As happens so often the Mass readings the other day had a particular meaning to me.
Let brotherly love continue,
Do not neglect hospitality,
for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.
Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment,
and of the ill-treated as of yourselves,
for you also are in the body.
Let marriage be honored among all
and the marriage bed be kept undefiled,
for God will judge the immoral and adulterers.
Let your life be free from love of money
but be content with what you have,
for he has said, I will never forsake you or abandon you.
Thus we may say with confidence:
The Lord is my helper,
and I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?
These themes have all been circulating through my life both here at home and in my work the last few weeks. However I’d like to focus on hospitality at the moment.
I’ve written a few things in the past about hospitality and I even, a few years ago, recorded an entire webinar at Homeschool Connections called Party Like You’re Catholic. And the premise was that even the shyest person can be an excellent hostess. What you do not need to be a hostess or to comfortably welcome guests is a perfect home. I’m not even sure of what a perfect home would even look like. I think most people’s minds go immediately to HGTV and the shows that take a mess of a house and transform it into something beautiful. Fixer Upper is a nice example of this type of programming. As beautiful and perfect as those homes seem at the end of the episode, I can tell you it doesn’t last.
Ten years ago we underwent a major renovation here and for about a year all was lovely. Then financial set-backs, personal loss, homeschooling, jobs, people with feet and stomach bugs all have taken their toll. There are downright ugly places here now. We’ve a plan this year to fix some of it, less than we thought because a new vehicle is now urgently needed, but I’ve never stopped having people over just because my couch has duct tape on it or the walls are nicked. Part of that is because the people I hang out with are in similar circumstances, large families – small bank accounts, part is because I have dimmer switches on all the lights (don’t underestimate the importance of lighting) and part because I enjoy having people over.
I like that my kids friends are comfortable here. I like that people find refuge here. I like that people have come to make our home part of their family traditions.
We host two large parties a year. New Years Eve, this year we stopped counting at 86 people, and a summer barbeque, usually around July fourth (about 100) people. In each case I ask people to contribute a dish or beverage (most people generously bring both). I’ve been doing it for about eighteen years now and it’s still a lot of work but I have a system in place that makes set-up and clean-up pretty stress free.
I also host our family prayer group once a month or so (40ish people) for dinner and there is always, always, someone spending the weekend.
This does not stress me out. Too much.
Not everyone is comfortable with this and that’s fine. Huge parties are not everyone’ s gift but it is wise to get comfortable with some aspect of hosting, since there are always angels to be entertained.
The Biblical imperative to hospitality goes back to Genesis, Abraham providing a meal for three strangers whom he later discovered were God’s messengers. In the second book of Kings Elijah is so grateful for the hospitality provided him he, in a pre-figuration of the Eucharist, blesses his host’s grain so that it may never run out.
The examples are many, right up to Our Lord who spent much of his ministry at table, teaching people where they were most comfortable, all of which was leading to His ultimate gift of love, His own body and blood.
“For Christians, feeding guest isn’t about proving our own generosity; it’s a participation in God’s own generosity. He gives us good gifts and we thank Him for that by sharing good gifts with others.” – Emily Stimpson Chapman, The Catholic Table
Knowing we should be doing something, and getting it done are two different things. How do you practice hospitality if you’ve an imperfect house full of children, a pet and mismatched forks.
First off, no one cares if your cutlery matches. No one much cares about your cutlery at all unless it’s sterling silver family heirlooms which you recently polished. Then you should make sure to point it out because that takes a whole lot of work. For a family type gathering whatever you have is fine, fill in gaps with the thrift store or ask a friend to bring a few extra spoons (I’ve done this).
**Note – I once had about 100 people here for a summer party and I ran out of plastic forks and my children willy-nilly handed out my flatware all over the yard before I realized any of this was happening. People still had no forks. I could have freaked out but I decided to just be practical. I pulled out an aluminum pan and walked around picking up forks people finished with. I washed them and returned them to the buffet. This happened a few more times during the course of the day, friends pitched in, and I don’t think the hostess-fail diminished my reputation too badly. People still come back. I did have to go buy a new set of kitchen forks because I never did recover most of the ones from outside.
I digress. The easiest way to entertain, if you are new to this or nervous about it, is to call and invite a family or two to join you after Mass at your home. If you attend a morning Mass this is very easy. I know, you think I’m nuts. You have children to get out the door and haveyouseenmyhousewhenIamtryingtogetthesekidsreadyformass?
I know! I’ve done that dance with eight kids myself. What makes it easy is that you can entirely prepare the night before. It won’t take long to prep and it will be very little work in the morning. Don’t forget to have the kids help. Kids love company and they will be willing helpers to prepare for a visit from cousins or friends.
- On Saturday make a sausage casserole, bake some muffins, fry up some sausages – whatever says Sunday breakfast to you. If you are too busy go to the market and buy some rolls and salads, fruit and some fancy pastries.
- After the kids go to bed do a quick tidy of your public spaces, put away the strays and do a quick wipe of surfaces. If you have anyone over the age of eight they can do this competently before they go to bed.
- Pull out the plates (paper is fine), cutlery, and napkins and put them on the table. Do not set the table. Your kids will just wreck it in the morning. When the guests arrive you can serve buffet or family style. Don’t worry about place settings. Chances are the kids will just cruise around and pick anyway.
- The next morning about five minutes before you leave, put the oven on warm and put the food that is meant to be warm in there.
- Put the plates, utensils and napkins where you plan to serve. Caddies or mason jars are a cute touch but not necessary.
- When everyone is ready for Mass send them to the car and quickly use a disinfectant wipe on the bathroom. Just wipe everything you can in one minute. You’ll be surprised how much you can do while the kids are getting buckled in the car. Put out a fresh towel.
- Go to Mass.
- After Mass, if your friends ask if they can bring anything assign them a beverage or dessert. This will give you a few extra minutes to prepare.
- When you get home check the oven, put out drinks and ice. Start the coffee.
- Go freshen your lip gloss, brush your hair and take a deep breath. If you are serving brunch cocktails pour one for yourself.
- Enjoy your guests.
I’ve also done this for evening Mass substituting a crock pot of chili, corn bread and salad. All prepped ahead of time. It’s casual, relatively easy and generally disaster proof.
Another benefit of entertaining is that your children learn guest manners. It’s true of most homes that we are more relaxed with our family at meal time than we are outside of the house. It’s important to model proper hosting manners for your children. Have them greet your guests properly and take their coats, have them introduce themselves to the new faces and welcome the kids and invite them to play. After food is served it might be nice treat, if the weather isn’t ideal, to put on a nice movie for the kids to watch so the adults can chat.
That’s it. The key is to keep it easy, assign a task to anyone who offers to help or bring something and enjoy yourself. As long as you are having fun everyone will have fun and they may offer to host you next time! One thing is certain is that no one will care about your dust bunnies.
What is your favorite way to offer hospitality?
Here are some links you might find helpful.
I quoted Emily Stimpson Chapman’s book above and I highly recommend it. Emily writes about food, hospitality, life, love and faith. It’s a must read for all who want to live a Catholic hospitable life. The Catholic Table (aff link)
Emily’s blog of the same name.
Catholic Cuisine – Your go-to for liturgical food and celebration ideas. I wrote some wine and liquor posts there many years ago. It was a lot of fun!
An article I wrote for Seton Magazine regarding hospitality. It’s one of my better ones ;).
Life Giving Table by Sally Clarkson – Mrs. Clarkson isn’t really writing about hospitality in the way I’ve addressed it but rather how being at table with your family is culture changing. It’s an excellent book whose premise can extend to larger gatherings.
A new to me blog Dime a Dozen Mom. It’s not specific to hospitality but I really like Jane’s style. Check her out.
Last spring, we began hosting a weekly gathering each Sunday afternoon. It’s an open invitation to about eight families, but we usually get between two and six that come.
It’s themed. Last year we picked different countries; this year we’re going through the 50 states. Everybody brings a dish to share. In the summer the kids swim. We’re in Florida, so even in winter they’re mostly playing outside.
It was a big step for us to open our home this way, but it’s been great. It is hard for our families to get together for specific events because of busy schedules, but this is an open invite so the pressure is low.
Mary Ellen Barrett says
I love this idea! How creative. It’s the perfect way to entertain when you have young ones and the theme keeps it fresh. Awesome.
I love these practical ideas. Honestly, your advice means so much more because you are actually doing this with a big family and in a normal house. I never invite anyone over after Mass but will set a goal to begin as soon as Religious Ed is over for the year. Thank you!!!
Mary Ellen Barrett says
You’re very welcome! That means a lot coming from one of my favorite bloggers ever. I’d love for you to pick it up again.