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
Sharing the difference
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 19, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Is there a difference between a cold beer and a hamburger?
This time of year we encounter 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. The one we develop with practice; the other is the work of the Spirit.
Entertainment is a skill; hospitality is a virtue.
If we were honest, we might note that we often tend to practice the skill of entertainment more than we exercise the virtue of hospitality. Having the folks, friends or relatives over for a barbeque, dinner, dessert, or even a beer perhaps is the most common form of entertainment in our culture (next to sports, of course!). And do we not tend to be rather selective about whom we invite? On some occasions we even may make up a list. 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 is nothing necessarily wrong in this. Nevertheless, it is not fundamentally the exercise of the Christian virtue of hospitality.
The virtue of hospitality is a manifestation of the soul, the inner personal strength which should characterize the followers of Jesus. Hospitality is not selective; rather, it exhibits a genuine readiness of heart to welcome whomever might cross the thresholds of our lives or enter our back yards, as it were. 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 offer at the moment or give in return.
In itself, the shared cold beer 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 eyes of God, regardless.
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 cold beer 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 the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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