24th October, 2020

Home Retreat: Hospitality in the time of Covid with Fr Chad

Ampleforth Abbey

Please see below Fr Chad's Home Retreat for Saturday 24th October. A pdf download is available at the bottom of the page.  Alternatively, click here to view on our YouTube channel. 

HOSPITALITY IN THE TIME OF COVID – TALK

The recent headlines speak of ‘hospitality thrown under the bus.’ The change in human interaction brought about by this crisis has seen online meetings, online shopping, experience exponential growth, while traditional hospitality businesses face ruin. This very retreat is an example of how even monasteries have had to adapt.

Now hospitality has always been central to the life of monasteries. I can still remember my first visit here more than 30 years ago, and the warmth of the welcome I received as a guest. Over the centuries, in different contexts, guests have found monasteries places of refuge and recreation.

The current change to hospitality has hit monasteries, as it has hit businesses, and as it has hit you in your families and friendships. Either we cannot meet up physically, or, if we do meet up, we cannot express hospitality in the usual way, handshakes, embraces, hugs, the companionship of sitting alongside guests, the intimacy of sharing a meal or a drink. How do we prevent these necessary restrictions becoming a permanent mindset? How we resist the understandable temptation to withdraw, almost to welcome isolation, so that lockdown becomes a sort of shutdown?

Any crisis contains a call to change, to break through to a greater depth. Perhaps we had been guilty of reducing hospitality to a department in our monastery, a sector of our economy, a slot in my diary. What would it mean once again to see hospitality as a sacred duty, rather than an optional extra, to be filed under leisure, part of my social life, how I entertain and impress?

Hospitality cannot be reduced simply to being nice to guests, to a set of social skills. How we respond to this crisis is not simply to make our drinks parties online. Can we see hospitality not as part of my social life, but as part of my spiritual life, the practice of my faith, something central to how I see the world?

I’ve come to see that as well as the more obvious external hospitality to strangers there is an internal hospitality we can offer to those we already know, to the families, the monks we live with, those we can so easily take for granted. And this hospitality is not just a physical welcome. I think prayer is a form of hospitality, particularly for those with whom we cannot now meet up. I hope it is not too sentimental to say - if we can’t hold them in our arms, we can hold them in our hearts, if we can’t wrap our arms around them, we can wrap our prayers around them.

In this month devoted to Mary, praying the rosary for our family and friends is a form of hospitality. When I pray for you, it is not as a generous host showering my largesse on you. I ask Mary to pray for us sinners – I am alongside you, I am asking the grace of God for both of us. I am welcoming you as a guest so that we both become the guests of God.

Because this sort of hospitality is not one way. We might like to be the host, welcoming guests into our home, welcoming back family members, even welcoming the lord at communion, to enter under my roof, But that doesn’t mean we remain in control. When Abraham welcomed three strangers, they brought about the unexpected blessing of a son Isaac. When Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his house, his life changed completely. When we receive communion, we become part of the body of Christ. These are not private moments.

When a host shares his generosity to show his power, he trumps you with his tower, so to speak. But Jesus at the last supper was not inviting his disciples to an act of fealty, I am your lord providing this for you, do you swear allegiance, loyalty, commitment in return? He left us a simple, specific invitation, take and eat, this is my body, this is me giving myself to you, not expecting you to give yourselves to me. This is the whole dynamic of the incarnation, God coming to us. Behold I stand at the door and knock. We will make our home with you. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. Throughout the gospels Jesus is a guest in all sorts of different homes. One of the more memorable graces I grew up with was ‘Lord, be our guest at all times’. Even if it is still not possible for us to get to Mass, we can welcome Jesus as Mary welcomed him into her home, listening as his feet, as we do in Lectio. This is the welcome the good soil gives to the word, receiving it at the depth needed for a rich harvest. 

This sort of hospitality is a sort of discernment. In the sacraments, we discern the grace of God coming to us through the elements of creation, through bread, wine, oil, water. Benedict urges his monks to recognize Christ coming to them through surprising channels – through new monks, through sick monks, through visiting monks, and through guests. Again, this hospitality is not just ‘welcome to my world, receive my generosity’ but ‘how can I engage with your world, receive your gifts?’

In a recent letter on the 1600th anniversary of the death of St Jerome, the great biblical translator, Pope Francis described the work of translation as a form of linguistic hospitality, building the bridges needed for genuine encounter. And in the even more recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, there is one brief but pithy paragraph on the monastic contribution to fraternity. ‘Hospitality was one specific way of rising to the challenge and the gift present in an encounter with those outside one’s own circle. The monks realized that the values they sought to cultivate had to be accompanied by a readiness to move beyond themselves in openness to others.’

Does this sort of hospitality need to be religious? Religious people are not automatically more hospitable – as Jesus pointed out in his story about a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. In fact, Fratelli Tutti includes an extended discussion of this parable. The Samaritan gave up time, energy, resources but without any self-conscious ‘look at me’. Likewise, in the parable of the sheep and goats, the righteous did not realise what they were doing – when did we see you a stranger and welcome you?

It does not seem, however, as if our increasingly secular society has become noticeably more hospitable. More obvious is the desire to protect and defend particular interests. Pope Francis comments ‘We have gorged ourselves on networking and lost the taste of fraternity.’ This crisis gives us the chance to reflect - how can our faith provide both the reason and the resources for a deeper hospitality’.

Otherwise we can end up compartmentalizing the different categories of guest, the different moments of Hospitality, the different types of welcome. Ultimately, however, there is only one guest, Christ, and our life is called to be one great act of welcome

This view of hospitality is a necessary corrective to those images of life as a journey, where we can be anxious to get places, rather than welcoming those we meet on the way – West Africa punctuality, and to those images of life as building, a career, a home, a family, where we can be anxious to succeed, rather than welcoming others into what we build. Can we even see death as a mutual welcoming – at the end we welcome the God who welcomes us.

 

HOSPITALITY IN THE TIME OF COVID – TEXTS

THE RULE OF BENEDICT (Chapter 53)

1All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me 2Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith and to pilgrims.3Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. 4First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace, 6All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. 7By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them. 8After the guests have been received, they should be invited to pray; then the superior or an appointed brother will sit with them. 9The divine law is read to the guest for his instruction, and after that every kindness is shown to him. 12The abbot shall pour water on the hands of the guests, 13and the abbot with the entire community shall wash their feet. 14After the washing they will recite this verse: God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple 15Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.

GOOD SAMARITAN (Luke 10)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

ABRAHAM (Genesis 18)

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’

ZACCHAEUS (Luke 19)

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

MARTHA AND MARY (Luke 10)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

HOSPITALITY IN THE TIME OF COVID – TASKS

Read slowly through the above texts. How do they speak to you about:

  • How to offer hospitality?
  • How to receive Christ as a guest?

Make a list of those you take for granted, those to whom you could offer ‘internal hospitality’. Pray a ‘Hail Mary’ for each of them by name.

Think back to those significant moments of hospitality which you have received – what made the difference?