One of the spiritual touchstones for me in my life is a Benedictine Abbey out in the High Desert not far from Palmdale. It’s called St. Andrew’s Abbey situated in the small town of Valyermo. Perhaps some of you have visited this wonderful spiritual oasis. I first visited St. Andrew’s when I was in High School and was immediately touched by its serenity. No wonder that on entering the gates of the Abbey there is the now famous sign that reads, “No hunting, except for peace!”
The Benedictine order of monks and their sister congregations for religious women were founded by St. Benedict who lived in the 6thcentury. He is given the name, ‘the Father of Western monasticism’ because of the foundational ‘rule’ or ‘way’ of life that he wrote that regulated the life of monks within the monastery. The ‘rule of St. Benedict’ is known for its practicality as a school for spiritual growth for those who embrace the life of poverty, chastity and obedience together with stability to a monastic community. Benedictine monks live their spirituality and love for the Lord within a community, dedicated to their motto, ora et labora – work and prayer.
In the Rule of St. Benedict is found the beautiful admonition that, all guests are to be welcomed as Christ. If you have ever been a guest on retreat or simply a visit to any Benedictine monastery I’m confident that you have experienced this extraordinary hospitality. From the welcome given to visitors, to the gracious though simple accommodations in their guest houses, to their legendary food – all of these elements are part of their profound commitment to welcome all guests like Christ. By the way, some of the best beer I ever drank was made in some of these legendary abbeys in Europe!
The virtue of ‘hospitality’ is a theme that can be found in our scriptures today. Abraham in the Book of Genesis extends the traditional hospitality that is so characteristic of Semitic peoples as he welcomes the strangers who visit him. Those strangers were messengers – angels - from God who brought with them both a blessing and promise for Abraham, his wife and their descendants. Because of their gracious welcome to these strangers, Abraham’s life would be changed forever as he would become ‘the father of many nations.’
Our Gospel story is the familiar visit of Jesus to the home of his good friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. While this story has traditionally been interpreted as the interrelationship between a spirituality of action and contemplation, the broader and perhaps more profound message is the important theme of hospitality that this family extended to Jesus. Jesus, the itinerant rabbi who at times had no place to lay his head, found a home with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
To welcome all guests like Christ - my friends, what a difference our world would be if we took to heart this simple admonition. These past weeks we have sadly witnessed what happens to communities in our society and culture that are imprisoned by fear and suspicion of the other. Mistrust can so easily breed contempt. So much of the historic racial tension in our country and around the world is rooted in a failure to recognize the common humanity and dignity that is inherent in the sons and daughters of God. A common humanity and dignity that transcends geographical boundaries to bind us all as members of God’s family.
As we drink deeply of the grace of this moment, as we gather as a family of faith around this common table of blessing, may that virtue of hospitality grow ever stronger in our hearts and in our lives. What a difference our world would be indeed if we welcomed all in our lives like Christ!