To be read: April 5, August 5, December 5
The kitchen of the Abbot and guests should be separate from the brothers’, so that the brothers might not be disturbed by the guests who arrive at uncertain times—and monasteries are never without guests. 17Assign two brothers who are competent to work in the kitchen for a year. 18Additional help may be given them as they need it, that they may serve without grumbling. And when they have not enough to do in the kitchen, let them go out again for work where it has been assigned to them. 19This course should be followed, not only in this office, but in all the offices of the monastery, 20that whenever any brother needs help, it be given to him, and that when he has nothing to do, he again does his assigned work. 21Moreover, let the guest quarters be assigned to a God-fearing brother, 22where there should be a sufficient number of beds prepared. 23And the house of God should be managed by sensible men who will care for it wisely. 24On no account is anyone to associate or speak with guests, who is not ordered to do so; however if a brother meets or sees a guest, he is to greet them humbly, as we have said, and he is to ask for a blessing and to continue on explaining that he is not allowed to speak with a guest.
Moving from welcoming guests to taking care of their needs, Benedict gives instruction on how that work load may be divided between various members of the community. The most telling remark in this section is found in verse 23, where he says, “the house of God should be managed by sensible men who will care for it wisely.” We need wisdom in caring for our home, and wisdom in dealing with our guests.
We examined welcoming guests into the church in yesterday’s meditation. But what about into your home, and with whom do you associate in general? Benedict warns against the brothers having interaction with the guests, unless ordered to do so. Why is that? And what relevance does that have for us? It is wise to be cautious about whom you welcome into your home, and to whom you have extended interaction in your daily life. St. Peter cautions us to “be watchful, [for] your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). And St. Benedict warns in verse 5 of this chapter that the “kiss of peace should not be given before a prayer has been said, because satan seeks to deceive.”
When I was doing Kairos prison ministry at Central Prison in Raleigh, I was carpooling for the training sessions with two men from Cashiers, a town about an hour west of Asheville. These men would spend the night at my house on the night before the training sessions so that we could leave together early on Saturday morning. Both of these men were convicted felons. Neither Miranda nor I felt unsafe in their presence because we had all prayed together and spirit witnessed to spirit. Years later, I had a deacon who, before he had joined our parish, had also opened his home to a convicted felon, but he and his wife had neglected to prayerfully vet their guest. They left for work the second morning of his stay, and when they returned that evening their home had been thoroughly cleaned out. Everything of value was gone.
Yes, we should treat the stranger as if he or she were Christ Himself, to see him or her as the Imago Christi. But we must also be wise in whom we welcome into a deeper relationship. Benedict commands that “on no account is anyone to associate or speak with guests, who is not ordered to do so…” Seek confirmation of the Holy Spirit and the elders of the Church before taking a guest further into your confidence and home. St. Paul reiterates this warning, saying, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (1 Cor. 11:14-15). It is a delicate balance. As Christians we need to have an open and welcoming spirit. But take note of Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples as He sent them forth: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).