The Visitation and True Catholic Hospitality

Katherine Prezioso

The Visitation and True Catholic Hospitality

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40). 


When the topic of hospitality is brought up in Catholic circles, this passage describing the Visitation of Mary to St. Elizabeth is often pointed to as a prime example of radical hospitality. While I have often enjoyed meditating on the lengths Our Lady went to for her cousin, I have struggled to apply this to my own life. I do not have a pregnant cousin who needs my help, nor could I leave my young children for months on end to help others. I enjoy opening my home to others, but since that doesn’t seem to imitate Mary as closely, I have been unsure of where the hospitality shown in the Visitation fits into my life.

However, a quick search in the Catechism (that I had never taken the time to do) explains why the Visitation is so central to the idea of hospitality: “’There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.’ (Jn 1:6) John was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb’ (Lk 1:15, 41) by Christ Himself, whom the Virgin Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to His people (Lk 1:68)” (CCC 717, emphasis added). The Catechism places a footnote after this last sentence that refers to a portion of Zechariah’s Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them” (Lk 1:68). Here, Zechariah is interpreting Mary’s visit to his wife as a favorable visit from the Lord. Clearly, Mary’s Visitation was understood as something deeper than a cousin helping a cousin. 

The Catechism guides us to the idea that hospitality should be a way in which we bring the presence and love of God to others. It doesn’t have to have specific parameters or look a certain way. In fact, it will look different for each of us, in different seasons of life. This line from the Rule of St. Benedict is practically useful: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Mt 25:35)” (Rule of St. Benedict 53:1-2). Who the guests are will differ for each of us, but we can all strive to respond to each one as if they are Christ. This has less to do with how our homes or ourselves look and more with our interior dispositions. Do we strive to show the Face of God to those we encounter? Do we show up for others even when it is inconvenient? This will be profoundly varied, ranging from the prolife rescuers who risk jail time to lovingly counsel abortion-minded women inside abortion clinics to patiently and lovingly giving our attention to the 187455th toddler interruption of the day to opening our less than perfect dinner time to an elderly neighbor who lost his wife. In many cases, we do not need to create events in which we can be hospitable (although these can be wonderful too!); instead, the opportunity will find us. We simply need to walk across the street, acknowledge the people we live with, or greet the person we sit next to at Mass. There are so many souls who need us to be the Face of God to them in our lives already. 

Women are particularly suited to these tasks (although men are hospitable in many ways as well!). A woman’s soul is fashioned in such a way as to make a home for others. We have a gift for opening our hearts to others, allowing them to be themselves in our presence, fully seen and heard. St. Edith Stein said that “The woman's soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” We can provide loving shelter for others in our lives as they confide in us, seeking to give them the love that will nourish them to put out roots and bloom in their lives. This need not take overly complicated forms, but instead must become a daily and habitual action: “Welcoming our brothers and sisters with care and willingness must not be limited to extraordinary occasions but must become for all believers a habit of service in their daily lives” (Pope St. John Paul II).

Not only is hospitality, in whatever form it takes in your life, encouraged by Our Lady and the Church, it is vital for our spiritual life and attaining our final reward. Christ Himself tells us that we must be hospitable to others as He described the corporal works of mercy carried out by the righteous: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:34-36). Pope St. John Paul II echoed this sentiment: “Welcoming Christ in our needy brothers and sisters is the condition of being able to meet him face to face and perfectly at the end of our earthly journey.” 

Let us close by reflecting on this final quote from Pope St. John Paul II as we fight against a superficial and empty hospitality: “Only those who have opened their hearts to Christ can offer a hospitality that is never formal or superficial but identified by ‘gentleness’ and ‘reverence’ (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).”