Prayers please, for Antonia, a child having open heart surgery today,
for Marcus, who died at only 37 and for those who mourn him, and for
Nick and his wife, a young mother diagnosed with breast cancer.
Thanks so much! 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.
So much is written about Benedictine hospitality that I thought,
after over six years as guestmaster, I'd write about some of the
things it is NOT, since people sometimes seem confused by this. Yes,
we are told to receive all as Christ, but at the onset a salient
difference or two between Christ Himself and the guests becomes
evident. Christ was sinless, Christ was not a threat to others,
Christ was perfect in mind and body and soul.
One of the first things that happened when the care of the guesthouse
was entrusted to me was the receipt of a list of people who in no way
were ever to be accepted again. For one reason or another, the
community absolutely did not want them here again. A few- very few-
more have added themselves to that list in my time. It is useful to
note that in every case these people put either themselves or others
or both at risk for one reason or another. There were some the
monastics were downright afraid of, others whom other guests would
have feared had they only known.
One absolutely stunned into silence an entire group of retreatants of
which she was not a member by an outburst of verbally violent abuse
and belligerence that none had seen coming at all. She really ruined
the retreat for them, destroyed everyone's peace and the peace of the
house. Everyone walked on eggs for the rest of the weekend. Sorry,
doesn't happen here twice.
Another guest used to come here on the bus immediately after
discharge from psychiatric facilities. He was a potential violence
threat and would stop taking his meds on discharge, thinking he could
come to the monastery and "get it all together." Obviously,
disastrously, what happened was quite the reverse and we finally had
to say that we would never accept him again without the opportunity
and freedom to speak with his psychiatrist. He has not been back. We
were not at all doing him any good, we were actually helping him harm
himself. Couldn't do that.
Far short of the psychotic, there comes a time in human relationships
when we are obliged to stop enabling harm to oneself or to others.
There comes a time when dysfunction must be named and not embraced.
This is where all of us come in, not just the guesthouse. People can
become toxic to each other. The fact that they may be unwell is
sometimes no more of a moral issue than the young man off meds. He
was truly sick, but I had two elderly ladies on retreat in the house
that I couldn't explain that to. Sick, while informative, was not the
deciding factor. So it often is with dysfunction, too. Being unwell
in any degree does not involve an unlimited license to harm.
One can demonstrate this principle clearly by going even a notch
above the guesthouse: come to join the monastery addicted to
disrupting the peace and you will be escorted out, probably well
before vows. People do not enjoy Benedictine hospitality as an always
and everywhere right. As in any human area, the rights of others must
be considered and sometimes decisively so. A monastery is a haven of
peace, but it has to take steps to ensure that it remains that for as
many as possible. One of those steps is the hospitality of saying "No
more." It is not easy, but it is loving. I can tell you from
experience that those hearing the "no more" will quite often rail at
it and at you, terming you un-Christian, un-Benedictine and worse.
That's hard to take, but don't buckle. As Dorothy Day so often
said, "Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us."
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA