This Sunday’s first reading about Wisdom from the Book of Proverbs (9:1-6) opens our ears and minds to the meaning of Sunday’s Gospel.
We know that not everybody is good at offering hospitality, and that it has to be learned. Hospitality is a domestic wisdom that cannot be measured by IQ tests. It is taught by families, usually mothers. But hospitality is also often practiced well by Benedictine monks. Where is the wisdom of hospitality best shown?
Wise hospitality can best be practiced in a house. And our first reading says that “Wisdom has built her house.” We know that Wisdom is a symbol of God. And God’s house is our church, where the eucharistic table is spread, bearing the choicest food and mixed wine.
We hear that the house has seven columns. In the Bible, seven represents completeness, divinity and holiness. Wise hospitality leaves nothing lacking, just as our church leaves nothing lacking in the care for our souls.
Wise hospitality is generous
The reading says that Holy Wisdom has “sent out her maidens.” A maiden is a weak and humble figure in the Old Testament. In a sense, we are all mere maidens, called to extend the Lord’s invitation to the supper of the Lamb.
Wise hospitality is generous and invites many to share in the meal that is prepared. And, the invitations are offered without giving the invitee the feeling that you are doing him a favor, but that you would be favored by the guest’s presence.
The maidens call the simple and the “one who lacks understanding” to the feast. This is because a real feast invites us to put away pretensions, to relax and enjoy the gift of hospitality. The host does not impose a dress code, but the guest knows how to dress for the occasion. The host offers the meal without price and is glad to have the guests linger.
Accepting Jesus’ invitation
I was delighted to meet a family last year from the St. Vincent de Paul campus of the Cathedral of St. Paul who offered me a ride to Mass with them each Sunday that I was available. I noted that they had many children to tend to, and that I lived some distance from their church. They replied that their Sunday was entirely given to their church and family, so they had time. Sunday was also the only day that parents were free from work.
We have many worthwhile pursuits that we can undertake only on Sundays. But does Jesus’ invitation, “Forsake foolishness that you may live,” apply to us?
We learn hospitality by first letting the church teach it to us in the Mass. It requires us to slow down and learn to appreciate what is inherently most valuable — God hosting us.
If we allow him to host us, we learn the art of wise hospitality. We can then know how to offer and receive others’ hospitality well.
Deacon Andrew Jaspers is in formation for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His home parish is the Cathedral of St. Paul; his teaching parish is Epiphany in Coon Rapids.
Sunday, Aug. 19, 20th Sunday in ordinary time
- Proverbs 9:1-6
- Ephesians 5:15-20
- John 6:51-58
Recall a time when you received “wise hospitality” or when you offered it to another person. What effect did it have? How important is hospitality to the church’s evangelizing mission?