“Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, ‘Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t give your care, but give your heart as well.’ Living the Gospel is not simply about providing a service to people in need but about a quality of being. Hospitality is not just about opening our doors but opening our very souls.”

Rev. Mark Suslenko
LPi Connect! Sunday Reflection

Over the past five years, at the Diocesan level and at the parish level, we have done many good things to build a culture of Generous Hospitality.  We have had name tag Sundays, hospitality events, invited people to take up the gifts, given away books during the holidays, bought umbrellas and walked people to their cars on a rainy morning, stood outside the church to greet people and noticed that visitors had trouble finding the parking lot to the church, and many other things.  This activity and this focus on hospitality has been good.  It has made a difference in the lives of our people.  

But as I reflect on this coming Sunday’s readings, which focus on hospitality, I am challenged by them and by the quote above from Fr. Suslenko.  As good as these activities are, they aren’t all that the Lord is asking of us when it comes to practicing Generous Hospitality.  As Fr. Suslenko and Mother Teresa say, generous hospitality requires us to give our hearts to another.  In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus is teaching something about how we can do this.  The story is a familiar one — Jesus is visiting the home of his friends, Mary and Martha.  Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus and Martha complains, saying, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?  Tell her to help me.” 

For many years, I viewed this reading as an admonishment to Martha and to us, to be less “human doings” and more “human beings”; a challenge to take time each day to be with the Lord and to value that time above the activity of our lives.  I hear people say, “I am a Martha and not a Mary,”  and thinking themselves less for that.  However, I don’t believe we receive the full measure of the gift of this Gospel story if we persist in seeing it as an either/or — either I am Martha or I am Mary.  I believe there are no effective “Marthas” that are not first “Marys”.  In the same way, every “Mary”, who is genuinely open to the Word of the Lord in prayer, will be asked by Him to enter into the work of His vineyard and will be a “Martha”.  As is so often true in the richness of Catholicism, the deeper truth is that it is a both/and; we are called to be both “Marys” who first receive from the Lord and then to be “Marthas” who are sent into the world to serve. 

Looking at it in this way allows us to do as Mother Teresa asks; to give not just our service, but our hearts as well.  In the quiet of prayer, our hearts can be filled with God who is Love (cf. 1 John 4:8), and in its fullness our hearts will open in compassion to those we serve.  As a consequence, they will receive not just an action, but will experience the incredible love God has for them.  Our actions become a conduit for His love in the world.  This is a Generous Hospitality that has the power to transform the lives of those that receive it. This is the Generous Hospitality that Bishop Gruss envisioned when he gave us our framework for Stewardship.

Let’s continue to strive, through prayer, to prepare our hearts to receive these “holiest of objects” in every situation and place we find ourselves and thus practice a hospitality that transforms.

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