crazy with incessant demands on our time and resources, or someone who delights in spreading all sorts of chizmis?
What really is meant by Christian hospitality? I believe it is, most of all, hospitality of the heart, the ability to accept others as they are and to see Christ in them. In one of the meditations in the Catholic Women’s Devotional Bible we are asked to consider hospitality as being at home in another person’s heart, as being able to touch another’s heart in love. Touching the heart of another in love means realizing that God loves us. And it is through the other – our neighbor, family member, brother or sister in the faith – that we begin to understand the love of God. This, then, is the heart of friendship, being able to open ourselves to sharing the love of Christ, our true friend, with others whom we consider our friends or would like to be friends with.
We are all familiar with the biblical account of Martha and Mary. Both women were women of faith, of courage, of strength, of love for Jesus and these strengths were revealed in their lives in different ways. Martha was a good manager and hard worker who prided herself in keeping her home clean and orderly. If she were a member of our parish today, I imagine she would be president of the women’s group or chairwoman of the fiesta committee. She is seen as equating hospitality with the preparing of meals and seeing to the physical concerns and needs of the guests.
Mary, on the other hand, was calmer and more contemplative than her superactive sister, with the ability to focus on what she considered the more important aspects of hospitality – welcoming and entertaining the guests, helping them feel at home. Her idea of hospitality included the art of listening with her heart and in that way, satisfying the emotional and, many times, spiritual needs of her guests.
Jesus, their frequent guest and friend, loved both of them. But while he appreciated Martha for her industry and service, he chided her for her failure to set her concerns and worries aside. Jesus knew the futility and evil of worry, and how it takes the joy out of life. He wanted Martha to see that she was allowing her work/service to manage her instead of her managing her work/service. He pointed out to her that there are other ways of pleasing Him than by ‘doing’ so many things, that just ‘being’ in His presence, helping him relax, and listening to him were also important.
Jesus was teaching Martha and Mary about the value of what we now call “hospitality of the heart”. True hospitality is sharing what we have with others, but it is much more than that. To share our abundance is easy and makes us feel good. But to share Jesus’ love with another requires faith and trust in God that our efforts will be heart-level efforts and able to touch the other’s heart.
Hospitality is commendable in anyone, but hospitality of the heart is considered a necessary virtue for the Christian woman, especially for members of the BCBP, both brothers and sisters. We may be a Mary, or we may be a Martha, or we may be a combination of the two. But we must always remember that Jesus and His needs (He needs our love!) must always come first. And if we forget, as we oftentimes do, and get over-involved in doing many things, and receive criticism for our “doings”, we should bounce back like Martha did and not harbor a grudge against the one who reminded us of our priorities. Martha learned from that experience and continued to love and serve the Lord … not just with her activity, but with her whole heart and being.
So, too, let us learn from Martha and Mary to live our lives focused on the Lord, knowing that if He is our priority, all other things will fall into place in their proper order. We need to live our lives in love with Jesus, with love in our hearts for each other, in response to His love for us. –Nancy R. Catan