The Virtue of Hospitality

The Virtue of Hospitality February 9, 2011

It was said of Abba John the Persian that when some evildoers came to him, he took a basin and wanted to wash their feet. But they were filled with confusion, and began to do penance. [1]

Hospitality is an important virtue generally neglected by modern society. We prefer not to be bothered by (or to bother) others. Hospitality requires us to accept others when they come into our lives, whether or not we like them or what they do.

One of the things which Jesus showed throughout his ministry was hospitality. He walked with, talked with, ate with sinners. He healed them, even on the Sabbath. He knew how to reach their hearts and to get them to repent. He knew the way to save others could not be accomplished by following the example of the Pharisees. They sought to prove themselves better than others by standing away from those others, fearing any contact from them might have the impurity of sin infect them as well. Jesus’ way was the way of love. He was willing to lower himself, to humble himself, even as far as death, so that he can lift up the sinner and free them from the mire which surrounds their hearts. Sinners repented because of love; Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it. We too must understand this and follow his example.

For most of us, it is very difficult to follow Jesus’ example. It is easier to look to someone else and condemn them when we don’t like them. We justify it by saying we are trying to help them: we are telling them why they are so bad, so they can change their ways. But is that really the case? Is it not that we are just trying to justify ourselves and tell ourselves why we think we are their superior, thereby making us feel better about ourselves? But if we truly care for someone and their salvation, we will welcome them into our lives. We will be with them. We will show them hospitality and love. Everyone is looking for and needing such love. When they find it, they will listen to the one gives it to them.

If we read Scripture carefully, showing loving hospitality to sinners is not the only way they can be saved: accepting their hospitality, coming into their homes and being with them when they ask for us to be there, can also melt their hearts and lead to their salvation. Zacchaeus showed Jesus such hospitality, which led to his salvation. Lot was saved, not because he was extraordinarily holy, but because he still was capable of showing hospitality. If we want to be saved, and if we want to save others, we too must learn the lesson of hospitality.

In this way, there is good reason why we find many Desert Fathers, such as John the Persian, converting sinners by the path of hospitality. They knew that the best path to the heart is the path of least resistance. A blanket condemnation, coming out of nowhere, by someone who has no real interest in the person being condemned, leads to a hardening of the heart. Hospitality melts the heart because people want to feel like they are loved, and belong.

[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 108.

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  • Beautiful post and an excellent turn on the concept and wisdom of securing more flies with honey.

    • Thanks — it is something so lost in today’s world… I am not say I am the best at hospitality, but I understand why I strive for it.

      • In my opinion, love is the most powerful tool we have in our arsenal, but as you can see from the contentious debates raging in the world, and even upon this wonderful blog, it is a tool that is rarely employed.

        I am at my best when I employ it and I can honestly say that I do not use it anywhere near enough. They might not hear my excellent debate (when it is so) but they may indeed enjoy a cup of Hot Cocoa, and then relax enough to allow us both to get to know each other.

        This s major problem (so far) with the Internet. We need to figure out how to simulate the Hot Cocoa experience online.

        • Agreed. Though, it is also true, I think many people looking for it online are the ones who need it the most and find it the least. No wonder it becomes a downward spiral of aggression and despair.

  • smf

    St. Meinrad also comes to mind when discussing Catholic ideas on hospitality. He went so far as to become the martyr to the virtue of hospitality.