Thursday, 16 June 2011

Whit Thursday: On hospitality

Today's patristic readings for the Octave of Pentecost, relating to Luke 9:1-6, are from St Ambrose:

"We learn from Christ's precepts what manner of men they ought to be who preach the kingdom of God as the Gospel says: Take nothing for your journey; neither staves nor scrip, neither bread, neither money. Thus let the apostolic preacher (seeking no earthly help, and relying on faith) deem himself able to do all the more, as he needs all the less. And they who wish to do so, may interpret this passage as referring to the proper interior intention, to wit: A man may be said to have laid aside the encumbrances of the body, not only by abdicating power, and despising riches, but also by truly abandoning the allurements of the flesh. And first of all, Christ gave the Apostles a general precept concerning their manner: they were to be bringers of peace; not gadding about, but observing both the laws and ties of hospitality which were offered to them. To gad about from house to house, and to abuse the rights of hospitality, are things alien to a preacher of the kingdom of heaven.

But as the kindness of hospitality is to be met with courtesy, so also is it said : Whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet, for a testimony against them. Hereby is taught that hospitality meets with a good reward; for if, to those who receive us, we bring peace, then also it is true to say that, wheresoever there enter the feet of them that bear the Gospel, there the clouds of sinful vanities do flee away. And so it is not without reason that Matthew says: Into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till you go from there: thus avoiding any possible need of going from house to house. But no such caution is enjoined on him that gives hospitality, lest his hospitality should be lessened by showing partiality.

This passage, taken according to its plain meaning, instructs us in the sacred duties of hospitality, and charms us with a hint of heavenly mystery. When the house is chosen, it is asked if the master thereof be worthy. Perchance this is a figure of the Church, and of her Master, Christ. What worthier house can the apostolic preacher enter than holy Church? Or what host is more to be preferred before all others than Christ, who was wont to wash the feet of his guests? Yea, he suffers not that any whom he receives into his house should dwell there with unclean feet. However defiled they be from their former wanderings, he does vouchsafe to cleanse them for the rest of their journey. From his house ought no man ever to go forth, nor change his roof for any other shelter, for unto him it is well said: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life: and these words of yours we do believe.

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