Guests in the Monastery

Yesterday and today we have been re-reading what St Benedict has to say about welcoming guests to the monastery (RB 53). I have always thought it significant that the chapter on guests comes between the one about the oratory of the monastery and the one about (not) receiving letters/small gifts. The connection between all three is the idea of ‘gift’. In the oratory God pours gifts upon us in the form of grace, his very self; in the person of the guest he also gives to us, though the gift is one that can make great demands on the community; and chapter 54 is about the wrong kind of gift, the gifts we are not to receive.

Guests as gifts: it sounds wonderful, and many a Benedictine will wax lyrical about the sacred duty of hospitality. I must admit, however, that the lyricism is somewhat muted when the guest arrives at an awkward moment or proves exacting or is somehow incapable of respecting the community’s private life as a community. To be woken up in the early hours to answer a request for prayer or to find one’s inbox flooded with trivial questions can tax the generosity of spirit we would all like to show. But that is the point. If guests give to us, we must also give to them; and a gift given from abundance, which makes no demands, which effectively costs us nothing, is perhaps not much of a gift. Benedict says in his very first sentence, ‘All guests who come are to be welcomed like Christ’. Anyone who has ever welcomed Christ into his or her life, however imperfectly, knows that the gift he brings is beyond comparison, but it comes at a cost. Should welcoming guests to the monastery be any different?


4 thoughts on “Guests in the Monastery”

  1. Very nice post! Having recently been feeling the strain of hospitality, I have also been reminded, precisely by the seeming cluelessness or immaturity of guests, of how much hospitality I received when I was younger and what a strain I must of been for some – something I was blithely unaware of at the time!

  2. When I was much younger I used to go on retreat to Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. It is also a Benedictine Monastery. The warmth of the welcome in such an austere setting was so wonderful and the thought of it brings back happy memories. I realise now that I was being welcomed like Christ. The warmth of hospitality can be a gift that lasts a life time!

  3. I’m off to Aylesford Priory later this morning. I know first hand how the Carmelite’s there make us welcome.

    In the main to do the Rosary Trail but also for Mass and a visit to their book shop, craft shops and who could miss a cup of tea and home baked cake in their Cafe.

    About 4 hours of peace, prayer and away from the hustle and bustle of normal life.

  4. Yes, I had guests who stayed longer than planned – with 2 children. It was very taxing for one who enjoys peace and quiet at home, but a blessing on my home, which remains.

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