Saint Jeanne Jugan (1792–1879)

A Conference Given to the Little Sisters of the Poor on 25 July 2017

The mystery of the divine hospitality shines on the pages of Sacred Scripture from beginning to end. Salvation history is, in effect, the revelation of the divine hospitality. The God, who “in the beginning created heaven and earth” (Gen 1:1) already reveals himself as the divine host. In French, as you know, the word “hôte” means both the giver of hospitality and the guest who receives it. I shall return anon to the fascinating etymology of the words, host and hospitality. In creating the world and all that it contains, God provided man, made “in his image and likeness’ (Gen 1:27), with a home.

The work of creation was a revelation of the divine hospitality:

By the seventh day, God had come to an end of making, and rested, on the seventh day, with his whole task accomplished. That is why God gave the seventh day his blessing, and hallowed it, because it was the day on which his divine activity of creation finished. Such origin heaven and earth had in the day of their fashioning. When heaven and earth God made, no woodland shrub had yet grown, no plant had yet sprung up; the Lord God had not yet sent rain upon the ground, that still had no human toil to cultivate it; there was only spring-water which came up from the earth, and watered its whole surface. And now, from the clay of the ground, the Lord God formed man, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and made of man a living person. God had planted a garden of delight, in which he now placed the man he had formed. (Gen 2:2–8)

And, in the end, in the book of the Apocalypse, Christ appears as the guest who knocks at the door, seeking hospitality:

Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Apoc 3:20)

He who knocks at the door, seeking hospitality, brings all things to fulfillment in one glorious final act of eternal hospitality:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. (Apoc 21:2–5)

All that falls between the first pages of Genesis and the last pages of the Apocalypse is, in some way, a playing out of the mystery of the divine hospitality. The psalmist sings of this:

He is a father to the orphan, and gives the widow redress, this God who dwells apart in holiness. This is the God who makes a home for the outcast. (Ps 67:6–7)

A few verses later, in the same psalm, we read:

In thy sweetness, O God, thou hast provided for the poor. (Ps 67:11)

In Latin, a guest is hospes, while an enemy is hostis; the two words spring from the same root. The German for hotel is gasthaus; the German gast reflects the same origin. The history of words is significant because it is a record of the development of society. The Greek word for stranger, or foreigner, or outsider can carry a negative connotation, as in xenophobia, the fear of strangers or foreigners. The same word carries a positive connotation; the Greek word for hospitable is φιλόξενος (philóxenos), which signifies «loving strangers».

We know from the story of Cain in the book of Genesis that to be an outsider, a stranger, a homeless. Recall the poignant words of Cain after his sin:

Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy face, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one, therefore, that findeth me, shall kill me. (Gen 4:124)

The natural instinct of primitive man upon encountering a stranger, an outsider, a foreigner, was to kill him. The Spanish Benedictine missionaries to Australia in the nineteenth century recounted that, among the native Australian peoples, the normal way of dealing with the appearance of stranger was to treat him as an enemy and, therefore, to kill him . . . and eat him. To take an outsider in, to welcome him as a guest and as one sent by God was a revolutionary thing. The revolution began before the dawn of Christianity among the Greeks. Hospitality counts among those precious seeds of the Gospel that are to be found even in ancient cultures not yet illumined by the light of Christ. There is a beautiful passage in story of Ulysses. Ulysses arrives unannounced at the hut of the swineherd Eumaeus.

‘Come to the hut with me, old man, and when you have quenched your hunger and thirst you can tell me where you come from, and all the troubles you’ve suffered.’ With this the faithful swineherd led the way to the hut, and ushered Ulysses in, then sat him down after making a pile of thick brushwood and spreading the large and shaggy skin of a wild goat on top, that served him for a bed. Ulysses was glad of his reception, and thanked him, saying: ‘May Zeus and the other gods give you your heart’s desire, sir, since you welcome me so warmly.’ Eumaeus, the swineherd, answered Odysseus, saying: ‘Stranger, it would be wrong for me to turn a guest away, even one in a worse state than you, since every beggar and stranger is from Zeus.’ (Homer, The Odyssey, Book XIV)

There is a paragraph in the Laws of Plato that treats of the the status of guests in Greek society:

A man should regard contracts made with strangers as specially sacred; for practically all the sins against Strangers are—as compared with those against citizens—connected more closely with an avenging deity. For the stranger, inasmuch as he is without companions or kinsfolk, is the more to be pitied by men and gods. (Plato, Laws, 729d)

The Greeks had a profound grasp of hospitality or φιλοξενία. Civilisation itself is bound up with the law of hospitality which, in turn, derives from belief in the sacredness of human life. The weakness, vulnerability, loneliness, and misfortune of any person constitute a claim on the law of hospitality. Cardinal Daniélou, writing on this very subject, says:

Any condition of society in which weaklings and outsiders are undervalued, discarded, or liquidated, is not civilised at all, whatever its degree of technological development. We must be clear about civilisation, that it is not a function of material progress, but a stage in the emergence of humanity: and hospitality is one of the oldest and most reliable tests of humanity. (Jean Daniélou, The Lord of History, Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, Longmans, 1958, p. 66–67)

Moving from the Greeks to the Semitic peoples, we see that hospitality is no less sacred among them. Even today the Bedouins of the desert welcome their guests with the exquisite hospitality practiced by their forefathers millenia ago. Once a man, even if he be an enemy, enters the tent of his host, the sacred duty of hospitality prevails over every enmity. To assault a guest or even to speak rudely to a guest is a kind of sacrilege. The story of the two angels in human form welcomed by Lot (cf. Gen 19), but shamefully treated by the men of Sodom, illustrates the gravity of abusing a guest; they were struck with blindness.

The most outstanding presentation of sacred hospitality in the Old Testament is the visitation of Abraham in the plains of Mambre:

He had a vision of the Lord, too, in the valley of Mambre, as he sat by his tent door at noon. He looked up, and saw three men standing near him; and, at the sight, he ran from his tent door to meet them, bowing down to the earth. Lord, he said, as thou lovest me, do not pass thy servant by; let me fetch a drop of water, so that you can wash your feet and rest in the shade. I will bring a mouthful of food, too, so that you can refresh yourselves before you go on further; you have not come this way for nothing. And when they had agreed to what he proposed, Abraham hastened into the tent to find Sara. Quick, he said, knead three measures of flour, and make girdle-cakes. Meanwhile, he ran to the byre, and brought in a calf, tender and well-fed, and gave it to a servant, who made haste to cook it. Then he brought out butter and milk with the calf he had cooked for them, and laid their meal ready, and stood there beside them in the shade of the trees. (Gen 18:1–8)

Consider the actions of Abraham: he ran to meet his guests; he bowed low before them; he washed their feet; he offered them a place to rest in the shade; he offered them bread to eat and milk to drink. Abraham’s expression of hospitality passed into the liturgy of the Church: the ancient rites of Baptism may be interpreted as an expression of divine hospitality. In ancient times, the feet of the new Christian were washed, his head was anointed with oil, and milk and honey were given him. Water washes and soothes the way–worn feet of the weary seeker; oil is an ointment for the head and face burnt by the sun; food restores strength; and drink refreshes the parched tongue. All of these things, that passed into the rites of the Church, and also into the rites of monastic initiation, bespeak the munificent hospitality of the divine Host. The psalmist says it: “Blessed is he whom thou hast chosen and taken to thee: he shall dwell in thy courts. We shall be filled with the good things of thy house” (Ps 64:5).

In the early ages of the Church, hospitality was numbered, together with chastity and sobriety, among the essential and distinctive Christian virtues. The disappearance of the traditions of hospitality in contemporary culture is evidence of the crisis of dehumanisation that, ultimately, leads to the acceptance and institutionalisation of abortion and euthanasia. Among the Christians of the first centuries, and well into the Middle Ages, and even until the Protestant revolt, hospitality was not merely a personal or familial virtue; it was one of the chief characteristics of the hierarchical community of the Church. Bishops were charged, not only with serving at the altar, governing, and teaching, but also with ensuring an active and attentive hospitality. This hospitality extended beyond the welcoming of strangers and pilgrims to the “hospitalisation” of the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the shamed. We read in the First Epistle to Timothy:

A faithful saying: if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. It behoveth therefore a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent, of good behaviour, chaste, given to hospitality. (1 Tim 3:1–2)

The earlier ecclesiastical and monastic traditions of hospitality are summed up in Chapter 53 of the Rule of Saint Benedict:

Let all guests that come be received like Christ Himself, for he will say: “I was a stranger and ye took Me in.” And let fitting honour be shewn to all, especially to such as are of the household of the faith, and to strangers. When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met by the Superior or the brethren, with all due charity. Let them first pray together, and thus associate with one another in peace; but the kiss of peace must not be offered until after prayer, on account of the delusions of the devil. In this salutation let all humility be shewn. At the arrival or departure of all guests, let Christ—who indeed is received in their persons —be adored in them, by bowing the head or even prostrating on the ground.

When the guests have been received, let them be led to prayer, and then let the Superior, or any one he may appoint, sit with them. The law of God is to be read before the guest for his edification; and afterwards let all kindness be shewn him. The Superior may break his fast for the sake of the guest, unless it happen to be a principal fast-day, which may not be broken. The brethren, however, shall observe their accustomed fasting. Let the Abbot pour water on the hands of the guests; and himself, as well as the whole community, wash their feet after which let them say this verse: “We have received thy mercy, O God, in the midst of thy Temple.” Let special care be taken in the reception of the poor and of strangers, because in them Christ is more truly welcomed. For the very fear men have of the rich procures them honour.

The Council of Trent addressed the duty of hospitality in 1563:

The holy Synod admonishes all who hold any ecclesiastical benefices, whether Secular or Regular, to accustom themselves, as far as their revenues will allow, to exercise with alacrity and kindliness the office of hospitality, so frequently commended by the holy Fathers; being mindful that those who cherish hospitality receive Christ in (the person of) their guests. But as regards those who hold in commendam, or by way of administration, or under any other title whatsoever, or have even united to their own churches, the places commonly called hospitals, or other pious places instituted especially for the use of pilgrims, of the infirm, the aged or the poor; or, if the parish churches should happen to be united to hospitals, or have been turned into hospitals, and have been granted to the patrons thereof to be by them administered, the Synod strictly commands, that they execute the charge and duty imposed upon them, and that they actually exercise that hospitality, which is due at their hands, out of the fruits devoted to that purpose. (Session 25, Chapter 8)

Hospitality is more than a service, a διακονία of the Church, it is also a grace: the real beneficiary is the host rather the guest. The exercise of hospitality is itself a blessing. In this life, it is given us to welcome Jesus, to look after his needs, to give him water for his feet, refreshment, food, drink, rest, and affection. But the hour will come for each of us when each man, utterly alone, will find himself an exile from this life cast upon the shores of death. There, with all one’s familiar things left behind in this passing world, the soul will know what it means to yearn for a home. Then, it will be gloriously comforting to hear the voice of Christ saying:

“Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.” (Mt 25:34–35)

And when we, in our astonishment, gaze into the brightness of the Holy Face of Jesus and ask, “When was it that we saw thee a stranger, and brought thee home, or naked, and clothed thee?” (Mt 25:38), he will reply, “Believe me, when you did it to one of the least of my brethren here, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Again, Cardinal Daniélou wrote:

If we want the perfect host to take us into his eternal home when we come to knock at the door, he has told us himself what we have to do: we must be ready to open our door to the earthly guests that come our way. That shows the value and importance of our hospitality—it is simply the criterion that Jesus will use when he comes to judge us among the living and the dead: it is the key of paradise lost. (Jean Daniélou, The Lord of History, Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, p. 71)

All throughout salvation history God is l’hôte qui reçoit et l’hôte qui est reçu, the one who offers hospitality and the one who receives it. No one can give hospitality who has not first received it. For this reason, each Little Sister must first seek the divine hospitality in prayer. I have often read the beautiful prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas before Holy Communion as a description of the divine hospitality:

Almighty and everlasting God, behold I come to the Sacrament of thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: I come as one infirm to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of everlasting brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore I implore the abundance of thy measureless bounty that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to heal my infirmity, wash my uncleanness, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty and clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, with such sorrow and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention as may be profitable to my soul’s salvation.

The prayer of the Little Sister of the Poor is essentially this: a confident waiting upon the hospitality of God; a tireless and persevering knocking at the door of his Heart; a readiness to become so little and poor that God is compelled to reach down, lift her up to himself, and admit her into the hospice that he made ready for those who await everything from him: “Things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

We read in article 53 of your Constitutions:

Hospitality, which consecrates us to the service of the Aged poor, is the fruit of the charity which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts.

I do not know who was responsible for this sentence in this text of your Constitutions. I rather suspect it was the work of Mère Marie–Antoinette de la Trinité. At the very least it reflects one of her fundamental intuitions concerning your vocation. The particular grace of Mère Marie–Antoinette de la Trinité for your Congregation was, I think, a deepening of the contemplative life of the Little Sisters, and it is this, more than anything else that I find in the first sentence of article 53. Hospitality is, it says, the fruit of the charity which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts. The reference to Romans 5:5 is clear:

And hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us. (Rom 5:5)

There is more. One must read the Pauline text in the light of what Saint John says:

Beloved, let us love one another; love springs from God; no one can love without being born of God, and knowing God. How can the man who has no love have any knowledge of God, since God is love? What has revealed the love of God, where we are concerned, is that he has sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. That love resides, not in our shewing any love for God, but in his shewing love for us first, when he sent out his Son to be an atonement for our sins. Beloved, if God has shewn such love to us, we too must love one another. (1 Jn 4:7–11)

The charity of God poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Ghost is the experience of the divine hospitality. The soul who experiences the divine hospitality knows that she is wanted, that she is welcome, that she is cherished, that she has a home that is safe, secure, and abiding. She knows that, having been welcomed by God into the very life of God, she will want for nothing. God is her all. This goes to the heart of the contemplative life of the Little Sister of the Poor. Psalm 22 is the psalm par excellence of the divine hospitality:

The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing. He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment: he hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake. For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it! And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.

It is because the Little Sister is poor, utterly poor, without resources, and totally dependent upon God alone, that God opens wide his heart to the Little Sister. The Little Sister, owning her poverty, and having no one and nothing apart from God alone, allows herself to be led into the abode of the divine hospitality. Leaving all her securities, attachments, and possessions behind her, she becomes little enough to pass through the narrow gate.

Make your way in by the narrow gate. It is a broad gate and a wide road that leads on to perdition, and those who go in that way are many indeed; but how small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life, and how few there are that find it! (Mt 7: 13–14)

This is where Saint Jean Eudes, the mystic and apostle of the Heart of Jesus, enters in. The small gate that opens onto the divine hospitality is the wound in Jesus’ side. The Little Sister, like a dove making its nest in the cleft of the rock, passes into the divinely hospitable Heart of Jesus and, there, discovers what it is to abide with the Son in sinu Patris. Saint Jean Eudes writes:

Our most kind Saviour has not given us his divine Heart only to be the object of our worship and of our adorations in the feast that we celebrate; he has given it to us also to be our refuge and our safe–house in all our needs. Let us then have recourse to it in all our affairs. Let us seek there seek our consolation in all our sorrows and afflictions. Let us there find protection against the wickednesses of the world, against our passions, and against the attacks of demons. Let us withdraw into this safe–house of goodness and of mercy so as find shelter against the perils and miseries of which this life is full. Let us run to this city of refuge in order to avoid the vengeances of divine justice that we deserve for the sins of ours that killed the author of life. Finally, let this most gentle and most generous heart be our safe–house and our refuge in all our necessities. (Saint Jean Eudes, Le coeur admirable de la très Sacrée Mère de Dieu, Fourth Meditation)

 

 

The mystery of the divine hospitality shines on the pages of Sacred Scripture from beginning to end. Salvation history is, in effect, the revelation of the divine hospitality. The God, who “in the beginning created heaven and earth” (Gen 1:1) already reveals himself as the divine host. In French, as you know, the word “hôte” means both the giver of hospitality and the guest who receives it. I shall return anon to the fascinating etymology of the words, host and hospitality. In creating the world and all that it contains, God provided man, made “in his image and likeness’ (Gen 1:27), with a home.

The work of creation was a revelation of the divine hospitality:

By the seventh day, God had come to an end of making, and rested, on the seventh day, with his whole task accomplished. That is why God gave the seventh day his blessing, and hallowed it, because it was the day on which his divine activity of creation finished. Such origin heaven and earth had in the day of their fashioning. When heaven and earth God made, no woodland shrub had yet grown, no plant had yet sprung up; the Lord God had not yet sent rain upon the ground, that still had no human toil to cultivate it; there was only spring-water which came up from the earth, and watered its whole surface. And now, from the clay of the ground, the Lord God formed man, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and made of man a living person. God had planted a garden of delight, in which he now placed the man he had formed. (Gen 2:2–8)

And, in the end, in the book of the Apocalypse, Christ appears as the guest who knocks at the door, seeking hospitality:

Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Apoc 3:20)

He who knocks at the door, seeking hospitality, brings all things to fulfillment in one glorious final act of eternal hospitality:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. (Apoc 21:2–5)

All that falls between the first pages of Genesis and the last pages of the Apocalypse is, in some way, a playing out of the mystery of the divine hospitality. The psalmist sings of this:

He is a father to the orphan, and gives the widow redress, this God who dwells apart in holiness. This is the God who makes a home for the outcast. (Ps 67:6–7)

A few verses later, in the same psalm, we read:

In thy sweetness, O God, thou hast provided for the poor. (Ps 67:11)

In Latin, a guest is hospes, while an enemy is hostis; the two words spring from the same root. The German for hotel is gasthaus; the German gast reflects the same origin. The history of words is significant because it is a record of the development of society. The Greek word for stranger, or foreigner, or outsider can carry a negative connotation, as in xenophobia, the fear of strangers or foreigners. The same word carries a positive connotation; the Greek word for hospitable is φιλόξενος (philóxenos), which signifies «loving strangers».

We know from the story of Cain in the book of Genesis that to be an outsider, a stranger, a homeless. Recall the poignant words of Cain after his sin:

Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy face, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one, therefore, that findeth me, shall kill me. (Gen 4:124)

The natural instinct of primitive man upon encountering a stranger, an outsider, a foreigner, was to kill him. The Spanish Benedictine missionaries to Australia in the nineteenth century recounted that, among the native Australian peoples, the normal way of dealing with the appearance of stranger was to treat him as an enemy and, therefore, to kill him . . . and eat him. To take an outsider in, to welcome him as a guest and as one sent by God was a revolutionary thing. The revolution began before the dawn of Christianity among the Greeks. Hospitality counts among those precious seeds of the Gospel that are to be found even in ancient cultures not yet illumined by the light of Christ. There is a beautiful passage in story of Ulysses. Ulysses arrives unannounced at the hut of the swineherd Eumaeus.

‘Come to the hut with me, old man, and when you have quenched your hunger and thirst you can tell me where you come from, and all the troubles you’ve suffered.’ With this the faithful swineherd led the way to the hut, and ushered Ulysses in, then sat him down after making a pile of thick brushwood and spreading the large and shaggy skin of a wild goat on top, that served him for a bed. Ulysses was glad of his reception, and thanked him, saying: ‘May Zeus and the other gods give you your heart’s desire, sir, since you welcome me so warmly.’ Eumaeus, the swineherd, answered Odysseus, saying: ‘Stranger, it would be wrong for me to turn a guest away, even one in a worse state than you, since every beggar and stranger is from Zeus.’ (Homer, The Odyssey, Book XIV)

There is a paragraph in the Laws of Plato that treats of the the status of guests in Greek society:

A man should regard contracts made with strangers as specially sacred; for practically all the sins against Strangers are—as compared with those against citizens—connected more closely with an avenging deity. For the stranger, inasmuch as he is without companions or kinsfolk, is the more to be pitied by men and gods. (Plato, Laws, 729d)

The Greeks had a profound grasp of hospitality or φιλοξενία. Civilisation itself is bound up with the law of hospitality which, in turn, derives from belief in the sacredness of human life. The weakness, vulnerability, loneliness, and misfortune of any person constitute a claim on the law of hospitality. Cardinal Daniélou, writing on this very subject, says:

Any condition of society in which weaklings and outsiders are undervalued, discarded, or liquidated, is not civilised at all, whatever its degree of technological development. We must be clear about civilisation, that it is not a function of material progress, but a stage in the emergence of humanity: and hospitality is one of the oldest and most reliable tests of humanity. (Jean Daniélou, The Lord of History, Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, Longmans, 1958, p. 66–67)

Moving from the Greeks to the Semitic peoples, we see that hospitality is no less sacred among them. Even today the Bedouins of the desert welcome their guests with the exquisite hospitality practiced by their forefathers millenia ago. Once a man, even if he be an enemy, enters the tent of his host, the sacred duty of hospitality prevails over every enmity. To assault a guest or even to speak rudely to a guest is a kind of sacrilege. The story of the two angels in human form welcomed by Lot (cf. Gen 19), but shamefully treated by the men of Sodom, illustrates the gravity of abusing a guest; they were struck with blindness.

The most outstanding presentation of sacred hospitality in the Old Testament is the visitation of Abraham in the plains of Mambre:

He had a vision of the Lord, too, in the valley of Mambre, as he sat by his tent door at noon. He looked up, and saw three men standing near him; and, at the sight, he ran from his tent door to meet them, bowing down to the earth. Lord, he said, as thou lovest me, do not pass thy servant by; let me fetch a drop of water, so that you can wash your feet and rest in the shade. I will bring a mouthful of food, too, so that you can refresh yourselves before you go on further; you have not come this way for nothing. And when they had agreed to what he proposed, Abraham hastened into the tent to find Sara. Quick, he said, knead three measures of flour, and make girdle-cakes. Meanwhile, he ran to the byre, and brought in a calf, tender and well-fed, and gave it to a servant, who made haste to cook it. Then he brought out butter and milk with the calf he had cooked for them, and laid their meal ready, and stood there beside them in the shade of the trees. (Gen 18:1–8)

Consider the actions of Abraham: he ran to meet his guests; he bowed low before them; he washed their feet; he offered them a place to rest in the shade; he offered them bread to eat and milk to drink. Abraham’s expression of hospitality passed into the liturgy of the Church: the ancient rites of Baptism may be interpreted as an expression of divine hospitality. In ancient times, the feet of the new Christian were washed, his head was anointed with oil, and milk and honey were given him. Water washes and soothes the way–worn feet of the weary seeker; oil is an ointment for the head and face burnt by the sun; food restores strength; and drink refreshes the parched tongue. All of these things, that passed into the rites of the Church, and also into the rites of monastic initiation, bespeak the munificent hospitality of the divine Host. The psalmist says it: “Blessed is he whom thou hast chosen and taken to thee: he shall dwell in thy courts. We shall be filled with the good things of thy house” (Ps 64:5).

In the early ages of the Church, hospitality was numbered, together with chastity and sobriety, among the essential and distinctive Christian virtues. The disappearance of the traditions of hospitality in contemporary culture is evidence of the crisis of dehumanisation that, ultimately, leads to the acceptance and institutionalisation of abortion and euthanasia.

Among the Christians of the first centuries, and well into the Middle Ages, and even until the Protestant revolt, hospitality was not merely a personal or familial virtue; it was one of the chief characteristics of the hierarchical community of the Church. Bishops were charged, not only with serving at the altar, governing, and teaching, but also with ensuring an active and attentive hospitality. This hospitality extended beyond the welcoming of strangers and pilgrims to the “hospitalisation” of the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the shamed. We read in the First Epistle to Timothy:

A faithful saying: if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
It behoveth therefore a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, prudent, of good behaviour, chaste, given to hospitality. (1 Tim 3:1–2)

The earlier ecclesiastical and monastic traditions of hospitality are summed up in Chapter 53 of the Rule of Saint Benedict:

Let all guests that come be received like Christ Himself, for he will say: “I was a stranger and ye took Me in.” And let fitting honour be shewn to all, especially to such as are of the household of the faith, and to strangers. When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met by the Superior or the brethren, with all due charity. Let them first pray together, and thus associate with one another in peace; but the kiss of peace must not be offered until after prayer, on account of the delusions of the devil. In this salutation let all humility be shewn. At the arrival or departure of all guests, let Christ—who indeed is received in their persons —be adored in them, by bowing the head or even prostrating on the ground.

When the guests have been received, let them be led to prayer, and then let the Superior, or any one he may appoint, sit with them. The law of God is to be read before the guest for his edification; and afterwards let all kindness be shewn him. The Superior may break his fast for the sake of the guest, unless it happen to be a principal fast-day, which may not be broken. The brethren, however, shall observe their accustomed fasting. Let the Abbot pour water on the hands of the guests; and himself, as well as the whole community, wash their feet after which let them say this verse: “We have received thy mercy, O God, in the midst of thy Temple.” Let special care be taken in the reception of the poor and of strangers, because in them Christ is more truly welcomed. For the very fear men have of the rich procures them honour.

The Council of Trent addressed the duty of hospitality in 1563:

The holy Synod admonishes all who hold any ecclesiastical benefices, whether Secular or Regular, to accustom themselves, as far as their revenues will allow, to exercise with alacrity and kindliness the office of hospitality, so frequently commended by the holy Fathers; being mindful that those who cherish hospitality receive Christ in (the person of) their guests. But as regards those who hold in commendam, or by way of administration, or under any other title whatsoever, or have even united to their own churches, the places commonly called hospitals, or other pious places instituted especially for the use of pilgrims, of the infirm, the aged or the poor; or, if the parish churches should happen to be united to hospitals, or have been turned into hospitals, and have been granted to the patrons thereof to be by them administered, the Synod strictly commands, that they execute the charge and duty imposed upon them, and that they actually exercise that hospitality, which is due at their hands, out of the fruits devoted to that purpose. (Session 25, Chapter 8)

Hospitality is more than a service, a διακονία of the Church, it is also a grace: the real beneficiary is the host rather the guest. The exercise of hospitality is itself a blessing. In this life, it is given us to welcome Jesus, to look after his needs, to give him water for his feet, refreshment, food, drink, rest, and affection. But the hour will come for each of us when each man, utterly alone, will find himself an exile from this life cast upon the shores of death. There, with all one’s familiar things left behind in this passing world, the soul will know what it means to yearn for a home. Then, it will be gloriously comforting to hear the voice of Christ saying:

“Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.” (Mt 25:34–35)

And when we, in our astonishment, gaze into the brightness of the Holy Face of Jesus and ask, “When was it that we saw thee a stranger, and brought thee home, or naked, and clothed thee?” (Mt 25:38), he will reply, “Believe me, when you did it to one of the least of my brethren here, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Again, Cardinal Daniélou wrote:

If we want the perfect host to take us into his eternal home when we come to knock at the door, he has told us himself what we have to do: we must be ready to open our door to the earthly guests that come our way. That shows the value and importance of our hospitality—it is simply the criterion that Jesus will use when he comes to judge us among the living and the dead: it is the key of paradise lost. (Jean Daniélou, The Lord of History, Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, p. 71)

All throughout salvation history God is l’hôte qui reçoit et l’hôte qui est reçu, the one who offers hospitality and the one who receives it. No one can give hospitality who has not first received it. For this reason, each Little Sister must first seek the divine hospitality in prayer. I have often read the beautiful prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas before Holy Communion as a description of the divine hospitality:

Almighty and everlasting God, behold I come to the Sacrament of thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: I come as one infirm to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of everlasting brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore I implore the abundance of thy measureless bounty that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to heal my infirmity, wash my uncleanness, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty and clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, with such sorrow and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention as may be profitable to my soul’s salvation.

The prayer of the Little Sister of the Poor is essentially this: a confident waiting upon the hospitality of God; a tireless and persevering knocking at the door of his Heart; a readiness to become so little and poor that God is compelled to reach down, lift her up to himself, and admit her into the hospice that he made ready for those who await everything from him: “Things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived, the welcome God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

We read in article 53 of your Constitutions:

Hospitality, which consecrates us to the service of the Aged poor, is the fruit of the charity which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts.

I do not know who was responsible for this sentence in this text of your Constitutions. I rather suspect it was the work of Mère Marie–Antoinette de la Trinité. At the very least it reflects one of her fundamental intuitions concerning your vocation. The particular grace of Mère Marie–Antoinette de la Trinité for your Congregation was, I think, a deepening of the contemplative life of the Little Sisters, and it is this, more than anything else that I find in the first sentence of article 53. Hospitality is, it says, the fruit of the charity which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts. The reference to Romans 5:5 is clear:

And hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us. (Rom 5:5)

There is more. One must read the Pauline text in the light of what Saint John says:

Beloved, let us love one another; love springs from God; no one can love without being born of God, and knowing God. How can the man who has no love have any knowledge of God, since God is love? What has revealed the love of God, where we are concerned, is that he has sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. That love resides, not in our shewing any love for God, but in his shewing love for us first, when he sent out his Son to be an atonement for our sins. Beloved, if God has shewn such love to us, we too must love one another. (1 Jn 4:7–11)

The charity of God poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit is the experience of the divine hospitality. The soul who experiences the divine hospitality knows that she is wanted, that she is welcome, that she is cherished, that she has a home that is safe, secure, and abiding. She knows that, having been welcomed by God into the very life of God, she will want for nothing. God is her all. This goes to the heart of the contemplative life of the Little Sister of the Poor. Psalm 22 is the psalm par excellence of the divine hospitality:

The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing. He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment: he hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake. For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it! And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.

It is because the Little Sister is poor, utterly poor, without resources, and totally dependent upon God alone, that God opens wide his heart to the Little Sister. The Little Sister, owning her poverty, and having no one and nothing apart from God alone, allows herself to be led into the abode of the divine hospitality. Leaving all her securities, attachments, and possessions behind her, she becomes little enough to pass through the narrow gate.

Make your way in by the narrow gate. It is a broad gate and a wide road that leads on to perdition, and those who go in that way are many indeed; but how small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life, and how few there are that find it! (Mt 7: 13–14)

This is where Saint Jean Eudes, the mystic and apostle of the Heart of Jesus, enters in. The small gate that opens onto the divine hospitality is the wound in Jesus’ side. The Little Sister, like a dove making its nest in the cleft of the rock, passes into the divinely hospitable Heart of Jesus and, there, discovers what it is to abide with the Son in sinu Patris. Saint Jean Eudes writes:

Our most kind Saviour has not given us his divine Heart only to be the object of our worship and of our adorations in the feast that we celebrate; he has given it to us also to be our refuge and our safe–house in all our needs. Let us then have recourse to it in all our affairs. Let us seek there seek our consolation in all our sorrows and afflictions. Let us there find protection against the wickednesses of the world, against our passions, and against the attacks of demons. Let us withdraw into this safe–house of goodness and of mercy so as find shelter against the perils and miseries of which this life is full. Let us run to this city of refuge in order to avoid the vengeances of divine justice that we deserve for the sins of ours that killed the author of life. Finally, let this most gentle and most generous heart be our safe–house and our refuge in all our necessities. (Saint Jean Eudes, Le coeur admirable de la très Sacrée Mère de Dieu, Fourth Meditation)