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.