There was a monastery that was renowned for its hospitality, a welcoming place for many weary travelers in need of rest. One day while the abbot was deep in prayer an angel appeared, surrounded by golden light. The abbot gazed in rapt contemplation and was filled with a peace beyond measure. Suddenly a series of heavy knocks resounded on the front door. "It is some weary traveler come to find shelter," the abbot said to himself. "What should I do? If I go and answer the door, the angel might disappear. If I stay, who will care for the traveler?"
Reluctantly the abbot rose, looked resignedly at the angel, and left the room in order to attend to the needs of the dust-stained traveler.
When he returned to his cell, the angel, to the abbot's great surprise, was still there. The angel said to him, "Had you not gone to help the needy traveler, I myself would have been compelled to leave."
"It doesn't take a lot of thinking to understand why qualities like honesty, self-control, devotion and love are components of the spiritual life. But hospitality — the fine art of being nice to people? Why — of all things — hospitality? The question captures the imagination of the soul.
"Why is it that one of the oldest spiritual documents in Western civilization, the Rule of Benedict, says hardly a word about asceticism but speaks over and over again about hospitality and the reception of guests?
"The answer, I think, is that hospitality is basic. It's hospitality that teaches us honesty and self-control, devotion and love, openness and trust. The way of hospitality is more difficult — and more meaningful — than any asceticism we could devise for ourselves.
"Desert monastics, spiritual seekers who went into the backwaters of Egypt and the Middle East to live a life of solitude and prayer, broke every rule they lived by on behalf of hospitality because to wander through a desert without water and without help is, in the final analysis, to condemn the traveler to death. Hospitality is the fine art of having an open soul and a listening mind in a world where, alone, we would all die from starvation of the soul."
Guardian of the orphan, defender of the widowed, such is God who gives the lonely a home.
— Psalm 68:5-6