The Word Among Us

Advent 2005 Issue

Make that Call!

The Gift of Christian Hospitality

By: Rachel Balducc

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20). To me, these words of Jesus describe what we are all trying to do during Advent. Spiritually, we wait, anticipate, and open the door wider for the coming of the King.

Advent also prepares us to throw open the door in a more literal way—by showing hospitality. The whole season is filled with opportunities to invite people into our homes and treat them as we would treat Christ. We try to see Jesus in them. And despite our flaws and quirks, we pray they will see Jesus in us.

My husband and I once invited a young family to have dinner with us. We enjoyed chatting with them as we left church each Sunday and decided it would be nice to really meet them, beyond making small talk.

Second Thoughts. But inviting someone to your home can be daunting—especially when the only thing you know about them is based on a brief encounter after Mass. I hung up the phone, and a wave of worry washed over me. What if she’s a professional decorator? What if he’s a master gardener? What if they’ve taken gourmet cooking classes and won’t appreciate the way we grill our steak?

In the days leading up to the dinner, I found myself doing useful, logical things—like cleaning out the linen closets and alphabetizing the pantry. It reminds me of the time our parish priest agreed to celebrate a Mass in our home for neighborhood families. A few hours before everyone was set to arrive, I was cleaning out my jewelry box.

"I don’t know why I’m doing this," I said, hunched over a pile of mismatched earrings, "but I’m certain there’s a perfectly good explanation."

As it turned out, dinner with the family from church was wonderful. A few days later we received a beautiful card thanking us for a lovely evening. It had been wild at moments, but to our guests, it was filled with peace and spirituality. The Lord was present.

My home isn’t perfect, by any stretch. I have a baby on the way, and four young sons who love to jump, run, wrestle, tackle, and live life at full speed. Inviting someone into this environment is a big step.

"But if I wait till everything is perfect," I told a friend, "well, it’ll be a long time before we can entertain." I’m reminded of how humorist Erma Bombeck would always exhort the readers of her column to take the risk and "invite already"—the silverware might NEVER all match!

A clean and beautiful home is a wonderful thing, to be sure. But more important is our willingness to share ourselves, to let Jesus in us reach out to the person we have invited in. We share who we really are—who God made us to be—by showing compassion, concern, and true love.

The Gift of Self. In Advent, as we reflect on God’s incredible gift of love to us in Jesus, we can think about the fact that welcoming others reflects his plan for us as humans. That plan has to do with being open to one another.

Openness of life and communication is demonstrated most clearly in marriage. Think about our first parents in the garden of Eden. Before Eve bit into that forbidden fruit, neither she nor Adam felt any shame at their nakedness (Genesis 2:25). In his Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II referred to this nakedness as a state of mind and being. That is, before they sinned, Adam and Eve were unashamed, unafraid to be vulnerable. There were no barriers between them; their communication was deep and unfettered.

Though not in the same intimate way, this openness of communication is also God’s plan for our relationships with other people. He intends us to be gifts to one another, to share ourselves—our life in him, who we really are.

And so, when you extend hospitality, what really matters is your love for Christ and your desire to show that love to your guests. When the party is over, when all is said and done, the important thing is that you did it—you invited those relatives, those friends, that family who didn’t have anywhere else to go. Maybe the children were restless, maybe the main course wasn’t quite right. But it was real and honest, and you shared your life and self, along with the food and fun.

Jesus Was There. For our first Christmas, my husband, Paul, and I had six other couples for dinner. Our tiny house barely fit us all, but we squeezed around the large dining room table—an inherited set, and our only furniture aside from a beat-up couch and an old leather recliner.

That evening was a glorious celebration of Christ’s birth. It didn’t matter that our home lacked the latest lamps and accessories. It was filled with excitement and joy and love, as we toasted what God had done for us by sending us his only Son. It was inspiring to be among people who shared themselves so openly and sincerely.

Through such experiences of hospitality, the event we celebrate at Christmas is made real to others. When we drop the barriers and share ourselves for love of Christ, he comes into our midst.

So go ahead. Make that call. Invite someone over. God has blessed you with the Christmas gift of his Son. By showing Christian hospitality, you can share that priceless gift with others.

Rachel Balducci and her family live in Augusta, Georgia.