Sunday, December 29, 2013

Benedictine Hospitality

In my current job, I usually do one day a week delivering around the state. One of my routes takes me up to Omaha, Nebraska, where I swing back down through Fremont and Columbus.

As it happens, I have to drive through the town of Schuyler, NE. (For non-locals, this is pronounced Sky-ler. Don't ask me how or why.)

I had to do a deliver the day after Christmas day, so the roads in Omaha were literally desserted, as it felt like I was driving around in some sort of post-apocalypse movie. While disconcerting, it meant I was running well ahead of schedule, so I swung through the Schuyler, NE, area around 11:30AM. It is usually at least 1 PM by the time I get there.

On a whim, I thought I would pop in for noon day prayer with the monks at the Christ the King priory there. I have a very dear friend who is my spiritual director when he was up at Blue Cloud Abbey before it closed. He and another of the monks from Blue Cloud have taken up residence at the monastery in Schuyler.  I have not had a chance to visit him since we both ended up moving to Nebraska, though I have kept in touch with him via e-mail. (Yes, many non-cloistered monks have e-mail access these days.) I had not e-mailed him to let him know I was going to be in the area because I really did not know I would be there until the hour of my visit. I rolled the dice on whether the monks would actually be there, being as it was the day after Christmas day. Sometimes monks take days off too after a busy day or liturgical season.

I managed to walk into the mission house where the monks live. This is separate from the huge retreat house they run across the road, which is used by all sorts of groups from Omaha, not just religious groups. (It is worth the visit, if you are ever in the area.) I made my way into their chapel, which was decorated beautifully for Christmas. I was there about 15 minutes before Sext (noon prayer).

Sure enough, the first monk that came is was none other than Father Tom, who was utterly shocked to see me there randomly. Without asking, he simply said, "Let me go talk to the cook and have him set out a place for lunch for you." With a twinkle, he was gone, only to return about three minutes later with a "It's all set!"

I was somewhat amused at the reciting of the psalms. I could tell it was a German religious order, as many of the monks had a decidedly German brogue when saying the psalm. Think: You are veing very foolish, ve have veys of making you pray."

Afterward, we had a lovely lunch of Mediterranean salad, mushroom soup, and a chocolate cake with sauce. Father Tom said, "We usually don't eat this well, but it's Christmas."

They certainly lived up to the Rule of St. Benedict:

Chapter 53: On the Reception of Guests

Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, 
for He is going to say, 
"I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.

As soon as a guest is announced, therefore,
let the Superior or the brethren meet him 
with all charitable service.
And first of all let them pray together,
and then exchange the kiss of peace.
For the kiss of peace should not be offered 
until after the prayers have been said, 
on account of the devil's deceptions.

In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing,
let all humility be shown.
Let the head be bowed 
or the whole body prostrated on the ground 
in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.

After the guests have been received and taken to prayer, 
let the Superior or someone appointed by him sit with them.
Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification,
and then let all kindness be shown him.
The Superior shall break his fast for the sake of a guest,
unless it happens to be a principal fast day 
which may not be violated.
The brethren, however, shall observe the customary fasts.
Let the Abbot give the guests water for their hands; 
and let both Abbot and community wash the feet of all guests.
After the washing of the feet let them say this verse:
"We have received Your mercy, O God,
in the midst of Your temple" (Ps.47[48]:10).

In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
for as far as the rich are concerned,
the very fear which they inspire
wins respect for them.

Let there be a separate kitchen for the Abbot and guests,
that the brethren may not be disturbed when guests,
who are never lacking in a monastery,
arrive at irregular hours.
Let two brethren capable of filling the office well 
be appointed for a year to have charge of this kitchen. 
Let them be given such help as they need, 
that they may serve without murmuring.
And on the other hand,
when they have less to occupy them,
let them go out to whatever work is assigned them.

And not only in their case 
but in all the offices of the monastery
let this arrangement be observed,
that when help is needed it be supplied,
and again when the workers are unoccupied 
they do whatever they are bidden.

The guest house also shall be assigned to a brother 
whose soul is possessed by the fear of God.
Let there be a sufficient number of beds made up in it; 
and let the house of God be managed by prudent men 
and in a prudent manner.

On no account shall anyone who is not so ordered
associate or converse with guests.
But if he should meet them or see them,
let him greet them humbly, as we have said,
ask their blessing and pass on, 
saying that he is not allowed to converse with a guest.

I may stop there again the next time I am in Omaha, though it probably won't be around lunch time.

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