Hospitality

Today’s reading from the Rule is really short, and seems quite mundane. It ties in with the exhortations to the community to welcome the stranger by indicating that the abbot is to invite them to his table to eat.

I’m struck by, how in the contemplative community, the gospel imperative to welcome and care for the stranger is given such weight. These are not to be people removed from the world, but embedded in it, like a lamp shining out – indeed in the middle ages in Europe they would have been just that. A beacon of light in the dark. But there is more here – the stranger, no matter who she is, is to be welcomed to the abbot’s table. The abbot, modelling Christ-like behaviour for the community. No matter who the stranger is, they are Christ for the community and to be given dignity and honour. No matter how important the contemplative endeavour (I use the word because I can think of no other!), this for Benedict takes precedence.

Welcoming the stranger is not just to be a matter of giving them food and shelter – they could be given that without welcome to the abbot’s table. It’s about nourishing them with more, and including them in the life of the community.

I took food to church yesterday, for distribution in food parcels. When the call was made at church it was for ‘no-name brand milk and tomatoes’, and although I understood the reason (to make it clear that every gift was welcome, and I acknowledge that no-name brand milk and tomatoes are probably every bit as good as the brand articles!), I felt a little sad. Second best things for the poor seems sad to me, and not terribly hospitable. But perhaps there is an even greater inhospitality in me – I give the food for distribution to the poor, but why aren’t I there doing it? Now, I’m not terribly good at things like that. I’m not all that organised. But what I am good at is listening and helping people with their problems, and sharing myself with them. Perhaps that is where I should be.

Lord, help me to see you every day, and to be always willing to invite you to my table – no matter who you are. Amen.

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