>Monasticism: Part II "Welcoming but Challenging"

Posted: 30/07/2009 in monasticism

>Welcome to Part II of the monasticism blogs.

The previous blog was about how Monasticism emphasized communal nature of Christian life over the individual “personal Jesus.” This emphasis on the internal Christian community did not mean that they ignored those outside their cloister. Rather, this community could be described a certain way: welcoming, but challenging.

The Monks of Saint Benedict were not the kind of monks who thought that interacting with outsiders was taboo. In fact, the idea of welcoming a stranger was as important as anything else. Any stranger could knock on an abby door, ask for a place to stay, and be welcomed. One could say that the stranger might be “welcomed warmly” but this does not do the monks justice. The instructions for hospitality clearly went above and beyond:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims…All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. 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. After guests have been received, the should be invited to pray; then the superior or appointed brother will sit with them.

The idea of welcoming strangers as if they were Christ himself is such a strong notion. Yet here, it seems so imminently scriptural.

Yet actually becoming one of the monks was significantly challenging. If someone hoped to join the monastery, they first had to show a great degree of persistence –even to get though the front door! Additionally, after persistently knocking on the door, those joining were not initiated right away. There was a long on-going process –a kind of vetting- in which a new member would go through before becoming a full monk. This lasted an entire year. The cautiousness in accepting a new member is summed up in this sentence from the rule: “Do not grant newcomers to monastic life an easy entry, but as the Apostle says, ‘Test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1)’”

This could be summed up in what is meant by “welcoming, but challenging.” Strangers are welcomed as Christ himself. They were lavishly loved and cared for*. Yet those who wish to join must have patience. This is because the Christian life can be hard. It takes time to grow into.

That’s for part III.

Thanks for reading.

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*I should say that I and my family experienced something like this. Many years ago, while vacationing in Italy, my Dad had our family stay at convent. He’s cousin was a nun there. They were some of the most hospitable and caring people I have ever seen.

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