Friday, November 28, 2008

Everyday Life: Guests

1 All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). 2 Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.3 Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. RB 53:1-3

Benedict says that the monastery will never be without guests. Benedict lived in a time when travel was very difficult. The Roman Empire had fallen and was being overrun by barbarians. Benedict’s own rule mandated that monks stay enclosed, away from the world. And yet people still managed to find their way to monasteries, there was a constant parade of guests and Benedict made special provisions for handling them.

Both then and now there is something about monasteries, some centrifugal force that draws people on a deep level, brings them to these places. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the monasteries are in the middle of urban areas or off the farthest beaten path, whether they are the most enclosed and traditional or very modern and open. People still come.

Those of us who live at the monasteries are always a little puzzled by this. We know we aren’t very holy, we live with ourselves after all. We know that our prayer life always has room for improvement, some of us have lots of room for improvement. We have a few members whom we would just as soon keep in the closet when company comes. But company does keep coming and we just keep welcoming them.

The parade of guests is good for us, because it allows us to see what we can’t see. After a while, in the midst of the routine of daily life, we forget how unique we are, a group of people, living together for life, dedicated to seeking God. What we see on a daily basis is how far we are from our goal. We notice our distractions, our pettiness, the anxieties, our fears about maintaining our way of life. We know that we regularly fail to see and respect the presence of Christ in one another. We have all come here to seek God, but God is the air we breathe and it is hard to notice the air around you.

And so we have the gift of guests. These are the people who come and notice that the air is different at the monastery. They can feel the atmosphere of so many people who lived and died in this place where God is the center and reason for our being. Guests are the ones who can come to chapel and be open to the amazing reality of regular prayer, undistracted by the anxieties of daily life that happens between times for prayer. Like little children seeing the most mundane wonders for the first time they help us to see how marvelous this place and our way of life truly is.

Benedict calls on his monks to treat the guests as Christ. I was always puzzled why Benedict doesn’t call us to recognize all people as Christ, he only singles out guests and the sick. But perhaps that is because the guests have a special role to play in our lives. Guests come and show us that indeed God is in our midst. Christ came to show us that God shares our reality. Guests come to remind us that truly we do live in a holy place.

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