This past Sunday my friend Mary and I enjoyed brunch at an Irish tea house. It had been Mary’s idea to dine at the tea house, which was a charming little place with colorful teapots lining the walls and a welcoming Celtic atmosphere. It reminded me of Mary’s own kitchen, where, no matter the day or the hour, tea and a homemade treat awaited the visitor. Mary herself was always attentive and unhurried, a significant feat for a lay Carmelite who is also a homeschooling mother with a part-time job and a home business.
So there in the cozy tea room, and with the ever-gracious Mary as my dining companion, it was no surprise that my thoughts kept returning to the subject of hospitality. The frenetic pace of life had lately made me cranky and resentful of any interruption to my already overflowing day. Needless to say, when it came to providing welcome to visitors I had gotten pretty sloppy about fulfilling my Christian duty. Thinking about my shortcomings was starting to make me feel melancholy, so I welcomed Mary’s suggestion that, after breakfast, we visit the adjoining gift shop, which specialized in Irish imports. After all, what could be a better diversion than shopping?
Mary and I strolled up and down the aisles, admiring imported pewter and crystal tableware, tweed and tartan clothing, and homespun furnishings. Among a display of wall hangings I saw a parchment printed with “The Rune of Hospitality”:
I saw a stranger yestreen;
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place,
and in the name of the Triune
he blessed myself and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones,
and the lark said in her song
often, often, often,
goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,
often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
It was as though the message had been placed in front of me by unseen hands. Sheepishly, I walked away and started to browse the crosses and crucifixes in the next aisle. Some of the styles were familiar to me, others were not. One particular cross, which appeared to be woven from straw, caught my eye. I picked it up and fingered it.
“That’s a St. Brigid’s cross,” said Mary, coming up behind me. Mary’s Irish and I’m Italian, so she thought that a bit of explanation might be in order. “It’s an Irish custom to hang St. Brigid’s crosses over the doorways of a home to protect the people who live there.”
I was charmed by the rustic look and simple lines of the cross, and I thought that, with a pattern to follow, I might be able to make a few for our home. So after saying goodbye to Mary, I went home and looked up “St. Brigid’s cross” on the web, hoping to find some how-to instruction. In doing so I came across a wealth of information about St. Brigid, the Abbess of Kildare.
I was astonished to learn that St. Brigid was known for her Christian hospitality, which is commemorated in “The Giveaway,” a delightful poem by Phyllis McGinley. The poem opens with the following verse:
Saint Bridget was
A problem child.
Although a lass
Demure and mild,
And one who strove
To please her dad,
Saint Bridget drove
The family mad.
For here’s the fault in Bridget lay:
She WOULD give everything away.
(See http://www.stbridgetofkildare.org/St.%20Bridget%20of%20Kildare%20Poem.htm for the complete text of the poem.)
I was fascinated by St. Brigid’s famed generosity, but also made somewhat uneasy. Having first stumbled upon the Rune in the gift shop, and then having selected the cross which happened to be that of the notably hospitable St. Brigid, I was starting to feel as though someone might be trying to tell me something. My suspicion was confirmed when I realized that this article would be published on February 1, which happens to be the feast of St. Brigid. Of course, I thought I’d best research the subject of hospitality, and hopefully come across something that would motivate me to become more like St. Brigid.
Here are a few Scripture verses that I found inspiring:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hbr 13:2)
“Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.” (Peter 4:9)
“Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)
“The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
An old favorite of mine, and always worth re-reading, is Leo Tolstoy’s classic short story, “Where Love Is, God Is.” It’s a moving narrative that beautifully illustrates the meaning of true Christian hospitality. The complete text of the story can be found at http://www.holytrinitynewrochelle.org/tolstoychristmas.html
“Martin the Cobbler,” a children’s version of Tolstoy’s story produced in claymation, is available at http://www.ewtnreligiouscatalogue.com
I think the apostle Timothy was talking about each of us Catholic mothers when he said that “she must be well attested for her good deeds, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, relieved the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way.” (1 Timothy 5:10) In offering hospitality, we are striving to provide, not only food, drink, and lodging, but the face of Christ to all who would enter our homes.
As for myself, I think I’ll go and put on some tea. You never know who might be stopping by.
Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe