“We can only be human together” A Reflection on Providing Hospitality

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #13 in April 2013]

I live at the White Rose Catholic Worker, an intentional community that focuses on faith, resistance, sustainability, and hospitality. There are over 150 Catholic Worker houses of hospitality in the US. Our movement was founded in the 1930s by Peter Maurin  and Dorothy Day  as an experiment in practicing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and more specifically performing the works of mercy: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and the sick, and house those without shelter. Over the White Rose’s three years of existence, our home has housed many people who just needed a safe and free space to stay while they dealt with the chaos of joblessness, illness, and homelessness.

However, this past year we struggled with our landlord because we house friends who are not on the lease. After briefly lamenting the two empty beds and the growing list of hospitality needs, we got creative and decided to invite others into our work. We announced a Hospitality Network  and we wrote an appeal of sorts for something other than a donation or a prayer. We have connected a dozen people in need to new homes of hospitality. So today, I want to invite each person to take a moment, take three deep (Thich Nhat Hanh ) breaths, and open yourself to the possibility of taking in the stranger.

Many of our faith traditions profess this notion of “loving the stranger.” The words are pretty straightforward, but in practice they may seem daunting. There are already many social service organizations that do this. So, then, why me? Why should I place myself in the lives of those on the margins? Agencies may effectively provide a safe and comfortable space, making someone’s life a little easier. But sharing space with those in need is also about making a commitment to personally experiencing and addressing the injustices of our world. Did you know that for each person without a home in the US, there are 24 vacant dwellings?

Hospitality helps us begin to envision a new way of life. It is not just solidarity; it is sharing, mutuality, love, and a confrontation with our own insecurities about the world. Letty Russell  writes in Just Hospitality  (2009) that “Out of the experience of such partnerships come imperatives for all—imperatives to care for one another and, in doing so, to resist the forces of diminishment and death. It is possible to share journeys both marvelous and terrible, from which none of us can turn back.” Hospitality becomes community building. We are inviting strangers into our lives so that we can build relationships with them.

One of our guests stayed with us for a whole summer, while he worked to save up for his own place. We made bread together, savored French and vegan cuisine, and worked in the garden. He also taught us how to best support guests recovering from addiction and homelessness. Others have been more difficult, needing constant attention or resenting our overbearing desires to help them. When they have moved on, we are left with funny stories and sharpened skills in patience and love.

Desmond Tutu  says “we can only be human together,” implying that this has to be a collaborative effort between the privileged and the voiceless. Mutuality is crucial. When we decide to host someone, we expect to give them our time, our things, and our space, but it is important to remember that we also receive a gift from our stranger: a story, a skill, humility, a new perspective of what is important to us. In the end, we love the stranger because we have been the stranger and we have been offered abundance in our scarcity.

So here is my appeal:

• Join our Hospitality Network! Contact us at whiterosecw@gmail.com or call us at 402-203-2173.

• Call or email us with your questions, suggestions, or concerns about hospitality. We will gladly have a conversation with anyone.


White Rose CW just moved to Little Village! Our new address is 2621 W. 24th Place. Come visit on any Saturday from 9 to 5 to talk more about how you can do hospitality and get involved in this work.  ◊

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