Let each one inquire in the Church for the poor and the stranger; and when he meets them, let him invite them to his house; for with the poor man Christ will enter it. He who entertains a stranger, entertains Christ. The glory of a Christian is to receive strangers and pilgrims, and to have at his table the poor, the widow and the orphan. ST. EPHBEM, De Amore Pauperum.
THE Christian religion, besides inheriting all the divine legislation of preceding ages, and consecrating all that was ennobling and purifying in public and private life, perfected every virtue practiced by Jew and Gentile by assigning to each a supernatural motive and by assisting the weakness of nature with most powerful graces.
Doubtless in the most ancient times, men, wherever they chanced to live, were not altogether unmindful of their being sprung from the same parents, and the first impulse of nature urged them to open their house to the stranger as to a brother, one who was their own flesh and blood.
In the patriarchal ages we find a higher motive superadded to that of common brotherhood: that to receive the stranger, was to discharge a debt due to God Himself; that to shut him out was, possibly, to close one’s door against the Deity in disguise.
Abraham and his nephew Lot gave hospitality to angels disguised in human form, and were rewarded, the former by the birth of Isaac, the latter by being saved with his family from the terrible destruction in which Sodom and the neighboring cities were involved.
Not dissimilar was the reward divinely granted to the poor pagan widow of Sarephta who harbored and fed the famished and fugitive prophet Elias, and to the wealthy lady of Sunam who sheltered Elisseus. Their generous hospitality was rewarded by the restoring to life of the only son of each.
But in the gospel, Martha and Mary made their home the resting-place of the Incarnate God, and their hospitality was accompanied by a public and unhesitating confession of their Guest’s divinity, and that, too, at a time when He was most opposed and persecuted by the leading men of the nation.
Not only were they, also, rewarded by the restoration to life of their dead brother, but they had the further recompense of becoming the apostles of the Divine Master.
This was, moreover, the return made by Him to his Mother’s cousin, Mary Salome, mother of St. James the Elder and St. John the Apostle, for the hospitality so generously bestowed on Mary, after the breaking up of her own home at Nazareth.
The same may be said of that other Mary, the sister of the apostle St. Barnabas, and the mother of another apostle, John-Mark. It is the common tradition that her house was that in which our Lord celebrated the Last Supper, in which the Blessed Virgin found a refuge during the interval between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and in which the apostles and disciples were wont to assemble till the Holy Ghost came down on them.
Certain it is that there the faithful were wont to meet with Peter and the other apostles till after the martyrdom of St. Stephen and St. James, the imprisonment and miraculous liberation of St. Peter, and the visit made to him by St. Paul after the latter’s conversion.
Her home was the common home of the infant church of Jerusalem, and, as tradition affirms, the first Christian church in that city. This generous mother’s hospitality was rewarded by seeing both her brother and her son called to the glorious labors and perils of the apostleship.
Thenceforward, the bestowing hospitality was for the mistress of a Christian household to receive Christ himself, the God of Charity, in the person of every guest who crossed her threshold, be he rich or poor, kinsman or stranger, friend or foe, sick or loathsome, the holiest of men or the most abandoned of sinners.