The Importance of Hospitality in Missionary Discipleship

  
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Edmundo Reyes is the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit. He’s one of the brilliant masterminds there of creating a movement that is fulfilling Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s pastoral letter on missionary discipleship called “Unleash the Gospel.”

In this issue of the Missionary Discipleship newsletter, I interviewed Edmundo about a recent trip he took to the Disney Institute to learn more about hospitality from an organization that is known for making hospitality a top priority.

I think it’s important to share that we, as missionary disciples, can learn from everything and everyone around us, including those who work in the secular business world. Edmundo’s purpose was to do just that: to learn from an organization that has hospitality at the core of its DNA.

How does Disney do it?

He said Disney does very well in terms of “translating values into behaviors” The Disney Experience at any of their theme parks is consistent because, he said, everyone knows how to behave according to those values. He said parishes often tell people what they expect from staff — say, in terms of hospitality — but that behavior is not often modeled/trained well so that staff knows how to behave.

This understanding also extends beyond parish staffs, meaning, even if you don’t work for the Church, being hospitable is a value/virtue that we, as Christians, need to exhibit and taught/modeled to others as part of our behaviors, especially as missionary disciples, because, at its core, hospitality is all about loving the other person in the most welcoming way possible.

One of Edmundo’s goals at the Archdiocese of Detroit is to help pastors with training that is similar to what the Disney Institute offers to its employees in terms of teaching them well about the values, and behaviors, about hospitality, but, obviously, through the prism of the Catholic faith and values.

Please listen to the audio interview with Edmundo above. It’s not that long, and he talks about the importance of being intentional in your culture and your actions.

He refers to “show” and “courtesy,” which are references to several standards that Disney created to operationalize the manner in which their Cast Members (how their employees are called) should create happiness. To understand Disney better, here are all the standards they’ve set, followed by the behaviors that are expected, all of which contribute to an atmosphere at the theme parks of radical hospitality. How can you translate these Disney values to your parishes or your actions as a welcoming missionary disciple?

 Safety

  • I practice safe behaviors in everything I do

  • I take action to always put safety first.

  • I speak up to ensure the safety of others.

Courtesy

  • I project a positive image and energy

  • I am courteous and respectful to guests of all ages

  • I go above and beyond to exceed guest expectations

Show

  • I stay in character and perform my role in the show

  • I ensure my area is show-ready at all times

Efficiency

  • I perform my role efficiently so that guests get the most out of their visit

  • I use my time and resources wisely

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Hospitality is a hallmark of discipleship. Jesus considered it so important that He made hospitality a measure by which we will be judged: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). So, why is hospitality so important for Christians? What does welcoming entail?

Hospitality is grounded in our conviction that all human beings, regardless of status, state of life or cultural background, have worth and dignity. This conviction manifests itself in respecting and accepting not just those who are comfortably similar to us but also those, especially those, who are unfamiliar or seem strange or foreign. Hospitality and welcoming demands a level of openness that some might find scary.

— From Our Sunday Visitor

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Living the ‘virtue of hospitality’ involves two modes:  1) to reverence Christ in the other; and 2) to accompany them so they may receive Christ more deeply into their lives, especially through the sacraments.  The teaching from Jesus demonstrates that clearly and it is radiated through the lives of the saints.

To reverence Christ in the other. Living the virtue of hospitality is a dynamic disposition whereby we look for and encounter Christ in the other. We might say, using the image of the door that this first mode of living the virtue of hospitality is the door opening inward to receive others, to receive Christ. When we hear the word ‘hospitality,’ our initial thoughts might bring to mind the notion of assisting strangers because we pity them, or think ourselves more capable, endowed, or fortunate.  Authentic hospitality is much more than ‘giving’ to the other the material benefits that we ourselves may enjoy. There are whole industries and programs in the secular world that speak about the ‘art of hospitality’ and providing the other person what they desire.  Showing the person a good time. To be hospitable can, at times, be reduced to providing the material and physical pleasures to another person to satisfy temporary desires.

On the contrary, in his commentary on this passage, St. Thomas Aquinas quotes the letter to the Hebrews (13: 2) which states:  “Hospitality do not forget: for by this some have entertained angels.” In the context of authentic hospitality, then, the other person is not a ‘guest’ as commonly understood.  The virtue of hospitality is different. As we live the virtue of hospitality, those with whom we work, those we seek to serve, or those we encounter casually are no longer guests or strangers, but those in whom Christ abides.

One of the great saints of our modern times, St. Teresa of Calcutta commented:  “When Christ said ‘I was hungry and you fed me,’ He didn’t mean only the hunger for bread and for food. He also meant the hunger to be loved and received. Every human being in that case resembles Christ, and that’s the real hunger.”  …. [People] are always to be treated with the utmost dignity because Christ abides in them, and when we receive … one of these, we do so because Christ abides in them.

Therefore, hospitality is truly seeing and hearing the voice of Christ in and through the other. It’s about providing the space to truly welcome Christ and listen to Christ in the other person. It is about the repeated practice of looking for (going outside of ourselves) and reverencing Christ in each and every person I meet that forms the foundation of holiness for our relationships and interactions with one another. From the very notion of Aquinas himself, this habit is a disposition of the mind from which we freely and joyfully choose to encounter Christ in the other.

— From an address on hospitality by the Rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Msgr. Todd Lajiness

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Hospitality implies attentiveness to the other and to the needs of others, even anticipating their needs. As [Richard] Gula explains, “The key to hospitality is ‘paying attention,’ and the high price of attentiveness is what makes the command of loving so difficult to fulfill. Paying attention costs us time and deliberate, conscious effort. When we pay attention, we divest ourselves of self-preoccupation. To be hospitable we have to get out of ourselves and become interested in the other.”

Often our lack of hospitality is simply the failure to notice and acknowledge others and their needs—the needs of the larger world and the needs of those closest to us. Jesus models that attentiveness. He noticed the sick, the excluded, the hungry, those that others passed by. God continues to be attentive. As we contemplate the ministry of Jesus, we are called to heighten our awareness of others so that we can carry on the ministry of Jesus.  

— From “Putting on the Heart of Christ” by Father Gerald Fagin, S.J.

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Like the early Christians, we must also rely on and offer hospitality as a means of sharing the Gospel. By creating a welcoming home, we make the Christian life attractive. With further insight, John Paul II writes, “Welcoming our brothers and sisters with care and willingness must not be limited to extraordinary occasions but must become for all believers a habit of service in their daily lives” (Address to volunteer workers, March 8, 1997)

— From a Catholic Answers’ blog posting by Emily J. Cook called “Hospitality Is Biblical – and It’s Not Optional”

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Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. . . Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

— Father Henri Nouwen

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It is not enough simply to change our minds about things or to come to feel compassion for something that had never touched us before or even to change our own way of life to let in the concerns of others. Real hospitality lies in bending some efforts to change things, to make a haven for the helpless, to be a voice for the voiceless. Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and minds and our hearts and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.

— From a blog posting called “Hospitality — The Rule of St. Benedict”