April 5, August 5, December 5
Chapter 53: On the Reception of Guests
Let there be a separate kitchen for the Abbot and guests,
that the brethren may not be disturbed when guests,
who are never lacking in a monastery,
arrive at irregular hours.
Let two brethren capable of filling the office well
be appointed for a year to have charge of this kitchen.
Let them be given such help as they need,
that they may serve without murmuring.
And on the other hand,
when they have less to occupy them,
let them go out to whatever work is assigned them.
And not only in their case
but in all the offices of the monastery
let this arrangement be observed,
that when help is needed it be supplied,
and again when the workers are unoccupied
they do whatever they are bidden.
The guest house also shall be assigned to a brother
whose soul is possessed by the fear of God.
Let there be a sufficient number of beds made up in it;
and let the house of God be managed by prudent men
and in a prudent manner.
On no account shall anyone who is not so ordered
associate or converse with guests.
But if he should meet them or see them,
let him greet them humbly, as we have said,
ask their blessing and pass on,
saying that he is not allowed to converse with a guest.
I am living proof that, when a monastery has to, it can get by with
less than a guestmaster "possessed by the fear of God." Some
days, "impressed by the fear of God" is about the best I can pull
off. There are other days when I take comfort in the fact that all
the Holy Rule really says about the guest house itself is that there
be a sufficient number of made-up beds and a kitchen of its own,
because frills beyond that are not likely to be forthcoming! But I
Asking that the house of God be prudently governed by the prudent
surely applies to more than the guest house. That principle goes for
the whole monastery, as well as for the families and homes of those
monastics in the world outside the cloister. This is not just another
call to frugality or economy or order for their own sakes. We are
Benedictines, we don't do ANYTHING for its own sake, except God!
The whole idea of balance and peace and moderation and serenity is
nothing more or less than a singular setting for a pearl of very
great price. We need those things for our monastic struggle to be
most effective. Sometimes a surgeon might have to operate on a bloody
battlefield, but don't be surprised if infection follows. It's the
same with us and dysfunctional, imprudent messes. We CAN operate
there if we have to, but infections are likely. We need a certain
amount of reduction of inconsequential hassles to focus on the one
thing necessary. St. Benedict strives to provide us with that. No,
the monastery is not a sterile surgical suite (and I always worry
when one looks that way!) but neither is it an ill-housed flock of
free range chickens. Show me a monastery or home that has become a
zoo and I can guarantee you there will be a LOT of spiritual
ramifications, as well.
We are not necessarily Thomists (though if memory serves me properly,
our Order conducted some of St. Thomas Aquinas' early schooling,) but
we can surely affirm that "peace is the tranquility of order." St.
Thomas' view of the virtues is important to us, too, imbued with the
principles of Aristotle: "Virtus in media stat." Virtue stands in the
middle way. What could be more Benedictinely moderate and balanced?
It must be clearly remembered that when we speak of "prudence", we
speak of a virtue, a thing of holiness and a golden mean. Not for
nothing did our contemporary language get the unlovely title
of "prude" from the same root. All manner of foolish timidity,
cowardice, stinge and hearts-by-Frigidaire prudishness have been
falsely named prudence. Prudence is not and never can be a wicked
thing. Prudence, real wisdom, is a thing always to be desired. False
prudence, on the other hand, of which there is sadly no shortage, is
a thing always and everywhere to be rejected. Give such people a lot
of room. False prudence and meanness of spirit, whatever else they
may be, are windows into one's heart. The view is not always lovely
and may require a lot of prayer, but one is better off to never
follow such a troubled person. Just be kind and very, very careful!
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery