Prayers, please, for Br. Clement, a Trappist killed in a robbery in
Nigeria, for Alice S., near death and for her nephew, Michael, very
upset with trouble at work, to boot. Prayers of thanks for Pat, doing
well after a lumpectomy, Deo gratias! Also, prayers for the health of
Dave, and for Bob, possible bladder cancer. Continued prayers for C.
and her kids. thanks so much! God's will be done! NRN JL
April 4, August 4, December 4
Chapter 53: On the Reception of Guests
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
"I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.
As soon as a guest is announced, therefore,
let the Superior or the brethren meet him
with all charitable service.
And first of all let them pray together,
and then exchange the kiss of peace.
For the kiss of peace should not be offered
until after the prayers have been said,
on account of the devil's deceptions.
In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing,
let all humility be shown.
Let the head be bowed
or the whole body prostrated on the ground
in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.
After the guests have been received and taken to prayer,
let the Superior or someone appointed by him sit with them.
Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification,
and then let all kindness be shown him.
The Superior shall break his fast for the sake of a guest,
unless it happens to be a principal fast day
which may not be violated.
The brethren, however, shall observe the customary fasts.
Let the Abbot give the guests water for their hands;
and let both Abbot and community wash the feet of all guests.
After the washing of the feet let them say this verse:
"We have received Your mercy, O God,
in the midst of Your temple" (Ps.47:10).
In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
for as far as the rich are concerned,
the very fear which they inspire
wins respect for them.
It is embarrassing for me, as guestmaster, to write about this
chapter. My own failures jump out at me all over the place. As some
might say, it "convicts" me again and again. But that is the way with
much of the Holy Rule, for all of us. If we can read a chapter with
smugness, it probably means something is wrong with us!
St. Benedict goes out of his way to make sure that the poor and
pilgrims get a specially focused reception. The point of that special
care is to guarantee that the reverence he insists upon for all might
come their way. That's the key, in his recurrent use of the
inclusive "all" in speaking of hospitality. He wants all to be shown
honor, without respect to class.
In the Middle Ages, benefactions could come from relatively minor
noblemen that far exceed anything we might know today: lands,
endowments, all kinds of things. Whole monasteries were often founded
and initially supported by one feudal lord. In that age, as in our
own, there was little danger of a wealthy benefactor being snubbed.
In fact, sometimes the honor shown a benefactor can even provoke an
opposite response in a monastic who favors underdogs: scorn or terse
The idea here is that even such inverse classism is wrong. The whole
thrust is that due honor be shown to everyone, not only that the poor
be treated as well as the rich, but that the rich be no less warmly
received because of their wealth. The poor and pilgrims come to the
door with zero clout. St. Benedict wants to make certain that will
Being guestmaster in an age of postal service, telephone and email, I
look back on earlier times and marvel at the holiness it must have
taken to do hospitality in those times. Yes, the very great could
send a courier to warn of their approach, but they often had HUGE
entourages, all of whom expected to be kept more or less in style.
The poor and pilgrims, on the other hand, had no way whatever to call
ahead and reserve. They arrived at the door vulnerable and in great
need, with no way of knowing whether or not the Duke of Burgundy had
just occupied 70 beds or so, to say nothing of stables and fodder for
his horses! Looking at the trials of being gracious in such a
perennially unpredictable situation, I have come to the conclusion
that there must be a LOT of guestmaster saints I should be praying to
for improvement. The occasional annoyances of my own job pale in
comparison to theirs!
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA