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The Reception of Guests

Friday, April 5, 2024
Chapter 53

The kitchen for the abbot and prioress and guests ought to be separate, so that guests--and monasteries are never without them--need not disturb the community when they present themselves at unpredictable hours. Each year, two monastics who can do the work competently are to be assigned to this kitchen. Additional help should be available when needed, so that they can perform this service without grumbling. On the other hand, when the work slackens, they are to go wherever other duties are assigned them. This consideration is not for them alone, but applies to all duties in the monastery; members are to be given help when it is needed, and whenever they are free, they work wherever they are assigned.

The guest quarters are to be entrusted to a God-fearing member. Adequate bedding should be available there. The house of God should be in the care of members who will manage it wisely.

No monastics are to speak or associate with guests unless they are bidden; however, if the members meet or see guests, they are to greet them humbly, as we have said. They ask for a blessing and continue on their way, explaining that they are not allowed to speak.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, travel through Europe on unguarded and unkept roads through hostile territory and at the prey of marauding bands became both difficult and dangerous. Benedictine monasteries became the hospice system of Europe. There, anyone was received at any time. Rich and poor alike were accepted as equals and given the same service: food, bedding, immediate attention day or night. Yet, so that the monastery could remain a monastery in the midst of a steadily growing need for this monastic service, a special kitchen and special workers were assigned to provide the necessary care. It's an important addition to a chapter that could otherwise be read to mean that the monastic life itself was at the mercy of meandering peasants. The fact is that we all have to learn to provide for others while maintaining the values and structures, the balance and depth, of our own lives. The community that is to greet the guest is not to barter its own identity in the name of the guest. On the contrary, if we become less than we must be then we will be no gift for the guest at all. Parents must parent and all the good work in the world will not substitute for that. Wives and husbands must be present to the other and all the needs in the world will not forgive that. Balance and order and prayer in the life of those who practice Benedictine spirituality is key to being a genuine support in the lives of others. Somehow we must take on the needs of the world with a humble heart. As Hale said, "I cannot do everything but I can do something and what I can do I will do, so help me God."