The Gift of Hospitality

Joanne Kollasch, OSB Benedictine Bridge, Hospitality, Monastic Life Leave a Comment

09-Prayer
Prayer is at the heart of the monastery. At Holy Wisdom Monastery the sisters invite guests to pray with them at daily prayer.

What makes a monastery? Essentially a praying community of women or men, a Rule of life and silence enough to welcome and make room for the guest…. At Holy Wisdom, the sisters live the Gospel way of life in the Benedictine tradition, and along with other ministries, welcome the stranger and friend.

For Saint Benedict, sometimes called the founder of Western monasticism, and the 1,500 year tradition following him, the ideal remains to this day, “Receive any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery just as we would receive Christ himself.” (RB 1)

A dynamic exchange begins between the guest at the front door and the monastery receptionist. This “guest” may be a delivery person, someone in distress, a passerby curiously exploring our “green monastery,” or someone arriving for community prayer and/or a retreat.

We Benedictines believe that the guest is a blessing and that we give a blessing in return. More, the guest is not only a blessing but also brings a surprise!

From scripture (Genesis 18: 1-15) we learn that Abraham and Sarah hasten to receive three visitors to the entrance of their tent. Entertaining angels unaware, they receive a blessing and a promise—a big surprise! Sarah will conceive and a son will be born to them. When Sarah laughed at the prospect of bearing a son in old age, I ask myself, “Who does not understand your thoughts, Sarah, at the prospect? I, too, laugh, and I’ve noticed others laugh as well in the telling of this story. Maybe because God catches us in our denial?”

Who can possibly imagine the surprise a guest will bring. Several weeks ago a young woman from Chicago, following a weekend retreat
at Holy Wisdom Monastery, offered us her gift and surprise. After inquiring about her time spent with us, she offered these words:

How simultaneously comforting and exciting it is to be here in a place with much that is familiar but at the same time so unlike anything I have known.

 

The prayer—the structure and form of the Hours. The landscape—God’s very calling card. There is something different here. Something so vibrant, light and full. It betrays itself in the words of the prayer, the body language of the community, the very scent of the air when I stepped out of the car, made sweeter by the tall prairie grass.

 

It is here that the familiarity of the tradition and the differenceof “all things made new” reside with one another; I love how they are in conversation with each other. There is nothing stale about this place.

Our guest’s testimonial, her blessing and surprise, was her deep understanding and articulate appreciation of the ministry of hospitality at the monastery.

We extend to all who come a place of prayer and silence, opportunity for conversation and dialogue and community sharing and building as seems appropriate to each guest. This guest intuitively knew her need for the comfort of tradition and excitement for the new.

Balancing the old and the new in creative and energizing ways began with Benedict himself and his Rule for monasteries. Some portions of the Rule are excerpts from other rules of the time (Basil, Pachomius) and some portions original with Benedict.

Benedict’s Rule combines practical guidelines for living in community with pages of sublime spirituality rooted in scripture and motivated by faith. In our world, as in Benedict’s time, marked by the inability of people to deal with enormous differences, the simple phrase, “to treat all guests as though they were Christ” would by itself earn Benedict a place in history. Even more amazing is Benedict’s insistence that hisRule is not the last word, but only “a little Rule for beginners.” (RB 79:7)

“Entertaining the stranger” sometimes presents itself in the form of ideas. Would Saint Benedict welcome “the other,” the documents and the spirit of Vatican Council II in the Roman Catholic Church if he were alive today? Without doubt! What traditional and new insights might he include in his Rule?

The American Benedictine Prioresses answer these questions in a series of statements beginning in 1975, 10 years after the Council. The first,Upon This Tradition, gives this insightful response:

Throughout history the Rule has been variously interpreted and lived as charismatic leaders made adaptations in accord with the needs of the local community and the Church. As monasticism spread geographically, adaptations were made in response to different cultures. Formal documents such as Declarations, Constitutions and Customaries sanctioned these adaptations and modified the Rule according to the needs of the particular community. But in all these changes and adaptations the essential values of the Rule were maintained intact. Undoubtedly the fact that the Rule of Benedict has withstood the test of centuries, while other Rules fell into disuse, is due to a built-in adaptability.

The blessings and surprises of hospitality arrive daily at Holy Wisdom Monastery bringing changes in our Benedictine community living and ministries. After 60 years, hospitality remains at the heart of our ecumenical life and ministry. May we be faithful to the guest and to the spirit of Saint Benedict, “and may Christ himself bring us all together to eternal life.” (RB 72:12)

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