As we continue our series delving into practices that can help us create a space for grace, let’s explore the concept of radical hospitality and receiving others as Christ would receive them. To do this, I want to share a few insights from my Irish background and culture that might be helpful.
In general, the Irish are known for their effusive hospitality and the warmth of their welcome. Indeed, the Irish expression céad míle fáilte, meaning “a hundred thousand welcomes,” is at the heart of Irish life. Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of Celtic wisdom and flows from the belief that a spark of God resides in every human being. We are created in the image and likeness of God. The Celtic saints were well-known for extending hospitality not only to friends, family, and strangers, but also to animals. A lovely example of this is St. Brigid of Kildare, who was known for welcoming strangers to her community by providing them with a mug of beer and an oatcake. She was also known for her care of animals, for she believed that no creature was too small to be overlooked in God’s kingdom.
It is a radical hospitality that sets the table for an encounter with Christ where God can be present to every person through each small act of kindness exhibited. In the Bible we read that Jesus feeds the multitudes with just five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1–14), teaching us that the miracle of hospitality lies in multiplying the gifts of love and generosity, often without us being aware of it.
However, providing a space to care for each person we meet can be a challenge. Hospitality is never neat and easy. It is an art more than a science, for hospitality is not just something that we do but how we live. For that reason, it is important to remember that the practice of hospitality is never wasted and always multiplies in its own way. The beauty of small acts of hospitality is that they multiply and increase our capacity to open ourselves up to God and to others. So, how can we cultivate radical hospitality toward ourselves and those in our faith-formation settings? Here are some ways that go beyond providing good food and drink or coffee and donuts.
Before we extend hospitality to others, especially in our ministries, we ought to reflect on whether we are hospitable to ourselves. In what ways can we practice hospitality to ourselves? What happens when we neglect ourselves?
Hospitality and evangelization are always linked, because people need to feel trusted, safe, and encouraged before they will share with us their deepest hopes and longings. Cultivating time for prayer, allowing ample time for questions and answers, and encouraging the sharing of faith stories are all ways that we can set the stage for an encounter with Christ.
Hospitality involves anticipating the needs of other people. How can we model the practice of deep, empathetic listening in our classrooms? How can we ensure that all voices are heard and that students respect diverse opinions?
Reflect and grow.
Pray with the miracle of the loaves and the fish, using lectio divina. Encourage students to enter into the story and share their insights with each other. Ask students: In what ways can our Catholic faith help us to practice hospitality to strangers?
Catholic Social Teaching presents us with a myriad of ways to practice hospitality and welcome, especially to those most in need. Consider integrating some insights from the social teachings of the Church more intentionally into faith formation lessons.
How inviting and hospitable is our meeting space? Look for one or two simple things to cultivate a more hospitable space, such as the arrangement of furniture or the type of decorations in the room.
What are some ways that you have cultivated hospitality and encouraged participants to be hospitable toward each other?