“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb 13.2)
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It’s now been just over three months as your new bishop. Time has flown by quickly. I have been quite overwhelmed by many things since arriving in the diocese. Of course it isn’t just the driving or the distances. It’s also the sheer beauty of the scenery, the wonderful potlucks and pancake breakfasts, the superb wines, and the delicious fresh fruit and vegetables. But most of all, it’s the amazing warmth and kindness that I have received from all of you. Wherever I have visited, the welcome has been truly outstanding. I am ever grateful and appreciative of your hospitality.
And that is the key word – hospitality! Consciously or not, hospitality is one of the most important things we can offer to another person in our parishes, our communities or wherever we find ourselves. Just think of the time each of us has experienced someone’s sincere, warm and generous hospitality. It’s as if we were the only ones in the world and there was nothing that someone wouldn’t do for us. And we never had to ask for it. It was pure gift! I am learning that there are many opportunities to be hospitable in this diocese, since many friends, family and visitors from all over the world like to come here for vacation.
As Christians, hospitality should be part and parcel of who we are. When we look at Sacred Scripture, we see many examples both in the Old and New Testaments. Just think of Abraham and his encounter with the three men who turned out to be angels. (Gen 18.1-16) Another example is the widow of Zarephath, who gave the last bit of food she had to Elijah when simply asked for something to eat and drink. (1 Kg 17.8-24) Or how about Zacchaeus, who on meeting Christ, “was happy to welcome Him” into his home. (Lk 19.6) Then we have Paul and Silas, who were given accommodation by Lydia. “When she and her household were baptized, she urged us saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’” (Acts 16.15) We also have Gaius of Corinth, someone who Paul met in his travels, “who [was] host to [him] and to the whole church.” (Rom 16.23)
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans writes, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Rom 12.13) And in the first letter of St. Peter, he says “Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (I Pt 4.9-10) I dare say that hospitality is not only part of our calling as Christians, but it is also our Christian duty.
All of us bear the image and likeness of God. Hospitality is a way to honour God in every person created in His likeness. We were also created by God as social creatures, for relationship and community. Hospitality allows us to touch the lives of others and for them to touch our lives. It overcomes the temptations to selfishness and to the radical individualism being promoted by our culture.
We have to remember that we, as human beings, are also dependent upon one another. This means that those among us who are more fragile and disadvantaged, need and rely upon those who have been richly blessed and gifted. By sharing our gifts and our blessings, we are showing them hospitality in a way we may never have thought about.
In giving us: Jesus, sanctifying grace, life, other human beings, creation and everything good thing in it, we are experiencing God’s hospitality. We need to reciprocate by making space in our own lives for God, for others, and for sharing all these earthly and heavenly goods with the people that come into our lives.
In order to show hospitality, we have to recognize that hospitality is a gift from God. Therefore, it should be given freely, without expectation of compensation. This means that our hospitality should also be grounded on Christ and the Gospel, and be rooted in a deep commitment to service: to serve God by serving others. This requires an openness to receive others and to care for them. Through this care we are able to witness to the love of God and make that love present.
A smile, a warm hello, a hearty handshake, a hug, a meal, being respectful and courteous or just being present to someone are all concrete ways of showing hospitality. We should always keep in mind Jesus’ words to His disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Mt 18.5)
+Gregory J Bittman
Bishop of Nelson