November 5, 2021

Holy Hospitality!

Holy Hospitality!

In welcoming others, we encounter God in our lives

Q: What does hospitality have to do with being a good Christian?

A: Dorothy Day, John Rausch, and Mary: these are my models when it comes to hospitality.

In the fall of the year 2000, I spent six weeks of my three-month sabbatical at Maryhouse, which is the Catholic Worker house in New York City that Dorothy Day founded, and where she died. I lived there as a volunteer.

Beginning with the warm way in which I was welcomed, and continuing with my participation in the way in which the women from the streets were received with open hearts and minds, Maryhouse was the epitome of hospitality. We hosts at Maryhouse took the time and patience to truly get to know the women who came for meals, for clothing, for a shower, or to stay as permanent members of the family. We served the meals with a graciousness you would expect in a loving home. And we listened. (I listened to a woman talk nonstop for four hours one day!)

After I left Maryhouse, I became a faithful reader of the Catholic Worker newspaper that is distributed throughout the world. One of the features of the paper is the obituaries, lovingly written and thoroughly researched, for each of the formerly homeless people who had found their way to Maryhouse. Hospitality to the end!

This Catholic Worker hospitality is modeled after the example of Dorothy Day herself. One story about her says it all:

 

One day she was in Maryhouse, sitting at a table, talking with one of the guests over coffee. The guest suffered from mental illness, and it showed. In the middle of the conversation, a visitor who quite obviously wanted to interview Dorothy Day came up to the table. Dorothy kept talking with her friend and then paused, looked up to the visitor and said, “With whom would you like to speak?”

 

That, to me, says volumes about the respect in which she held each person to whom she offered hospitality.

I, along with so many others, learned about hospitality on the local level from my visits to the home of the late Father John Rausch. John was liberal in his invitations to come and eat at his house and have a good talk. Father Larry Hehman and I made the drive to his home outside of Stanton several times a year for many years.

John was a gourmet cook. But he always centered the evening around conversation. We would gather in his kitchen for a drink and talk while he finished the preparations for dinner. We would then take the food to the table and have extended conversations where we shared not only our ideas but also our hearts.

He could have made the fancy food and his fine abilities the center of our time together. But the fine food was only a vehicle for him to share his love and open the doors to a true encounter at that table. Every time.

And now I come to Mary. This is the Mary who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Here’s how she offered Jesus hospitality, according to Father Thomas Keating: “She sits at the feet of Jesus listening to his words. Her whole attention is focused on Jesus. She is listening at a level much deeper than her ears can hear. It is the kind of listening that takes place when our spiritual faculties begin to vibrate to the divine life present in Christ, one who hears the word of God and keeps it.”

This is the kind of hospitality that we are enabled, to love and discipline, to offer to God. It echoes and surpasses the depth of hospitality we can offer to other human beings. I have been praying for the gift of that kind of hospitality and trying to practice it for the last 30 years in the daily practice of centering prayer.

Dorothy Day, Father John Rausch and Mary. I have had good teachers in the ways of hospitality. What I learn from them challenges me constantly to move a bit from my tendency to live a scheduled, efficient lifestyle, to a person-centered lifestyle. As I desire to follow the way of encounter, with God and with others, more and more, I am convinced that the key to that way is hospitality.

FATHER DAN NOLL is pastor of Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary in Lexington.