Catholic Values Columnist
When we think of generosity, we tend to conjure up images of almsgiving: giving money to the poor or serving the homeless, or paying for something for a friend. These are important
economical gestures; the basics are certainly needed for survival.
I, at least, tend not to think about the facet of generosity that is hospitality: giving not just of your goods, but inviting a person, even briefly, into your life, sharing your home and your time and your services all at once purely for the good of the other.
It seems to me that in America, we struggle to put hospitality in the place it deserves. It exists strongly in some pockets; maybe the South, and certainly in Steubenville, where I’ve been given radical and unquestioning hospitality more than once — thank you a thousand times, Mr. and Mrs. Homol. America is, however, built by a defiant sense of self-sufficiency; it is righteous to stand proudly alone.
Perhaps because in the Austria semester you are constantly confronted with overt cultural differences, it makes hospitality more glaringly obvious; for the first time I find myself really reflecting on the hospitality my friends and I have been shown here.
At an Austrian farmer’s market, we were showered with free food by two kind ladies; when we offered repayment, or at least a beer, they refused — “no, from the heart.”
In Ireland on our 10-day break, my friends and I have been well taken care of by an old cabby. He picked us up, anxious and exhausted in an unfamiliar town, and not only did he get us where we needed to go, but of his own volition he provided us with three days of tours through the castles and countryside. We went everywhere from the Cliffs of Moher to an ancient ruin hidden in the trees on the side of the road that only someone who knew the land so well could have found.
What’s more, he made us reservations for everything from food to horseback riding, providing everything at the cheapest rate he could in one of his most expensive vehicles. All we could muster in repayment were a few Guinnesses on us. All you can do in response is sit there in bewildered gratitude as all your problems are whisked away by the generosity of a stranger who owes you absolutely nothing.
It takes humility to receive a gift, and hospitality is indeed a gift. As a gift, it should be offered, never demanded; often it is entirely unlooked for on the part of the recipients. They simply needed help, and help swept in for them. There is an intentionality to the giving that expresses more than mere emotional empathy.
Andrew Klavan, author and podcaster, describes what he calls the “Great Speculation,” a simple idea foundational to Western civilization: though we can never understand them entirely, other people may have minds and hearts as vivid and complicated as our own, and therefore have the same millions of needs and desires.
Hospitality is a conscious recognition of and response to this fact, and thus offers more than simply the basic needs. Hospitality is an invitation to enter, to some extent, the home and the life of someone who needs a home, who desires to share life with others.
The Great Speculation means that if any human being needs the warmth of home and friendship, whether we know them, like them, understand them or not, they are worthy of our love.
This is the importance and the beauty of hospitality. Whether we are giving or receiving it, we ought to embrace it with joy and humility. To enter into such a bond with people is one of the greatest expressions of Christian love.