The care of the guest-house (LIII:2)

CHAPTER LIII. Of receiving Guests
5 Apr. 5 Aug. 5 Dec.

Let the kitchen for the Abbot and guests be apart by itself; so that strangers, who are never wanting in a monastery, may not disturb the brethren by coming at unlooked-for hours. Let two brothers, who are well able to fulfil the duty, be placed in this kitchen for a year; and let help be afforded them as they require it, so that they may serve without murmuring. When they have not much to occupy them there, let them go forth to other work, wherever they may be bidden. And not only with regard to them, but in all the offices of the Monastery, let there be such consideration shewn, that when there is need of help it may be given them; and that when they are without work, they do whatever they are commanded. Let the care of the guest-house, also, be entrusted to a brother whose soul is possessed with the fear of God: let there be sufficient beds prepared there and let the house of God be wisely governed by prudent men. Let no one, except he be bidden, on any account associate or converse with the guests. But if he chance to meet or to see them, after humbly saluting them, as we have said, and asking their blessing, let him pass on, saying that he is not permitted to talk with a guest.

The second part of Chapter LIII contains several distinct points:

  1. Guests are never wanting in a monastery and they arrive at all hours.
  2. The service of guests must not disturb the good order of the monastery nor the peace of the brethren.
  3. The brethren charged with preparing the meals of the guests ought to be given help as needed, in order to avoid murmuring.
  4. When there are fewer guests, these brethren are to go to whatever work is assigned them.
  5. The guestmaster is to be God–fearing and prudent man, capable of governing the guesthouse wisely.
  6. Enclosure: no one, unless he be bidden by the abbot, is permitted to associate or converse with the guests. If, perchance, a brother should meet a guest, he is to greet the guest humbly, saying Benedicite, and then go about his business, saying that he is not permitted to speak to guests.

Saint Benedict has the gift of combining very practical provisions with ascetical and spiritual ones. Benedictine life is never compartmentalized into tidy boxes. All things are inter–related: the kitchen and the sacristy; the choir and the refectory; the sick room and the tabernacle; the care of the land and the Opus Dei; the mastery of crafts and technical skills and the humble apprenticeship of lectio divina. The Benedictine ethos is entirely sacramental, in that, a monk seeks the face of Christ in every encounter and in all things, relates all things to Christ, and keeps his heart for Christ by practicing vigilance and ceaseless prayer.”And the workshop where we are to labour at all these things is the cloister of the monastery, and stability in the community” (Chapter IV).

Even the hardest things, incomprehensible sufferings visited upon a man, failures, and adversities taken on meaning when the light that shines from the face of Christ is shone upon them. A monastery must be a place entirely illumined by the face of Christ, a garden enclosed in which no corner is left in the shadows, a family in which every member appears to his brethren in the light of Christ. The guests of the monastery are, for a time, brought into this light; it is the light of the Eighth Day, the light of the Transfiguration and Resurrection, the light of the Lamb. Our monastery has, together with the Opus Dei, the special grace of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament; this is eschatological. It is an anticipation of the heavenly radiance that shines from the Lamb:

Its temple is the Lord God Almighty, its temple is the Lamb. Nor had the city any need of sun or moon to shew in it; the glory of God shone there, and the Lamb gave it light. The nations will live and move in its radiance; the kings of the earth will bring it their tribute of praise and honour. All day the gates will never be shut (there will be no night there), as the nations flock into it with their honour and their praise. Nothing that is unclean, no source of corruption or deceit can ever hope to find its way in; there is no entrance but for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Apocalypse 21:23–27)

The vow of conversatio morum engages a monk to turn, and turn again, and to turn always towards the light that shines from the face of Christ, by making use of the Instruments of Good Works, each of which, in its own way, re–calibrates a monk’s undivided focus on Christ. The one thing that a monastic community has to say to its guests is this:

Accedite ad eum, et illuminamini; et facies vestræ non confundentur.
Come ye to him and be enlightened: and your faces shall not be confounded. (Psalm 33:6)

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