Leah Buck, Senior Anchor Intern – Sacramental Preparation and Catechesis
The holiday season is officially upon us. Thanksgiving has passed and Advent is here, which, for many of us, means there is a myriad of gatherings to plan and guests to host during the coming weeks. Families stay overnight in our homes for the holidays, co-workers and friends gather for Christmas parties, carolers are invited inside for hot chocolate or cookies. When we are expecting guests, it can be all too easy to get so caught up in the tasks of being a host or hostess that we forget what it means to be hospitable. This semester, as I’ve prepared for my own guests to visit my apartment, I’ve often found myself agonizing over what recipe to cook or how to arrange the snack table or what songs to add to the playlist. I’m tempted with perfectionism and pride, becoming more concerned with how my friends perceive me and my domestic skills than how well they are loved when in my home.
Intuitively, I know that having an instagram-worthy spread and picture-perfect decor isn’t what hospitality is about, but I’ve struggled to figure out what it truly means. Some insight from the practices of St. Benedict has helped.
The Benedictine order, the group of monks that St. Benedict founded, is known for their hospitality. This is a pretty wild idea. Think about it: an order of monks, vowed to a life of poverty and prayer, probably living in a remote monastery, are notoriously good hosts. By the world’s definitions of being the ‘hostess with the mostest,’ this makes no sense. They don’t have elaborate decor for every season or the trendiest snack choice for every dietary need. They are men of simplicity, not of extravagance. So what makes them such great hosts?
Loni Collins Pratt provides some perspective on this on this in her book Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love:
“Hospitality requires not grand gestures, but open hearts. Hospitality is not necessarily keeping guests occupied or entertained. Instead, Benedict tells us to offer an open heart, a stance of availability, and to look for God in every single person who comes through the door.”
The Benedictines are noteworthy hosts because they receive each person who enters their monastery as Jesus Christ himself. They hope to make their home a place of welcome, where guests’ hungry hearts can be nourished. Inviting people in, the Benedictines say, “I see you. I love you. I want to get to know you.” In this gesture, they speak to one of the deepest longings of the human heart, to belong.
This is truly what makes the Benedictines some of the best hosts in the world. They understand that hospitality is not about doing but about being. It is not a task to accomplish but a disposition to embody. Praying with this idea has transformed my ideas of what it means to be a hostess, and I hope that this new attitude translates into how I welcome my friends and family this season.
Here are a few precepts that (now) guide my preparations for guests:
1. Invite Jesus First
If we want to receive our visitors as Christ did, we must welcome Him first! Let’s open our own hearts to Jesus. Let’s ask him to join our preparations and our parties. Let’s call upon him to send his graces upon our gatherings and reveal himself to us in our neighbors.
2. Create a Space of Encounter
If we desire to encounter our guests, we must make sure that our homes are conducive to encounter! Let’s worry less about planning activities and more about encouraging conversation. Let’s ask good questions and listen intently to their answers. Let’s introduce guests to one another and to God.
3. Love Each Guest Individually
If we hope that each person who enters our home feels loved, we must love them intentionally! Let’s greet each guest joyfully and by name. Let’s be truly glad that each and every person is with us. Let’s delight in the presence of our friends.
There’s really nothing difficult about being a host or hostess like the Benedictines. It doesn’t require any custom-ordered cakes or personalized napkins. It simply requires a gift of ourselves. I pray that you can join me in making that gift to your guests this season.