When you hear the word ‘hospitality’, what comes to mind? Like most people, I bet you think of hotels, or in some cases, you may think of that one aunt you have who always makes sure everyone’s glass is full and everyone has a seat. If you’re in ministry, ‘hospitality’ may now be synonymous with having coffee and light pastries at early morning meetings. But in a Benedictine sense, hospitality is very different.
July 11th marks the Church’s feast of St. Benedict. In the early sixth century, St. Benedict wrote a Rule that he wanted his monks to follow. In 73 short chapters, St. Benedict tried to lay out an entire monastic way of life, so he certainly had a lot of ground to cover. He wrote about everything; from how an abbot should be chosen to how much monks were to eat and drink and where they were to sleep. He also devoted an entire chapter to how guests were to be received and treated.
This whole chapter, which is quite brief, can be summed up in the first phrase the Founder writes, “Let all guests who arrive be treated as Christ…” (Ch. 53). Benedict goes into specifics on how guests are to be welcomed and fed, but it all goes back to Christ Himself saying “I came as a guest, and you received Me” (Mt. 25:35). St. Benedict understands, and wants his monks to understand, that Christ can be found in everyone. The first phrase of the last paragraph is a perfect summary of the Gospel message as well, “In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims, the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is in them that Christ is received…” (Ch. 53).
How do we treat the stranger on the street, the man selling us a magazine, the immigrant, or the receptionist? Remember also, this does not apply to just the stranger. How do we treat those that we see every day: the coworker, roommate, friend, or classmate? Are these people just a means to an end, are they here for our convenience or happiness, or are they Christ to us? Are we treating them as Christ incarnate or just as another person we have to deal with? Most likely we do not fall into either extreme, but every time we fall short of treating a person as Christ, we fall short of treating God as God.
To be hospitable, we do not need to follow the exact instructions of St. Benedict. Our hospitality, like his, should be rooted in charity, in love. It can be quite simple: a smile, a since greeting, or the most common one at my alma mater, the holding of a door for a distant stranger. Hospitality is the easiest way to build up the Kingdom of God here and now. When we welcome the guest, greet the stranger, or feed the hungry, we are doing these things for both God and neighbor. By being hospitable, we are fulfilling the greatest commandment.
Let us pray for the intercession of St. Benedict today, asking him to pray for us, that we may be hospitable, welcoming, and loving in every interaction we have.
Michael Phelan is in his second and final year in the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame. He is a graduate of Saint Anselm College, a Benedictine school, in Manchester, N.H.
Just two weeks ago, Pope Francis named Fr. Kurt Burnette as the head of the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, in the United States. How is it, though, that the Roman Pontiff has the authority to name a bishop of an Eastern Rite? In many regards, we owe this to the work of a 16th century saint, St. Josaphat, whose feast we celebrate today, Nov. 12. The Ruthenian Church, a branch of the Eastern Church mainly found in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland which was once part of the Eastern Church is now in full communion with Rome.
St. Josaphat, born around the year 1580, is one of few people from an Eastern Rite who has gone through the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church. As a young man, St. Josaphat tried to live a virtuous life, which led him to a Basilian monastery in Vilna, Lithuania. His great virtue caused him to be elected abbot of his own and other monasteries, and later appointed as bishop and archbishop in Poland. While an agreement had been signed between the Ruthenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church early in his life, there were many members of the Ruthenian Church who did not want to be in communion with Rome. Neither side was completely innocent in their actions, with violence and betrayal being perpetrated on both sides. However, there were men and women on each side of this ecumenical disagreement who tried to rise above the conflict. St. Josaphat was one of these men.
For all his attempts to mend the rift between the Ruthenian Church and the Roman Church, St. Josaphat was hated by many in his native land (Lk. 4:24). Eventually, due to his work in bringing about reforms of the clergy in Lithuania and Poland, as well as efforts to bring the Ruthenian Church into better relation with Rome, he was beaten, stabbed, and shot. His body was dumped unceremoniously by his attackers into a river. Recognized as a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church, St. Josaphat was beatified in 1643 and canonized in 1867.
In the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel according to St. John, Christ is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest. One famous line from His prayer is “that they may all be one” (Jn. 17:21). This is the work that St. Josaphat was trying to accomplish in the small corner of God’s vineyard to which he was assigned. How often do we fail to recognize the importance of Christian unity? We will soon, in 2017, be marking the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Within some of our lifetime’s, in 2054, we will be recognizing the end of the first millennium of the Great Schism. Our Church has been broken apart for far too long. We have failed, in many accounts, to ‘breathe with both lungs’ as Bl. John Paul said. Yet, in the spirit of St. Josaphat, great work is being done.
Popes Benedict and John Paul II did amazing work in dialoging with the Lutheran and Calvinist communities. Both of them, as well, met with Archbishop Rowan Williams, the then spiritual head of the Anglican Church. Pope Francis has continued on this same track. He has met with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt’s 8 million Coptic Christians. Even the Patriarch of the Eastern Church, Bartholomew of Constantinople, was present at the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis, a step which had not happened since the Great Schism. We are witnessing historical moments in our Church today.
Let us continue to pray the words that Christ Himself prayed in the Garden, let us hope for the total unification of our Church, and let us, in all charity, always welcome home those who come back to our Mother Church. We should follow the example of St. Josaphat who, even in the face of violence and hatred, sought out peace and unity above all things.
St. Josaphat, pray for us!
Michael Phelan is in his second and final year in the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame and serves as an Apprentice Catechetical Leader at Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon, FL, in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
The first time I stayed in a Benedictine monastery, I was struck by the silence, especially since the monastery was only a few hundred feet away from my dorm (which was never silent). During meals in the refectory, walks in the hallways or the monastic cloister, down time in my assigned cell, both at daytime and during the night, there was a serious, purposeful silence. In his Rule, Saint Benedict constantly encourages his monks not to speak too much, and especially to abstain from vulgar and scurrilous speech. But what is the point of this silence? Why does Saint Benedict praise it so highly?
“Listen carefully.” This is the first and most basic instruction laid down by Saint Benedict in his Rule, written for monks in the early sixth century. He was telling his monks to perk up and pay attention, because important guidelines for monastic life were coming their way in the ensuing 73 chapters. His advice, in those two words, seems to sum up much of Benedictine spirituality.
Saint Benedict’s world was not too different from the world we live in today. His life began in the year 480, only four years after the fall of the Roman Empire. He was a witness of political upheaval, international war, and class warfare. This is not much different from our times. His answer to all these problems, however, was not to escape from the world in a monastery, but to find a place in which he could seek God in a stable environment.
Why, then, is St. Benedict’s first piece of advice to listen? Saint Benedict was a keen observer of the human person, and he recognized what was separating people: noise, both internal and external. Even today, how comfortable are we with silence? Think about it. We need music in order to drive down the street; we need music to go for a run; some even need ‘white noise’ in order to fall asleep. How often do we see people, old and young, with their nose buried in a phone or searching for the next song instead of enjoying and appreciating God’s gift of creation around them? Or internally, are we truly listening to the other person in the conversation, instead of just thinking about what we will say next? Silence is the first step. Once we stop talking, turn off our music or put down our phones, then we have to quiet ourselves on the inside. We need to begin, in silence, to find Christ in the other.
In each one of us there is an innate yearning, which can only be discerned and realized when we slow down from our own business and busyness and understand that we all want something more. God speaks in the silence of our hearts. Therefore, you have to “attend with the ear of your heart” to what God is calling you to.
The Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict has, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful language ever written. I would suggest to anyone who has never read it to get it immediately. Saint Benedict wrote an amazing line – a rhetorical question – “What, dear brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?” But how can we ever hope to hear this delightful voice of the Lord unless we stop and listen?
Saints Benedict and Scholastica, pray for us!
Michael Phelan is in his final year in the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame and serves as an Apprentice Catechetical Leader at Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon, FL, in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. He is a graduate of Saint Anselm College, a Benedictine college, in Manchester, NH.