Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
Hospitality is a gift of the Holy Spirit and as such is used by the Lord to build up the Body of Christ and extend his Kingdom. As the Christmas season approaches with all its hospitable opportunities it is timely to ask the questions: ‘is this a gift I have and am I being a faithful steward of it?’ There are some people who do not have either the gift or the wherewithal to offer hospitality; but there will be some readers who, although reticent to be hospitable, ought to be more confident in opening up their home to others. There is no doubt that where hospitality is offered the Holy Spirit is at work.
In reading the Gospels we are aware that although ‘there was no room at the inn’ the holy family began their ministry through welcoming both the shepherds and the magi to their temporary home. Throughout the ministry of Jesus the evangelists report how Jesus was able to teach and heal because individuals and families ‘welcomed him into their home.’
We are told in Acts chapter 2 that the ‘community of the resurrection’ shared their meals in each other’s homes ‘with unaffected joy.’ The ‘house church movement’ of the early church was indeed founded on the gift of hospitality. Having lived with an ‘open door policy’ as a parish priest and retreat house warden for the best part of thirty years I do not have a romantic or idealistic view of hospitality. To begin with it is hard physical work – the preparation and clearing up of food, drink, rooms is often hidden and ‘thankless’. All true hospitality has a cost and very little of it is financial. If you resist the impulse to be hospitable – to send that invitation or make that call – is it just ‘deadly sloth’ that is the cause? If it is, it needs kicking out of the house immediately.
There is also present in the ministry of hospitality a call to be ‘vulnerable’. We are often resistant to ‘opening up’ our homes, because we are fearful of opening up our hearts and lives to others. This is understandable but can provide a certain lack of faith in God and his presence in others, and a regrettable ‘hardness of heart’. The truth about hospitality is that it is a challenge to live a ‘gospel-shaped’ life: it is about giving and receiving, at looking at the needs of others rather than ourselves. It is also ‘Christ-centred’ for in the exercise of Christian hospitality the Christ ‘in me’ welcomes the Christ ‘in you.’ In so many ways the fellowship of the table anticipates the fellowship of the Eucharist. This in turn is a foretaste of the heaven – which has ‘many resting places.’ We ought always to remember that God is a God of hospitality. ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock, to whoever opens the door my Father and I will come in and sit and eat with him.’
Put all this into your prayers. Ask for guidance as to how you should be hospitable. As the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us, many, by welcoming others, ‘have entertained angels unawares.’