On Hospitality

An Important Aspect Of A Priest's Spirituality

Gregory Carruthers, SJ

from a homily given at
St. Augustine's Seminary Of Toronto
1 Sam 3:3-10, 19 -- 1 Cor 6:13-15, 17-20 -- Jn 1:35-42

            His Eminence Cardinal Ambrozic, during his annual visit to the Seminary last December 8 th, said in his homily that while he was traveling in Europe he was impressed how hospitable the diocesan priests were to him. And it got me thinking about the role of “hospitality” in the spirituality of diocesan priesthood.

            It all begins really with these first words of Jesus in John’s gospel: ‘Come and see’. With these words Jesus is being hospitable; he is welcoming. The Lord invites John the Baptist’s disciples to come and get to know him. He makes the offer of an invitation to friendship. He opens himself up to them so that they might become familiar with him – to get to know his mind and heart. Ultimately he will invite them to leave everything and follow him. The call of the apostles begins with Jesus’ hospitality. And so does our call.

            Hospitality is manifested in an openness and welcoming spirit. A willingness to drop what I’m doing and receive the other person when they need me. We think of Abraham’s hospitality to the 3 strangers. In welcoming the strangers he was welcoming God. And he received a reward from God. Abraham is not only our ‘Father in faith’; he is also our ‘Father in hospitality’. So if you want to grow in hospitality, pray to Abraham.

            We think also of the Rule of St. Benedict where he writes in Latin: Hospis venit, Christus venit. When the guest comes, it is Christ who comes. This kind of hospitality, everyday hospitality, is really an expression of love of neighbour. We recall Jesus’ words: what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me. And St. Paul exhorts us to place other people’s needs ahead of our own.

            Hospitality in the life of the priest shows itself in his approachability. Approachability is central to the ministry of the priest. The priest can only be a channel of the Lord’s approachability if the priest himself is approachable. Approachability is at once both a very human and a very divine gift.

            Human because it exudes all the warmth of the human heart, and divine because it reveals all the warmth of God’s heart. God has made himself approachable in the Incarnation. What is more inviting, more non-threatening, more approachable than a baby in a manger?

            So the priest’s humanity needs to be a bridge attracting the people to Christ. If the priest is approachable, his ministry is already 90% successful.

            Pope John-Paul II in Shepherds After My Own Heart has a section that deals with the human formation of the priest. There he writes: “The priest, who is called to be a ‘living image’ of Jesus Christ, should seek to reflect in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which shines forth in the Incarnate Son of God.”

            Why is this so? The Pope goes on to say that the humanity of the priest should “become a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man”.

            And the Pope mentions a number of human qualities the priest needs to cultivate, and one of the ones he singles out is hospitality.

            One of the Wednesday night speakers here in the Seminary on the topic of the human formation of the priest, said something striking. Speaking to future priests, he said: who you are as a human being will speak louder than all the talks and homilies you may give. This is the notion again that the humanity of the priest is a bridge between the People and Christ.

            The fundamental bridge to attracting people to Christ is the humanity of the priest. The spirituality of diocesan priesthood is foremost on Incarnational spirituality. The Word is made flesh continually in the humanity of the priest.

            So hospitality is rooted in approachability. Hospitality can simply be making people feel welcome when they drop by for a visit. Or, and especially, it is manifest in a deeper and broader openness to receive all God’s people, whoever they are, and in whatever circumstances they find themselves – no matter what sins they may be entrapped in. Ultimately, this kind of hospitality is an expression of the compassion of God.

            And this is at the heart of priestly spirituality. To make visible and concrete, to make effective, to enable People to encounter – the compassion of God. This is especially true in administering the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist and Reconciliation. But it is also true in the very way the priest relates to the People interpersonally.

            If the priest is approachable, the People will feel God is approachable, that God is interested in them and is concerned for them. And this will encourage the faithful to open up to the priest and to unburden themselves to him.

            If the priest is approachable, he will be able to feed the People with the Bread of Life. Jesus fed the 5,000 in the miracle of loaves and fish. This is such a central miracle of God’s hospitality that it is the only miracle recorded in all 4 gospels, and twice in Matthew’s.

            The priest is called to feed the People of God. The People will only turn to the priest if the priest is approachable and interested in them. Let our humanity not be an obstacle to the encounter between the Lord and His People, rather let our humanity be a bridge.

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