Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Hospitality of the heart"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the July 29, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

One of my favorite cartoons over the years was in the comic strip B.C. The Stone Age character comes out of his cave early one morning and is confronted with a huge dinosaur. He says to himself: “I think today is going to demand relationship.”

Indeed, relationships are crucial in our lives: relationship with the Lord, with ourselves, and with our neighbors. The two great commandments – love God, love neighbor – exemplify that reality. The readings from the Sunday liturgies the last couple of weeks have focused on relationships: the parable of the Good Samaritan; Abraham and Sarah taking care of the three strangers; Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary, as Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping with the housework.

Perhaps we can look at relationships from this perspective: hospitality of heart. Hospitality of heart is important in our relationship with Jesus. It’s very important in our relationship with Church and sacraments; and it’s very important in how we relate to the stranger, the neighbor in our world, the “other.”

Hospitality of heart to our God should demonstrate that God occupies first place. Hospitality of heart means we open our hearts to God’s presence. Along with Martha in the Gospel story, our lives can be so busy that we think we don’t have time for the Lord. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. That response doesn’t mean that we don’t take care of the proverbial “housework” in our lives. We need to, of course. But it does mean that we have to keep a sense of perspective as we address our lives and our life’s work.

We must open ourselves to the heart of Jesus. Cardinal Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, once wrote that the heart of Jesus is like an observatory as we look at the world. Viewing the world with eyes of faith, with the eyes of Jesus, is far different from viewing the world with Jesus left out of the mix. The former speaks more completely of full reality; the latter, with no room for God in the heart, speaks of limitation, narrowness, lack of vision, fixation on selfishness, perhaps even disorientation. Father Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day both give us wonderful examples of lives filled with an appreciation of hospitality of heart, hospitality to God’s presence in their lives.

Hospitality of heart extended to the community of faith and to sacraments is also very important in our Catholic tradition. Think how hospitality of heart is so beautifully demonstrated by a couple who enter into marriage. Without hospitality to each other, the relationship simply isn’t going to work. It’s the same for those of us who have received sacred orders in priesthood. My hospitality of heart has to extend to the entire diocesan community, just as every pastor has to be open to all of his parishioners.

Such hospitality stretches all of us. It will not allow us to close ourselves off to other people. That would render the relationship weaker and less effective. Just ask a husband and wife.

It is especially important that our hearts be open to Eucharist. In 1998, Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic exhortation, “Day of the Lord,” focusing on the importance of Sunday Eucharist. Recently he issued the encyclical Eucharist in the Church. On the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, he called for a Year of the Eucharist, beginning this next October.

I suggest this period of focus would be a good time for all of us to reflect on this great sacrament in our lives and the implication of its mystery. Are our hearts really open to this sacrament? Remember Martha? Do we, too, have reasons which pull us away from the powerful, life-giving presence of Jesus? Just like Martha, we can assemble a list of excuses – excuses that reveal a partially closed heart. We can close our hearts to the kind of sacrifice that deals with the very human situations that may not be to our liking. Good Church tends to be a bit messy. Does this “messiness” give an excuse for a more closed heart?

Finally, we can reflect upon the hospitality of heart to the stranger, to the neighbor. Abraham and Sarah gave a profound example of hospitality to the three strangers. The couple really went out of their way in graciously providing a meal. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a call from Jesus to “go and do likewise.” Both stories call us to go out of our way for the sake of others. The poor, the homeless, the immigrant, the broken, the addicted: these are just some of the folks who are our neighbor and call for our attention and hospitality of heart. Such hospitality calls for a constant review of our openness – or lack thereof. Such hospitality challenges us to the very roots of our faith-life.

May we continue to reflect upon our call to have hospitality of heart on our spiritual journey. As was the case of Sarah, we may find the great surprise of the Lord who comes to us disguised as “neighbor” and who touches our lives profoundly.

Much peace and joy to all of you.

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