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Friendship at the heart of hospitality

By Fr Don Chambers

In last Sunday’s article, I reflected on Jesus’ Ministry of hospitality. The Incarnation reveals the intrinsic hospitality of God who receives the hospitable nature of the humanity. Hence, in His words and actions, Jesus taught His disciples that human nature has the ability to be hospitable, that is, to be welcoming. Today, I reflect on the mission of hospitality to which the Church is called to exercise.

I utilise the friendship between Ruth and Naomi, her mother-in-law, to demonstrate the hospitable mission of the Church. When Naomi decides to return to her homeland having lived in a foreign or pagan land and the death of her husband, Naomi invited Ruth, a pagan, to remain. However, Ruth responds saying, “Wherever you go, I will go. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Interestingly, the meaning of the name Ruth is friendship, loyalty.

Friendship is at the heart of the Ministry of hospitality of the Church. It is the ability to reach out and provide a space for everyone, not only at the Eucharist, but in its organisational and administrative structure.

The story of Naomi and Ruth teaches the Church the key hallmarks of a hospitable community which are sensitivity, inclusivity, openness to dialogue, sharing, generosity of spirit, and a welcoming disposition and body language.

The narrative of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38– 42) teaches the Church that hospitality is like two sides of a coin—giving and receiving.

In this narrative, Jesus is both as GUEST AND HOST—receives and gives. As GUEST, Jesus humbly receives the generosity of Martha and Mary, and as HOST, He spends time with Mary teaching her.

Flowing from Jesus’ double action of giving and receiving, Jesus affirms these two roles in the life of His disciples Mary and Martha. On one hand, Mary’s act of sitting at the feet of Jesus is exercising her role as guest, that is, listening or receiving wisdom from the Teacher.

On the other hand, Martha’s role of host is active giving. In chastising Martha, Jesus is not diminishing her role as giver or host. Jesus is simply reminding her not to devalue the role of listening or receiving that Mary exercises. In fact, St John Paul II captures this aspect of hospitality when he says, “No church is too poor to give and no church is so rich that it has nothing to receive.”

In summary, the Ministry of hospitality of the Church is grounded and shaped in friendship with others. In this friendship, the Church allows herself to give and receive from those she encounters.