April 24, August 24, December 24
Chapter 66: On the Porter of the Monastery
At the gate of the monastery
let there be placed a wise old woman,
who knows how to receive and to give a message,
and whose maturity will prevent her from straying about.
This porter should have a room near the gate,
so that those who come may always find someone at hand
to attend to their business.
And as soon as anyone knocks or a poor person hails her,
let her answer "Thanks be to God" or "A blessing!"
Then let her attend to them promptly,
with all the meekness inspired by the fear of God
and with the warmth of charity.
Should the porter need help,
let her have one of the younger sisters.
If it can be done,
the monastery should be so established
that all the necessary things,
such as water, mill, garden and various workshops,
may be within the enclosure,
so that there is no necessity
for the sisters to go about outside of it,
since that is not at all profitable for their souls.
We desire that this Rule be read often in the community,
so that none of the sisters may excuse herself
on the ground of ignorance.
Modern monasteries in our Order rarely have gatehouses, let alone
porters waiting at them. In one way, that's too bad, because one
often sees visitors come to a monastery without a clue as to where to
go first, or how to contact someone. On the other hand, it would
wasteful to employ one person full-time at such an endeavor in our
smaller communities of today, since whole days may go by in many
places with few or none needing assistance.
What we have today is the phone, and phone manners are how this best
translates into modern life for both Oblates and professed. I have
certainly known monks who have answered the phone with an attitude
that clearly said: "You've got some nerve putting me out like this,
disturbing me, etc." Sadly, that attitude came forth in years way
before telemarketing was big, and with no knowledge of the person on
the other end of the line. One certainly wouldn't want to call such a
monastery twice. If one had never called one before, it is unlikely
that one would want to try another, to go for 2 out of 3, just in
case. See the responsibility we have?
When a phone or doorbell rings, whether in a great Benedictine abbey
or an urban Benedictine apartment, we have the opportunity to
practice the hospitable grace that the Holy Rule requires of all.
Dorothy Day's friend and mentor, Father Hugo, used to say that we
love God as much as the one we love the least. That would readily
translate here. I LOVE to see certain guests arrive, look forward to
it as soon as I hear they are coming. Those are not the receptions on
which I should judge my hospitality. Telemarketers are.
With the universal scorn that telemarketing seems to enjoy today, it
might be well to examine the sort of person who is forced to seek
such employment before we dump on them. Unless one is really sado-
masochistic with a strong need for abuse and rejection, why on earth
would anyone choose to spend hours a day with such rudeness? Of
course the practice is annoying, but the employee is not to blame. It
may be the only job a desperate person can get. Why spew vituperative
and shoot the messenger?
Granted, engaging in any kind of prolonged conversation is not
advisable, but I have a simple phrase: "I'm sorry, but we don't do
any form telephone solicitation. Thank you." Then I hang up. Said
politely, this does not heap coals on their heads, but it gets the
message across. One can be firm and still be courteous and kind.
Since I generally answer the phone with "God bless you, this is
Brother Jerome," how would I dare treat people otherwise?
The point here is that we ARE Benedictines, whether our answering
style makes that evident or not. I might not like to think so, but
the anonymity of just saying "Hello," without my name or title does
not entitle me to be harsh or gruff or rude. All of us are bound by
something Benedictine within us to be kind and gracious to all who
call or visit.
Someone who calls the guesthouse for the first time can be driven
away or attracted by the way they are dealt with on the phone. To
risk alienating someone because of our own moods might mean that we
cheat someone out of a spiritual respite they sorely need. I can't
tell you how many people who just called us out of nowhere in the
last seven years have become real members of our family, greatly
beneficial to themselves and to us. Anyone of those first experiences
could have been irreparably soured by a cranky phone manner. Look at
what all of us would have lost had that happened.
Love and prayers,