Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Can I get you something?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the July 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
What is the difference between a gin-and-tonic and a loaf of bread?
This time of year, we see much of both as people gather at lakes or in back yards to enjoy the togetherness of family and friends. I would suggest that these items might be considered common symbols of the difference between entertainment and hospitality.
In our daily conversation, unfortunately, we equate or at least confuse entertainment and hospitality. They are distinct realities. The one we develop with practice; the other is the work of the grace. Entertainment is a skill; hospitality is a virtue.
If we were honest, we possibly could note that we tend to practice the skills of entertainment more often than we exercise the virtue of hospitality. Having the folks, friends or relatives over for a barbeque, dinner, dessert, or even a cocktail, perhaps, is the most common form of entertainment in our culture. We tend to be rather selective about whom we invite. On some occasions, we even may make up a list with astute care. Our concentration and anxiety focus on appropriate behavior, dress, and the proper manner for serving food and drink.
Likewise, entertainment is conditional: It seems that only the well-behaved are invited back (and perhaps later we will be the recipients of a similar invitation).
There’s nothing wrong in this. Nevertheless, it is not the Christian virtue of hospitality.
The virtue of hospitality is a manifestation of the soul, the inner strength of character which always, in all circumstances, should characterize the followers of Jesus. Hospitality is not selective; rather, it exhibits a readiness of heart to welcome whomever might cross our thresholds or enter our back yards. Food and drink may be shared generously, but the most important gift is the gift of self, a sharing of personal relationship and presence with another. Such a gift in hospitality is unconditional; the other person is valued for who they are, and not what they can give in return.
In itself, the shared gin-and-tonic may or may not be a sign of entertainment; it may or may not be a sign of hospitality. The gift of self, traditionally symbolized by the breaking of bread, makes the difference. The skill of entertainment can be learned with study and practice. There is a flood of “how-to” books on the market. The virtue of hospitality, however, comes with prayer and discernment of the Spirit.
To break bread with another – to care selflessly for their needs – cannot be learned in the same manner Hospitality happens in relationship to one’s self-awareness of being first graced by God’s love. God’s welcome for us is always at the ready, despite anything. A sharing of self is God’s promise in love to us. That love is unconditional; there are no strings attached.
We see and experience God’s hospitality in the gift of Jesus to us. He is the one who has “pitched his tent” in the back yard of human history. In Jesus we recognize that we indeed are special in the eves of God. To the extent that we who bear the title “Christian” see that we are special and experience that unconditional love, hospitality becomes a way of living. Once graced, there is no way we can merely entertain those who enter our lives. The sharing of a gin-and-tonic cannot be adequate to share the full gift of our selves. We look to the breaking of the bread, the gift of our selves as we, like the God who loves us unconditionally, reach out to care selflessly for the needs of others.
Discipleship in Jesus is an invitation to hospitality.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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