In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing, let all humility be shown. Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons After the guests have been received and taken to prayer, let the Superior or someone appointed by him sit with them. Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification, and then let all kindness be shown him. The Superior shall break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it happens to be a principal fast day which may not be violated. The brethren, however, shall observe the customary fasts. Let the Abbot give the guests water for their hands; and let both Abbot and community wash the feet of all guests. After the washing of the feet let them say this verse: 'We have received Your mercy, O God,in the midst of Your temple' (Ps. 47:10).
In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received; for as far as the rich are concerned, the very fear which they inspire wins respect for them." - Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 53
I am frequently asked, what's the hardest thing about following Benedict's Rule. I always answer that radical hospitality, that is the act of treating everyone we encounter as if they were Jesus, is for me, the hardest to follow. Part of that, I suppose, is a hold over from my final years in the Chicago Fire Department. During that time I was appointed to a position just above that of the lowest promoted level of chief officers. With the authority I had, and the way I was treated, it became easy to behave like I was Jesus. I also noted that the higher one rose in the chief officer ranks the more one seemed to believe and behave as one having a divine nature.
My first congregation, bless them, quickly taught me that I no longer had a chief's power. When I first heard the word "no" from the Session (aka church boarding), it was a bit of a shock. Thanks be to God this loving congregation gently brought me back to the real nature of my place in the scheme of things.
When I became an Oblate, Benedict's words in this chapter made a lot of sense in the light of Jesus' words, ". . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40). But I found the actual practice of treating everyone like Jesus was a lot harder than simple agreement with the concept. Think about it, how do we react to a telemarketer who calls us at dinner time, especially if we aren't feeling at.our best? Or how do we react when we're in the office, tired from the last evening's endless meeting, when a parishioner arrives to complain that we didn't visit them at the hospital? Of course that is usually complicated by no one telling us that parishioner was in the hospital.
During my time as an Oblate, I've found the best way to obey Benedict's instructions on hospitality, is to keep it constantly at the back of my mind and remembering it every time I deal with someone. Actually I've found this to be true with any of the Rule's admonitions. In a sense we fake it until we make it, or more accurately we learn to follow the Rule by following it.
Have I become perfect, or even proficient at treating everyone like they were Jesus? Of course not. Like any Benedictine I am in a state of constant conversion, I fall and I get up again, I fall and I get up again. Hospitality is something I'll have to practice until I take my final breath.
You might ask yourself if all the time spent practicing this type of radical hospitality is worth while? That's of course for you to judge. But what could happen if we preach and practice it in our congregations? And what could happen if our congregants began to talk about it and practice it in their own lives? Then, what could happen if our society began to practice it? This particular chapter could change the world.
Thank you Father Benedict for this important reminder of how to treat others.
In Christ's Peace
Brother Oscar Romero