Stories Seldom Heard
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard and a reminder. Don’t forget to sign up for the “Abiding in the Tent of Meeting Retreat” that Father Jude and I are offering at Santa Sabina Center, August 2 -7, 2022. All are welcome. Follow the link below for more information. https://www.santasabinacenter.org
The month of July celebrates eleven well-known saints: Joachim and Anne, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Ignatius of Loyola, Mary Magdalene, Bonaventure, Kateri Tekakwitha, James and Benedict. What a variety of personalities, cultural backgrounds and ministries! It’s easy to identify the apostle and those faithful disciples memorialized as itinerant preachers in the Gospels. But can you name the abbot, the bishop and Doctor of the Church, the daughter of the married couple, a patron of the environment, and the founder of a society of religious men (1)? All are friends of God, fired with the compassion of God. They reflect in their own time and circumstances how a “variety (of gifts) serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel” (2).
Summer is in full swing. Even though COVID is a concern, some of us have begun to make plans for July 4th and beyond. It’s still a delicate balance. Do we travel? Do we invite family and friends to join us in outdoor parties and an overnight stay? COVID has given us time to deepen our appreciate of the relationships we treasure. Also, it has offered us opportunities to make new acquaintances closer to home. Underlying all of these relationships and activities is the virtue of hospitality because hospitality is more than just inviting someone for dinner or allowing them to stay a week in our homes when they need shelter.
Hospitality has strong spiritual and biblical roots. Frist, God has been hospitable to us. Our ancestors realized that all of us are guests of God on this earth. They offered the first fruits of the harvest to God as a sign of their gratitude and recognition of their dependency. There are many passages in the Hebrew scriptures where God reminds the Israelites to welcome strangers. In Deuteronomy 10:19, we hear God telling the Israelites that they are to love the stranger for they were once strangers in the land of Egypt. In other words, they know what it feels like to be an outsider. Hopefully having received the compassion of others, their hearts will be moved with compassion towards those who seek shelter and acceptance. The “stranger” in scripture also brings with her/him surprising gifts. Sarah and Abraham were blessed with a child because of their hospitality to three strangers who arrived at Sarah’s and Abraham’s campsite/home requesting hospitality. When we read the New Testament our first thought is about Jesus who came as a stranger. The Fourth Gospel says, “He came to His own and His own did not know Him” (John 1:10-11). Matthew’s Gospel includes the Last Judgment scene. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt. 26:25). Biblical hospitality is complex. It’s more than just opening our doors to others. It is also a matter of the heart. It means welcoming others as we would welcome Christ which requires generosity and a deep faith.
We know the effort it takes to prepare for visitors. We also know how appreciative we are when people “take us in” and open their homes and hearts to us. Knowing both sides of the story, deepens our awareness of the gift of hospitality. Many saints have been known for their welcoming spirit, but since it is the month of July when we celebrate St. Benedict, I thought it might behoove us to explore one of the major characteristics of the Benedictine culture: hospitality.
We don’t know a lot about Benedict’s early life. We know he came from a wealthy family. He had a twin sister, St. Scholastica, who also entered religious life and eventually became an abbess. We also know that it was during Benedict’s student years in Rome that he made a decision to seek God with all his heart, mind and strength. As a result, he entered a nearby monastery. Eventually he founded the famous Monte Cassino Monastery in Italy which is considered the birthplace of the Benedictine Order. The Rule of St Benedict, which is still followed today, illustrates Benedict’s profound understanding of the importance of hospitality (3).
For Benedict hospitality was an “everyday” virtue that permeated the daily interactions of the monks towards one another and those who came to visit. Benedict stressed the equality of each person. No matter what a monk’s state of life was before he entered or what his responsibility was in the monastery, each monk had an equal say in the decisions of the monastery. For Benedict community life was the way to holiness. Accepting one another with open hearts, as a gift of God, was woven throughout the monks’ daily lives. However, Benedict’s emphasis on community did not exclude those who came to the door of the monastery. Quite the opposite, the porter, the monk who answered the door, had a particularly important role. He slept close to the door of the monastery, not to protect the monks from invaders, but to respond promptly to anyone who knocked. Even though the monasteries were often in the countryside, it would not be unusual for the porter’s sleep to be interrupted in the middle of the night. Those who knocked on the door were often poor people who needed shelter and food.
The Benedictine Rule has many chapters, but they are all very brief. Chapter Fifty-three, “On the Reception of Guests,” makes it clear how a visitor should be welcomed. Even before the porter knew who was at the door, the porter’s first response was, “Thanks be to God.” Chapter Fifty-three begins with these words.
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.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53)
The Rule goes on to say that any brethren meeting a visitor should ask a blessing of the visitor. This virtue of hospitality and of seeing the “other” as another Christ was and is one of the foundational practices of the Benedictine Order. Even though the Benedictine Order was founded over 1500 years ago, it has much to teach us today (4).
The Benedictine Rule that references biblical hospitality invites us to reflect on our lives both individually and as members of a parish. So often we describe our parishes as “a welcoming parish.” With this in mind, we have a particular opportunity at this time to extend our welcome to those we have not met or whom we have seldom seen. As we begin to gather after Mass for coffee, we might look around to see who is standing by themselves. Engaging a person in a conversation that involves more than just a superficial acknowledgement of their presence can make a huge difference in a person’s life. Taking up the practice of Benedict, the conversation could end for you in a silent ‘thanks be to God,” in appreciation for having “received Me.” For the person with whom you spoke, it might encourage them to join the parish or become a more active ember. If the person is a visitor from out of town, that person might take your gift of welcome home with them and share it with others.
Gospel hospitality changes our tone when we respond to the doorbell or answer the phone when we are having dinner, watching our favorite program or ballgame. Gospel hospitality makes us more conscious of what “receiving Me” means as we read the newspaper and learn of the thousands of refugee children flooding our borders and the world. “Receiving Me” echoes throughout the gospels and is deeply rooted in our Catholic tradition. As we celebrate St Benedict and his vision that continues to sustain international Benedictine communities of women and men, lay and clergy, we might pray that his biblical spirit of hospitality will permeate our hearts and minds more readily. We might also pray for the wisdom to know how to incarnate true hospitality in our lives.
The following prayer was written by Sister Mary Elizabeth Schweiger, a Benedictine sister. I have adapted her prayer for this article (5).
O Breath of God, breathe your energy and compassion into us and upon our earth. Amidst the busyness of life, help us receive you in the many people and circumstances we meet this day. Help us remember to take some deep breaths. Breathe in the air we so often take for granted. Let go of all that is selfish, fearful and negative. Breathe in the generosity and affirmation that we experience each day. Let go of all hatred, lies and hopelessness. Breathe in the rhythm of all creation. Let go of our suspicions of the “stranger,” the visitor. Breathe in the mystery of God becoming human. Breathe in Wisdom. Is this not breathtaking?
1. Benedict, Bonaventure, Mary Jesus’ Mother, Kateri Tekakwitha, and Ignatius of Loyola.
2. Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, USCCB, 2013, p.21.
3. The Rule of St. Benedict was originally written for men. Over the centuries, however, the Rule was adapted so that it met women’s needs. Many modern versions of the Rule use gender-neutral and gender-balanced language.
4. Benedict was born in 480 and died in 550.
5. Mary Elizabeth Schweiger, OSB, is a member of the Benedictine community in Atchison, Kansas. She serves as a staff member at Sophia Center and works in the Souljourners program.
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection. If you would like to support this ministry, please send your contributions to: Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., c/o Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, 1540 Grand Avenue, San Rafael, CA 94901.
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