UCAN Spirituality Catholic Church News

The Hospitality of God

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Andrew Hamilton

The nature of God can well be described as hospitality. The metaphor picks up the energy, mutuality and unity in diversity which any Christian understanding of God as Trinity must track. It also suggests how creation may be both a free and a natural expression of God’s nature, and that the world, and particularly human creation, images the hospitality of God.

The relationship between human destiny, human moral life, human sin and restoration is also illuminated by the metaphor of hospitality. The nature of hospitality is to respect the otherness of both guest and host. It leads naturally to acceptance of God’s invitation to enjoy God’s life. Sin, as the refusal of hospitality, both distorts personal and structural relationships within the world, and makes it impossible to accept God’s invitation.

Within this theology, it is natural to describe Jesus Christ as hospitality incarnate…. In him, the Son of God journeys to a far country to seek and offer hospitality. In Jesus Christ God’s invitation is definitively offered to and accepted by humanity.

In Jesus Christ, too, hospitality is expressed in the political and personal relationships of a human life. The Lucan account of the woman at Simon’s house is emblematic. Here the woman who welcomes Jesus as guest, against all the practices which govern political and religious life, finds God as host. As will be the case definitively in the resurrection, the hospitality of God proves victorious over the logic and power of the structures of inhospitality.

The Church is the sacrament of hospitality firstly in the sense that it is the community of disciples who have found a hospitable God in Jesus Christ, and whom the Spirit leads to go out to find hospitality for the Word of God among the poor. Secondly, the Church represents the world transformed by hospitality; she proclaims the transformed world, awaits it, and although in maimed ways, struggles to represent it in her own life.

Finally, the Church is gathered in the Eucharist, the sacrament of God’s hospitality. There Christ is welcomed by the disciples who are invited to share God’s hospitality. Furthermore, the cost of hospitality is enacted in the memorial of the Last Supper and passion, in which the disciples of Christ commit themselves to follow the hospitality of Jesus….

When understood in this way, ministry within the Church is clearly more extensive than ordained ministry. But ordained ministry is also a ministry of hospitality. It is about enabling hospitality to the Word of God and shaping a hospitable Christian life within and between communities. This is most evident in the episcopal role, and particularly in the title Father of the Poor given to and earned by bishops in the fourth and fifth centuries….

Within the theology of hospitality … it is more natural to see Christ, and therefore the Church and her ministers, as guests. In general, Christ’s work is more naturally described as at-one-ment or as reconciliation by the one who comes as a guest. Of this the heavenly banquet, at which we enjoy God’s hospitality, is a natural symbol. Meals in the Gospels at which those who, like the sinful woman, offer hospitality to Jesus and in the process discover God’s hospitality, are natural images of the movement of hospitality that is crystallized in the Eucharist.