Aug 22, 2019
Some people are just hospitable by nature. They have the knack of making you feel welcome. My grandmother was such a person who warmly welcomed everyone to her home. She always set an extra place at the dinner table, and everyone knew why. In her Irish simplicity, she explained that the empty place was for the traveler on the road who may stop for something to eat. She grew up in rural Wisconsin and watched her mother offer many a meal to travelers who passed their farmhouse. The rumor in the area was that Grandma White always had a welcoming smile and an extra place at the table. The word sure got around, because the empty place at the table was often occupied.
In the ancient world, hospitality was a moral imperative, because traveling was always dangerous, so sharing of food and shelter was an essential practice. The many lodges and restaurants, so prevalent now, are a recent 20th century development. Today, hospitality is sometimes seen as an option, not essential to travelers, nor important for spiritual development. Our Gospel reminds us that hospitality is not a duty, but a way of life, because we believe that in welcoming others, we welcome Jesus in disguise.
Many confuse hospitality with entertainment. Entertainment says, “I want to impress you with my home, my decorating, and my cooking. This is my home. Look and admire!” Hospitality seeks to minister. It says, “This home is God’s gift; I use it in gratitude. What is mine, I want to share.” Entertaining puts things before people. We entertain when the house is sparkling clean, the living room decorated, and new furniture purchased. Hospitality focuses on people. The house is often a mess, the decorating isn’t finished, and there will never be enough furniture for everyone. Welcome! Hospitality then, reflects an attitude of gratitude and joy.
Our Martha-Mary story is more than a story about two sisters who reflect two styles of hospitality---the active Martha, and the prayerful Mary. It is about both Martha and Mary, about both prayer and action. A healthy spirituality demands both. Prayer must support every act of service and every prayer must prompt some form of service. Without that balance between prayer and action, we will not be able to welcome Jesus into our lives. If we are too busy, our priorities get mixed up, our values fade out of focus, and our spiritual goals are never achieved. Thomas Merton called excessive busyness, “a form of personal violence.” Jesus cannot occupy first place in hectic human hearts. A balanced spirituality, however, allows us to learn to live, to love, and to serve well.
Our meals can be truly sacramental when we give of ourselves and warmly receive others. “Whether at liturgy, the soup kitchen or the family table, attentive care for one another is what makes an encounter with another an encounter with God.” *Each time we gather at the table, we come to be graced and guided. Jesus is saying to us, “Come abide in me. Remain in me. Let my grace come alive in you that you may love as I love and live as I live.” We renew our discipleship, and go forth in service to others remembering that Jesus welcomed everyone---the sick, the needy, the outcast, and the despised. When we gather at the table, he extends the invitation: “Come and eat. You are always welcome…unless you are too busy.” [*Mary McGlone, Celebration, July 2016]
~ Deacon Wilson Shierk