One of my favorite radio shows is a little half hour segment on local Catholic Radio. It’s called Spirit and Life and is packed with practical observations about how the live and walk “the talk” as a believer in the world. The hosts are two religious who happen to be brother and sister. She is an Ursuline and he is a Franciscan. Their holy sibling banter is delightful and their council is very wise. This last week-end Sister coined a phrase that has set me to thinking for several days; “The Table of Your Life”.
During the two great seasons of penance in our Church year, there are three practices that the faithful are advised to focus on. Believers are encouraged to follow these spiritual disciplines during Advent and Lent as a means to sharpening and advancing their spiritual growth. The practices are: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This last week-end, thought, our Franciscan host offered one more practice that anyone can follow which he believes could be added to the usual trio of disciplines: hospitality. What a great concept, the idea of “welcoming” could actually incorporate all three of the other disciplines. The Holidays, of course, are a time when we willing to open our homes and welcome in invited guests to be part of our celebration. Most everyone participates in some kind of hospitality during the season. What about looking at hospitality in a broader sense, though? There is the “controlled hospitality” that we carefully define and plan so that we are comfortable with the situation. But what are our other opportunities to show hospitality in the rest of the world at those times that we were not the planners? If you think about it, one of the real issues in the story of the Nativity is hospitality. No matter where Joseph and Mary went, in a time of dire need, no one offered them hospitality. So, then how is it possible for you to make sure that you are not the one who denies the Christ Child?
Opportunities to practice hospitality are all around us; do you turn your eyes downward or do you look into the face of that beggar with a welcoming smile as you ask their name? Do you go to a dinner and willing sit with strangers and welcome them into your space with grace? Do you help out at a shelter or half-way house and treat the clients with dignity no matter how they look, smell or seem to be just a “little crazy”? Do you react with patience and calm to an obnoxious relative who seems bent on creating one more holiday disaster? Would you buy a gift for someone who really needed it with the money that you were saving to buy that special trinket for yourself? Would you welcome someone into your home who needed companionship and showed up unannounced? Would you allow yourself to be inconvenienced in time and/or money for the sake or another who needed ministry right here and now? These are all acts of hospitality which anyone could do. They do not require extraordinary talent or resources. All Mary and Joseph needed was a space that was clean and warm. They got neither. Every time you offer non-judgmental hospitality to someone who needs it you are giving a nod to Jesus and the hospitality that he desperately needed on that winter night.
Traditionally we think about hospitality as a meal around a table. That is perhaps the most intimate form of hospitality that we can offer. Sister mentioned that as we go to church we only see the backs of people’s heads but when we sit at table together we have to look into each others’ faces. That small act of engaging eye to eye is another form of hospitality. So, if you gave it some thought, who would you be surrounded with when you consider the “Table of your Life”. Who is sitting there with you? Who have you welcomed without bias, without judgment? Who have you given comfort to because you were willing to look into their eyes across the table? Is Jesus there?
The core of our faith revolves ultimately around “table” and what Jesus gave us there, Himself. That is why hospitality is such a holy practice. Contemporary theologian Nathan D. Mitchell writing for Liturgy Training Publications puts it this way: “A second meaning of ‘Do this in memory of me’ is this: Gather up all of your fleshly memories of table—of food and fun, tears, and laughter, mellowness and mirth—for they have become your own body. Your body is both at the table and on the table. You are looking at what you have become.” What do you see when you take a closer look at “The Table of Your Life”? Then smile because Jesus has freely given us the ultimate hospitality. Amen.
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Copyright©2010, Advent , Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved.
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