One of the most fitting comments someone recently made about one of our sisters was, “She makes her heart a home.” Those few words accurately sum up the concept of Benedictine hospitality.
As young Benedictines, we are taught the value of hospitality and its centrality to the Benedictine culture both through reading/study and through the example of our senpectae – wise elders – in community. Since all of us come from different backgrounds, all of us have different concepts of hospitality. For some, receiving guests means cleaning the house and setting the table with fine china. For others, it means offering a soft drink and a snack to everyone who walks through the door. For still others, it means setting up a comfortable place in which the guest can be himself or herself without feeling awkward.
Striving to help people feel welcome, comfortable, sheltered, and well-fed is only one part of Benedictine hospitality. Ultimately, it is about welcoming the other person as Christ. In chapter 53 of the Holy Rule, St. Benedict tells us three times of the way in which guests should be received:
“All guests are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (RB 53:1)
“By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them.” (RB 53:7)
“Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.” (RB 53:15)
While Benedictine hospitality calls us to welcome all people as Christ, and to remember that what we do for others we do for Christ, it also calls us to put on the heart of Christ as we receive others.
In the New Testament, we are given countless examples of Christ’s heart. In the gospels, we hear of Jesus reaching out to the people who are most on the margins: the poor, the sick, the stranger, the outcast, the widow, the sinful. In each of the stories, we hear of Jesus taking notice, reaching out, healing, and comforting. The loving reception and recognition of the other seems to be what the person recognized in one of our sisters.
The heart of Christ is open and non-judgmental, grateful, welcoming, compassionate, faithful, prayerful, loving, and generous. Hospitality is part of the Benedictine culture, but all of us are called to have the heart of Christ. We are called to make our hearts homes, to welcome all we encounter wherever we are – in church, at the grocery store, in a restaurant, in an airport, at a ballgame.
As we continue to celebrate the Advent season in which we are preparing the way for Christ, let us reflect on the following question: “How do I make my heart a welcoming home for others?”