Yesterday we had guests for lunch; my neighbor Theresa M. and her guest Fr. Rayappa K. from India, both of whom I expected, and Fr. Paul R., a last minute addition, who was saying Mass at the parish church on his day off, when he comes to Brockton to visit family. We had one of those unfortunately rare meals that starts in the parlor with appetizers and conversation then moves into the dining room to continue for well over an hour, with at least equal amounts of talk and food, finishing off with sweets and coffee and wondering when the next chance for such a visit will come about. It’s events like this that make me grateful for my training in restaurant kitchens; it’s much easier to cook for a group and prepare several courses after you learn to handle 180 lunch orders in the course of 2-1/2 hours.
Hospitality, whether to friends or strangers, has always been considered a vital part of the apostolate of the married. In the postcommunion prayer for the anniversary of a marriage we hear the words:
Bless their home
that all who come to it in need
may find in it an example of goodness
and a source of comfort.
In this prayer the Church both teaches that hospitality is one of the principal duties of the Christian family, and prays that the married couple will have the grace to carry out this duty that flows from their vows. As the Second Vatican Council taught:
The mission of being the primary vital cell of society has been given to the family by God himself. This mission will be accomplished if the family by the mutual affection of its members and by family prayer, offers itself as a domestic sanctuary of the Church; if the whole family takes its part in the Church’s liturgical worship; if, finally, it offers active hospitality and practices justice and other good works for the benefit of its brothers suffering from want.
Apostolicam Actuositatem section 11
Of course, Scripture has many examples of hospitality, chief of which is Abraham’s visitation by the God and two attendant angels prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The two attendants then move on to Sodom where they are hosted by Lot, while Abraham bargains for the rescue of the cities that have fallen under God’s doom.
It is not uncommon to see modern interpretations of the destruction of these two cities as being related to their lack of hospitality to these angels, who visit Lot in Sodom. Over against traditional interpretations that it is the perverted sexual crimes of the cities that have brought them under judgment (e.g., ”Homosexual acts, which threaten proper family relationships and boundaries (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rom. 1:26-27), run counter to the divine command to procreate (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 7), a command that is part of the order of creation.” Harper’s Bible Commentary, p. 98, copyright 1988.), it is the violation of hospitality that is identified as the sin crying to heaven for vengeance.
However, it is not necessary to adhere to an either/or reading of this passage; one of the sins of Sodom certainly was the inhospitable attitude toward strangers; but it flowed from the disordered moral life of the community. (“All the men of the town, young and old, seek to abuse sexually the two guests of Lot. There is indeed a basis for the outcry that had come up to God (18:21)! The inhabitants’ crime is twofold: violation of hospitality and forbidden sexual behavior (Lev 18:22). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 23; copyright 1990.) The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah flowed naturally from their life together. The essence of the marriage covenant is that it should fulfill the primordial commandment of the Lord “Be fruitful and multiply.” Marriage is inherently hospitable, because it is ordered to the welcoming of children and their nurture.
And so, in this society where families are often resident in far-flung communities, Christmastide becomes a season of visiting and of hospitality with relatives, and often enough, a time to invite strangers or those who live alone to share meals and festivities. Growing up we often had visits on Thanksgiving from someone who would otherwise spend the day alone. This year, we were blessed to have found out that one of my acquaintances would be on his own, and he visited with us on Thanksgiving. Of course, it is out of such shared meals that acquaintances bloom into friendships, which is another important reason to extend hospitality. It promotes that friendship that is vital not only to a well-ordered society but which should be a hallmark of the relationship between Christians. It was within the course of that most famous of meals that Christ, having commanded his disciples to love one another, pronounced the comforting words: “No longer do I call you servants...but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)