Here is an excerpt of Fr. Justin’s “Radical Hospitality” talk at the Upper Room Conference on October 26, 2019:
In the 500s, St. Benedict started his monasteries. He wrote some guidelines for his monks on how to live, now called “The Rule of St. Benedict.” Chapter 53 is on the reception of guests. He says that, when a guest comes to a monastery, they’re supposed to be shown all honour; the abbot or all the monks are supposed to greet them, then pray together, and then give the kiss of peace; the monks are supposed to bow their heads or lie on the ground towards the guest; then they’re supposed to sit with the guest, read them parts of the Bible, and even stop their rigorous fast in order to eat with the guest. Finally the monks are supposed to wash the guest’s feet.
View the video recording of Fr. Justin’s talk:
Is hospitality really that important? Yes! Because a guest is like Christ. The rule says: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest, and you received Me’ (Matt. 25:35)… Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons… In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims the greatest care… should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received.” St. Benedict keeps on repeating that when we welcome a guest, we receive Jesus.
Does anyone know what this Latin phrase means? “Venit hospes, venit Christus.” It means, “A guest comes, Christ comes.” It’s based on St. Benedict’s rule. I saw it in Rome at a Jesuit house and loved it.
The Catholic country of Poland has a saying: “Guest coming into the house, God coming into the house.”
There’s a story about St. Faustina: “A poor young man, barefoot and with his clothes in tatters, came to her convent gate… begging for hot food. [St.] Faustina immediately went to the kitchen… succeeded in finding some soup… into which she crumbled some bread. After the young man ate the soup, He revealed to her that He was the Lord Jesus in disguise!”
So it’s part of our identity. What can we do to root ourselves more in this identity and live it out? Here are 10 actions:
1) Union with Jesus: Our Lord was in constant union with the Father—that’s our model. The connection between holiness and hospitality isn’t always emphasized, but it’s primary. The most important commandment is to love God, and this flows to neighbour. In fact, they’re inseparable, but one’s primary, the source. Pope John Paul II got his strength and love from adoration. In the end, we’re offering people Jesus. If we’re not holy, we’re offering ourselves! Think of Acts 3:6: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” So let Jesus shine!
2) Initiate: Leaders, missionaries, and those in love initiate! We don’t wait for people to come to us. We start the conversation, we’re the first to smile. Have confidence in yourselves. Shyness is not a virtue. Shyness, passivity is our kryptonite—it kills us and takes away our superpowers. St. John Paul II, when he called the Cardinal Kasper to serve in Rome, received the objection, “But I don’t know Italian.” “That is a problem you must overcome.”
3) Pray for Opportunities: During the year of mercy, Sr. Ann Shields, a famous author and speaker, told God that, when she flies (which is very often), “If there’s anyone You want me to talk to or minister to on the plane, I’ll do it; I’ll put aside what I normally do—it’s Yours.” Never once that year did someone not ask for her help; they got up, walked over to her and asked, “Can I talk to you?” The Holy Spirit will put us in situations where we can love Jesus in other people—we are sent to do this.
4) Names: Using names are signs of respect. Can you please tell me why some people get frustrated or even mad when I don’t remember their names? They’re probably thinking, “It’s because it says Fr. Justin doesn’t care. If he did care, he’d remember.” And why do some people get so excited when I finally remember their names? They smile, even jump, saying, “You finally remembered!” It’s because it all comes down to this one, simple, powerful idea: knowing a person’s name says you care.
My oldest brother put it very well: when you enter a room, you don’t greet the computer, you don’t greet the plants, you don’t greet the furniture. Why? Because they’re things. And when we don’t greet other people when we have the opportunity, in some way, probably not intentionally, we’re treating them like things.
In Auschwitz, the Nazis gave prisoners numbers instead of using their names in order to dehumanize them. To not use someone’s name when we can may in some way dehumanize them. People’s names are sacred. God always calls by name. He doesn’t say, “Hey you, what’s-your-face, I’m giving you a great mission.”
5) Nourish yourself: True hospitality is challenging stuff. It’s outside our comfort zone. It will be a sacrifice. Superheroes always have to recharge. Pray, sleep well, take care of yourselves. We are to love our neighbour as…? Prayer in the morning, in the afternoon, at night is my recharge. I can often reset after a difficult part of the day. And I listen to “Eye of the Tiger” or this “Thor’s arrival.” This is what you should listen to at the end of a morning holy hour.
6) Be yourself: Every superhero has his or her own powers. You don’t have to be me or anyone else. We learn by imitation and imitate the heart of Jesus and the virtues of others, but we incarnate them in ourselves in a unique way. Every saint was unique. If our focus is on Christ and on Christ in the other person, then our hospitality will be authentic.
7) Know your limits: We aspire to sanctity but we’re not there yet, and so we will be humbled, and it takes great humility to accept that we’re poor creatures and not God Himself. Fatigue gets most of us. And we’re sinners. One parishioner at St. Anthony’s who’s hospitable and evangelizes once skipped going to our parish because she didn’t want to greet anyone. She knew she needed time by herself, which is wise. There will be times when we’ll have to say “Yes, no, yes,” because of the busyness of the day or lives.
But the purity of heart will come out. In some ways, we can measure our level of love by our desire to love. On the days when we have no energy and are still struggling with shyness, the question is: Do we still wish we could reach out to people? That desire to give someone a spiritual cup of water is a measure of our love.
8) Conversations starters: I started to wear the cassock because the sign is counter cultural and good for vocations. But I had no idea that it would allow me to reach out to people. Most people expect priests to be old, grumpy, fat. Let’s change that: vigorous, joyful, disciplined.
So, is hospitality primarily responsive or passive, that is, something coming to our house, church, to meet us? Yes. But it’s also active, meaning it looks for ways to give Christ’s warmth to people. So, we can wear something Christian or put out some books at the office, symbols to initiate conversation.
When we pray grace at restaurants, we ask people if we can pray for them.
9) Learn: Ask for feedback from friends: “What’s one good thing I do well, one thing I need to improve?” Even Ron Huntley from the Divine Renovation Network admitted that he complained about hospitality but didn’t do anything about it. Then a friend challenged him, and he started that Sunday greeting people next to him, and then on the other side! The church was suddenly friendly.
10) Next steps: Think about where to invite people. If we’re able to love people and grow in trust and a relationship, it’s a loving thing to think about what would be good for the other person. So, we think, what would give this person life? Going for coffee, dinner, playing sports, inviting them to our house, Mass, Alpha, giving a book? […]
Our parish communities, the pastoral centre, and our schools should be the friendliest places in Vancouver. Pope Francis said, “The Church, as desired by Jesus, is the home of hospitality. And how much good we can do, if only we try to speak this language of hospitality, this language of receiving and welcoming. How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!”