How is it that our Western, and indeed, parts of the Eastern cultures, have lost the old ideas of hospitality and kindness to strangers? Are we all living in such a fear culture that we cannot possibly reach out to those who are not from our families and usual set of friends? That Christianity created a culture of hospitality superior to the ancients is true, but even the ancients of all areas entertained the stranger. I think of Odysseus at the end of his journey in the House of the King Alkinoös and his court. These isolated people were surprised to see a stranger, but immediately opened their hearts to him, and gave him hospitality without knowing who he was. In fact, the king ordered the mariners to deliver Odysseus to his own country. Homer wrote this in the 8th century B.C.
In the Poetic Edda, the literature written in the 12th or 13th centuries, these words ring as false today, but true then:
Hail, ye Givers! a guest is come;
say! where shall he sit within?
Much pressed is he who fain on the hearth
would seek for warmth and weal.
He hath need of fire, who now is come,
numbed with cold to the knee;
food and clothing the wanderer craves
who has fared o'er the rimy fell.
He craves for water, who comes for refreshment,
drying and friendly bidding,
marks of good will, fair fame if 'tis won,
and welcome once and again.
I write this as a stranger in a strange land, three lands to be correct, for almost a year of travelling and writing. I can say that hospitality is dead in some parts of the Western World. Going to daily Mass for nine months in three different countries, and having in two of those countries, no one talk to me or ask about me, or wonder why I was there has happened in countries supposedly Catholic and English speaking. Not friendly. Only in one out of three was there hospitality. Fear and greed have taken over from hospitality. I also blame socialism, which supplants individual love and openness to the unusual, placing all persons under bureaucracies, making people ciphers and not part of the communities, which have died in these socialist countries. Governments are not substitutes for relationships.
I have come to the conclusion that the Americans, and perhaps, because we were all strangers in a strange land at one time, are the most hospitable people I have met. Why hospitality and welcome is dead among the Christians is a mystery to me. The pagans were superior to us in this. We now have the "hospitality industry", which is the service industry of hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, which has taken over from the common acceptance of strangers entering a strange land. If we do not change in our perceptions and openness, we may all find ourselves isolated. The stranger could be you.