For more than 1,500 years, Benedictine monasteries and convents around the world have operated under the Rule of Saint Benedict, a set of simple precepts designed to help religious communities lead an ordered, prayerful life.
Saint Benedict’s guidelines address five areas of life: prayer, work, study, hospitality and renewal. But for those of us in the modern world who are not living a monastic life, perhaps the only aspect of the rule we may be familiar with is that regarding hospitality. It is certainly one of the easiest to implement immediately in our lives.
“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35),” Saint Benedict wrote in Chapter 53 of the Rule. For the sixth-century monks at Monte Cassino, the Italian monastery Benedict founded, this would have had a literal interpretation, for in their pre-Holiday Inn world, many travellers would have come to the door seeking shelter and food.
Today, we may not be in the habit of offering shelter to strangers, but if we make an effort to live out this rule, we will have taken great strides in living the Great Commandment. At the heart of this instruction is the understanding that offering welcome to others is not just a courtesy but a profound act of faith, a recognition of Christ in all, including in ourselves.
While today’s surfeit of cooking shows and upscale housewares stores might lead us to believe that hospitality rests in the perfectly set table or a five-course meal, Benedict’s notion of hospitality is infinitely broader and applicable in every aspect of life. Hospitality means smiling at the person at the coffee shop who pours your coffee. It means sending a card or paying a visit to the colleague who is off sick. It means acknowledging, rather than ignoring, the homeless person you see on the street every day.
If we adopt an attitude of Benedictine hospitality, we will treat all people with kindness, courtesy and respect. We will recognize the dignity in everyone, mindful that we are all children of God.
And if we fully embrace a spirit of Benedictine hospitality, we will be able to answer our own question: Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or saw you thirsty and gave you to drink?
-Catherine Mulroney, Editor of Living with Christ, Canada’s companion for praying and living the Eucharist.
Discover how you can live St. Benedict’s rule in your life with Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister’s book The Rule of St. Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century available from Novalis.