Column: Climb aboard the Welcome Wagon

by Father Mark Goldasich

I know I have to erase the words sometime, but I’m just not ready yet.

The words are written on a portable white board that sits just inside my apartment’s front door. I use the board to scribble reminder notes to myself. Last
Friday, though, someone else wrote on it.

The note said: “Welcome to Father Mark’s home, where God is welcome and so
are we.”

The message was from Hadley, the granddaughter of the parishioner who comes to clean my apartment each week. Hadley was “grandma’s aide” last Friday. Her little note tickled me. I’ve prayed all week that those words would be true.

Hadley’s words are right in line with a book I just finished called “Every Day Hospitality: Simple Steps to Cultivating a Welcoming Heart” (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2007; 126 pgs.; $10.95). The book is small in size and a quick, easy read. The words of author Thea Jarvis, however, triggered a flood of pleasant memories for me. She writes: “To this day, the hospitality I experienced in my grandmother’s home is the benchmark by which I judge all other expressions of this virtue.”

I second that. I spent a lot of my formative years at my maternal grandparents’ home. (My paternal grandmother died before I was born; my paternal grandfather, when I was only 3 years old. So, I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know them.) Not only was love plentiful there, but treats were as well.

I ate thousands of meals at their home and, on Sundays especially, there were always “extra” relatives around for the traditional noon meal of noodle soup, salad, baked chicken and plenty of fresh Italian bread. That kitchen table was the site where food and life were shared and celebrated. And, strangely enough, no matter how many people gathered there, the food never seemed to run out.

In a world scarred today by relentless rushing, fear of strangers, and endless commitments, author Jarvis calls Christians to rediscover the “primary virtue” of hospitality. Citing ample evidence from the Scriptures, she notes that from the beginning of the church, “the hospitality of early Christians is recounted as proof of their discipleship.” Furthermore, hospitality in the Bible is “encouraged as a duty to others and a spiritual path for ourselves” and “a happy occupation that blesses lives and enriches relationships.” Best of all, hospitality is portable; it travels well and is “most often learned without schooling or study, but never without practice.”

In her book, Jarvis includes many examples from both individuals as well as groups (like the Benedictines and the Catholic Worker movement) to illustrate hospitality in action. At its core, hospitality is simply “an opportunity to be completely present to another, to be alert and attentive in body, mind and spirit.”

Jarvis is honest about hospitality, realizing that sometimes — maybe often — it’s not easy to give. That’s why it’s important to pray for God’s grace to be hospitable, especially to those people we’d rather not be around.

And, equally important, hospitality must also be extended to oneself. Simply put, serving others must be constantly balanced with time for solitude.

The book concludes with a page of questions about hospitality. In these hot summer days, you might want to take a moment to ponder a few of them:

• What opportunities to practice hospitality have I had over the past year? The past week? Today?

• What holds me back from offering hospitality to others? To myself?

• Have I asked God to grant me a hospitable heart?

At least a couple of times a week, I end my day with a prayer from St. Augustine found in “Living God’s Justice.” Although it’s entitled “Night Prayer,” it’s essentially a prayer of hospitality. Realizing that we can never do all of the hospitable things we’d like to, nor care for all the people needing help, we place them in the hands of God.

In part, Augustine’s prayer reads: “Give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering ones. Pity your afflicted ones. Shield your joyous ones. And all for your love’s sake. Amen.”

For the record, I did force myself to erase Hadley’s words from my white board. But not before writing them down on a large sheet of paper, where they serve as a visual reminder of how I wish to live my daily life.

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