Advent Reflection: Hospitality
As Saint Louis University embraces the holiday season, students, faculty and staff members were asked to share reflections on the season's big ideas - themes that warm their hearts, ideas that lead them to seek greater truths and moments that inspire them to nurture the light of good in themselves and others through winter's darkest days.
Mary O'Connell is a senior majoring in environmental science and theology in the College of Arts and Sciences, who has studied abroad in Argentina and most recently led high school students from across the Archdiocese of St. Louis on a Solidarity Pilgrimage to El Paso. As part of this series, O'Connell reflected on her memories of her time abroad and the ways her experiences illustrate the meaning of hospitality.
Preparing and Learning to Welcome Others
“Wash all four of the legs, the seat, the back… next chair, legs, seat, back…legs, seat, back,” for chair after chair. I was cleaning upwards of fifty chairs in preparation for an odd collection of Jesuits, soccer players, neighbors and university students to fill our house when I realized the first step of hospitality is preparation.
Preparing a spot for each of our guests is like preparing a spot for Christ. As each chair got its brush down with a wet rag, it also received a silent prayer spoken under my breath, "Bless the person that will sit here – help me see, recognize and cherish the Christ-light within them."
The prayer reminds me of the moments that taught me the steps to embracing true hospitality, the tasks necessary to welcoming others into my home, my life and my faith. It's crazy that the most I learned about hospitality was when I lived the furthest from home.
During my semester abroad in Argentina, my housemates and I hosted a Thanksgiving meal for our friends we’d made that semester. I recognized a pattern to hospitality that our neighbors and friends had demonstrated to us throughout our time there. This meal was our chance to practice that skill.
It all begins with preparation — both cleaning of the house as well as spiritual cleansing. We are to open our hearts and consider our guests who are about to fill the space. Even in our mundane Martha tasks, such as washing chairs, we are to maintain a Mary disposition of preparation and welcoming grace.
Acknowledging Love in Greeting Every Stranger as a Friend
Then comes the sacred acknowledgement. To be called by name, to be loved.
In Argentina, the tradition is to greet guests with a simple beso, or shared kiss on the cheek. As the guests arrived that evening, we greeted each and every person with a beso, not only because it is the typical cultural expectation, but because it is a fundamental acknowledgement of the Christ-light in each and every one of us. It is saying, "Yes!"
And especially in this Advent season, greeting the Christ-light in our neighbors and friends is like saying, "Yes!" to Jesus when he comes.
Compartir: Sharing Abundance to Share Ourselves
Earlier in the semester, a few of my friends and I went to Argentine friend’s house to share a relaxing afternoon of chit chat together. We arrived and she greeted us spreading pastelitos criollos, simple layered biscuits, on the table with fixings for maté, a communal argentine tea, declaring “¡compartir!” meaning “Let’s share!”
This was our first exposure to the compartir — sharing — culture that was ingrained in the atmosphere there. As we prepared for the communal meal months later, the echo of compartir still rang through my heart as I realized hospitality is a radical call to share in our abundance as friends and neighbors.
We are to open our hearts and consider our guests who are about to fill the space. Even in our mundane Martha tasks, such as washing chairs, we are to maintain a Mary disposition of preparation and welcoming grace."Mary O'Connell, senior
After returning to SLU and learning these valuable lessons from our friends in Argentina, I practiced consciously preparing my heart for others, acknowledging each person I encountered, and sharing generously with friends and neighbors.
So, as we prepare for Jesus, this advent season, I invite you to create a hospitable heart, one that acknowledges the light of Jesus, and shares all you are with Him.
And as we go about the Christmas To-Do list, may we always act with a hospitable heart recognizing the Christ-light in those we encounter.
Newslink's Advent Reflection series will continue through the holiday season.