Daring Hospitality – “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” by Elizabeth Davis rsm
Aíocht, hospitalidad, manaaki, kagiliwan, hospitalité, ukarimu, gutpela lukaut, hospitality – this life-giving word strengthens us on our global Mercy journey into the Year of Consecrated Life, the Year of Religious Life. Although seemingly simple, warm and comforting, hospitality at its best is radical and prophetic. Let us hear this word spoken in our scriptures and tradition, inviting us into new thinking, challenging us to “daring hospitality.”
© Gerald Squires, A hand rules compassion as a hand rules heaven, The Gathering Place, St. John’s NL, Canada. Used with permission.
Hospitality was an essential aspect of Israelite culture, embedded in sacred codes of conduct requiring that strangers be given food, water and shelter. Abraham’s first action after God’s call into covenant was to offer hospitality to three strangers, not knowing that God sent them, “Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree” (Gen 18:4). The Shunammite woman spoke to her husband about Elisha, the holy man of God, “Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp” (2 Kgs 4: 9-10). God is described in Ps 23:4, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” About Woman Wisdom, celebrated in Proverbs, we are told, “She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Prov 31:20).
The same sacred code is embedded in the New Testament. Elizabeth welcomed the newly pregnant Mary into her home, “Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk 1:39-40). Jesus invited the first disciples to his home, saying, “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). He shared meals with the most likely and most unlikely people: his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus; Peter’s mother-in-law, tax collectors, rich men, a prostitute, five thousand men, women and children; his apostles. He met a Samaritan woman at a well and asked for a drink. He defined “neighbour” by a Samaritan traveller’s response to an injured man, “He put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Lk 10:34). The first Christian community “broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).
When Jesus was asked how to become a faithful follower, his words were stark, clear and reflective of his people’s code of conduct, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt 25:35-36).
Like Abraham, Jesus began his ministry with a meal, attending the wedding feast at Cana. He ended his ministry by serving his disciples bread and wine at the supper before his death. After his Resurrection, he helped the disciples know him as transformed by sharing a meal with them: Mary and Cleopas at Emmaus, the disciples in the Upper Room, the disciples on the beach. Key moments in Jesus’ life and moments in which he led the disciples to significantly shift their thinking were marked by hospitality.
In later Jewish culture, there were haknasat orehim, houses where travellers obtained lodging. Rabbis suggested that every house should have doors on all four sides, so that poor people might find easy access from everywhere. In a remarkably similar way, in ancient Irish culture, the Breton Laws mandated hospitality for the stranger, newcomer and traveller. The bruideans were public houses designated for this purpose and placed strategically at major road intersections with doors open to every direction.
Like Jesus, Catherine began her ministry with an act of hospitality – she built a house on Baggot Street as a school for poor girls and a shelter for homeless servant girls and women. Mary Sullivan, rsm, records that, after the first Sisters of Mercy returned from their profession of vows, “the Christmas dinner for the all the neighbourhood children was held as usual, again with plum pudding, and Catherine once more waiting on the hungry, ragged children she loved.” Again like Jesus, Catherine’s last action on this earth was to direct her community to engage in hospitality, “Get a good cup of tea – I think the community room would be a good place." Following the haknasat orehim and the bruideans, Catherine’s House of Mercy was and is a place of hospitality, the wellspring for Mercy alive today in forty-five countries.
In our history as women of Mercy, true to our Jewish and Irish roots, we have faithfully followed Jesus and Catherine in creating places of ministry – hospitals, orphanages, hospices, boys’ homes, women’s shelters, shelters for refugees, affordable housing units – all places of hospitality. One poignant example, the Gathering Place in St. John’s NL, is a community centre for vulnerable persons who are homeless or living with inadequate supports. In this place enlivened by Sisters of Mercy, Presentation Sisters and more than two hundred volunteers, a sculpture of hands, created by artist Gerald Squires, reflects Jesus’ words, “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, a stranger . . .” The sculpture confirms that daring hospitality creates community marked by inclusion, equality and respect...[incomplete text of article]
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Download below the 3 Prayer Services accompanying Sr Elizabeth's article
Suggested Music Tracks for the Prayer Services
Prayer Service One. Theme: As Guests
'Come to the Water' John Foley SJ. Purchase from iTunes
Prayer Service Two. Theme: As Hosts
Prayer Service Three. Theme: As Ecological Hospitality
'Consciousness Wakening' by Jan Novotka. Purchase from iTunes
Questions Relating to Sr Elizabeth's article on Hospitality
1. Welcome to the stranger: Who are the strangers whom we Sisters of Mercy invite to our tables? Who are the strangers whom we find it difficult to welcome? Who are the strangers whom we would not even think about welcoming?
2. Guests not hosts: When and where are we as Sisters of Mercy the strangers who are being welcomed? What does being guests, receivers of hospitality, mean for being Sisters of Mercy in the 21st century?
3. Guests of Earth: How does our thinking change when we realize that we are not masters of Earth but guests of this planet? How are we behaving as guests of Earth?
4. Eucharistic hospitality: What does an understanding of Eucharistic hospitality as ecological hospitality mean for a community of Sisters of Mercy who celebrate Eucharist together?
Resources for your Further Reflection on the theme of Hospitality
Beatrice Bruteau, “Eucharistic Ecology and Ecological Spirituality,” Cross Currents 40, no. 4 (Winter 1990/1991): 499-514. Online: http://www.crosscurrents.org/eucharist.htm
Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991).
Denis Edwards, “Celebrating Eucharist in a Time of Global Climate Change,” Pacifica: Australasian Theological Studies 19, no. 1 (February 2006): 1 – 15.
Anne Elvey, “Living One for the Other: Eucharistic Hospitality as Ecological Hospitality,” chapter 10 in Reinterpreting the Eucharist: Explorations in Feminist Theology and Ethics (eds. Anne F. Elvey, Carol Hogan, Kim Power and Claire Renkin; Routledge, 2014).
Lonni Collins Pratt and Daniel Homan, Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love: Benedict's Way of Love (Paraclete Press, 2011).
Messages to: Elizabeth Davis rsm
Elizabeth M. Davis,RSM, C.M.; B.A., B.Ed. (Memorial); M.A. (Notre Dame); M.H.Sc. (Toronto); LL.D. (Memorial); LL.D (Manitoba)
Elizabeth Davis, Leader of the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland and Labrador, was a high school teacher (1969-1982), Administrator of St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital (1986-1994) and President/CEO of the Health Care Corporation of St. John’s (1994-2000). She has been a Board member of CIHI, Association of Canadian Teaching Hospitals, Medical Council of Canada, National Board of Medical Examiners (USA), Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Trudeau Foundation and Dalhousie University’s Management Program for Physicians. She has received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Memorial University of Newfoundland and from the University of Manitoba; has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and Alumna of the Year for Memorial University; has been inducted into the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador and has received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.