by Sister Jane Michele McClure, OSB

“Let everyone that comes be received as Christ” is one of the most familiar and oft-quoted phrases of the Rule. It emphasizes the preeminent position which hospitality occupies in every Benedictine monastery. Benedictine hospitality goes beyond the exercise of the expected social graces—the superficial smile or warm reception of expected guests. Hospitality for Benedict meant that everyone who comes—the poor, the traveler, the curious, those not of our religion or social standing or education—should be received with genuine acceptance. With characteristic moderation, though, he cautioned against “lingering with guests,” realizing that the peace and silence of the monastery must be protected. “Too great a merging of monastics and guests will benefit neither,” says Esther de Waal in Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict.

Stewardship is another value which, like hospitality, captures the essence of Benedictine life. On the most basic level, Benedict prescribed care and reverence of material things (“treat all goods as if they were vessels of the altar”). For Benedictines, the idea that gardening tools were just as important as chalices has come to mean a total way of life that emphasizes wholeness, wholesomeness, and connectedness. The body, the mind, the spirit, material things, the earth—all are one, and all should receive proper attention. All created things are God-given, and a common-sense approach to resources should prevail. Thus, Benedictine communities are ready to accept the most recent technology, but will use the same bucket for 30 years. “Taking care of things” has been elevated to a virtue of surpassing value in Benedictine monasteries.