This past Tuesday was the feast day of Benedict of Nursia — traditionally remembered as the founder of western monasticism. Born in Umbria, Italy, in 480 A.D., Benedict founded twelve monastic communities over the course of his life. His greatest impact on modern Christianity is the Rule of Life that he developed for his monks, which laid out how the monastery and the monk’s lives were to be ordered. He called his rule “a school of the Lord’s service, in which we hope to order nothing harsh or rigorous.” You can decide for yourself if the monks’ lives were harsh or rigorous: every day they spent an average of four hours in worship, five hours in spiritual reading and study, six hours of labor, one hour for eating, and eight hours sleeping.
Benedict didn’t set out to start a monastic movement. Initially he just wanted to separate himself from the dissolution and corruption he saw in most of society, and so he decided to withdraw to a hillside cave overlooking Lake Subiaco. But over time, several groups of monks encouraged him to be their abbot, and eventually he agreed. Perhaps that experience of being called out of a solitary life, into a life of community, and even further, to a life of starting new communities, led Benedict to be particularly interested in the notion of hospitality.
Part of the Rule of Life that Benedict developed is a chapter detailing the commitment to hospitality, called “Of the reception of guests.” It begins, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: ‘I was a stranger and you took Me in’ (Mt 25:35). When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met by the Superior and the brethren with every mark of charity. And let them first pray together, and then let them associate with one another in peace. In the greeting let all humility be shown to the guests, whether coming or going; with the head bowed down or the whole body prostrate on the ground, let Christ be adored in them as He is also received.”
The chapter goes on to direct the monks to wash the hands and feet of the guests, to feed them, and offer an already-prepared bed in the guest quarters. “Let the greatest care be taken, especially in the reception of the poor and travelers, because Christ is received more specially in them.”
As we go about our prayers and our lives this week, may we particularly think about how hospitable we are to those we meet. We might pray to be more intentional about receiving all the people we meet as if they were Christ. Perhaps prostrating ourselves or trying to wash their feet might be misunderstood in our current day culture and time (!), but seeking to adore the Christ in others would truly honor Benedict’s legacy.
Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord’s service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.