By Lorraine V. Murray, Commentary | Published August 1, 2013
Some of my fondest memories feature my mom and dad inviting over a big group of relatives and friends, who would crowd around the table to eat, talk, laugh—and sometimes play a few hands of cards afterwards. The kids had their own rickety table where we wreaked havoc while keeping an eye on the “big people’s” realm.
Since the earliest days of our marriage, Jef and I have followed my parents’ lead, although we have, over the years, tweaked the get-togethers to make them less wearying. We discovered that if we did everything—cleaning the house, setting the table and preparing all the courses—by the time everyone arrived, we’d pretty much be frazzled.
Still, we love offering folks hospitality because the whole idea seems a very Christ-like way of showing our love for them. After all, so many important events in Jesus’ life happened at a meal, such as the wedding feast at Cana and that famous supper at the home of the Pharisee, when the woman wiped the Lord’s feet with her tears.
There was also the multiplication of loaves and fishes, his visit to the home of Mary and Martha (with Martha running herself ragged in the kitchen)—and, of course, the Last Supper. I always find it very moving that even after the Resurrection, Jesus shows up on the shore to cook fish for his friends.
Still, how do you offer people Christ-like hospitality without getting all jittery like Martha? A few hints:
First, don’t try to do everything on the day of the event. If you’re planning to make a homemade dessert, for example, choose something you can make ahead, and then freeze. I enjoy baking, so often I will make Italian cookies to accompany an easy, crowd-pleasing dessert, which is ice cream.
Second, as you ready the house, keep in mind that your friends aren’t coming over to do a formal inspection of your closets. And if you are blessed with kids, get them to help you! By the time I was ten, I could vacuum, clean bathrooms and dust. Sure, I moaned and groaned about it, but when we had folks coming over you can bet I wasn’t reading a book while my mom cleaned.
Third, ask people to bring something to contribute to the meal. Often, Jef and I will provide a main dish, such as roast beef, plus a salad and dessert. We then ask guests to fill in around the edges, with one family bringing starters and others bringing potatoes, pasta and veggies.
Fourth, don’t get all stressed out if you don’t have the perfect space to entertain. I used to feel vaguely uneasy because our dining room table won’t seat a big crowd, so guests would eat off their laps in the living room. Then one day a friend—who, by the way, has a spacious dining room table—said she liked to follow our lead by using the living room because everyone seemed to relax more that way. You can bet I stopped fretting!
Fifth, you needn’t use your finest silver and china, unless this is really a formal event. Most times, we use a combination of disposable plates—for salads and desserts—and real dishes and silverware for the main course. This means you don’t spend the entire next day cleaning up, which can lead to a feeling of dread the next time you think about entertaining.
Sixth, we put the food in the kitchen and invite people to serve themselves. This removes the tension of trying to be Martha—the “perfect,” albeit stressed-out, hostess—and helps people feel more at home.
Last, and most importantly, we always start with a prayer, expressing gratitude for our friends and family and leading into the familiar Catholic grace: “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, amen.” Then we dig in!