Homily for Feast Day of St Benedict of Nursia
July 14 2010
My priest honored my request to move the Feast Day of St Benedict of Nursia, which was Monday, to today. Not only is St Benedict one of my two patron saints, but he has a place in the history of modern Christian monasticism.
Benedict was born in Nursia, the son of a Roman nobleman in the year 480 . He has a sister, Scholastic, who is also among the saints we recognize.
Benedict is most known for writing a literary work known as The Rule of St Benedict . It is important to note that “ rule” in this usage of the word, , does not mean laws or mores. In this sense, the word “ rule” traces its meaning back to the Latin word which loosely means” to measure”. Benedict wrote his rule as a literary measuring stick with which Christian laypeople can aspire towards.
Although Benedictines have used The Rule as a guide to their communal way of life for centuries, Benedict himself did not wish to start an order of monastic’s. His Rule ‘s original audience were laypeople.
I first came across the saint years ago when my Presbyterian minister at the time let me borrow a copy of Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk. This is a story of one thoroughly Protestant woman’s account of her extended stay with Benedictine monks in the western United States. Ms Norris’ book captivated my attention & led me to further investigate a core principle of Benedictine life: radical hospitality.
No, hospitality in the Christian sense isn’t about using the correct salad fork at the potluck. Benedictine hospitality is so much more than anything we can learn from Emily Post’s etiquette column.
In the fourth chapter of his Rule, Benedict writes” The First of all things is to love the LORD God with your whole heart & soul & strength and then to love your neighbor as you do yourself.” Does this sound familiar? Radical hospitality is nothing more than following the first & greatest commandment.
Radical hospitality isn’t easy & I’m the first to admit that it is much easier to love “ neighbors” who act, believe, look & think as I do. But Benedictine hospitality calls us to step away from our comfort zones to embrace the stranger.
St Augustine’s’ does a pretty good job of welcoming guests who find themselves among us on a Sunday or Wednesday worship. But lets face it: al of us are guilty of preferring to associate with people who are very similar to us & our loved ones. We are wary of the stranger who might show some sort of outward “ difference”.
My favorite charge while growing up as a Protestant has echoes of St Benedict’s radical Hospitality It is from chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Romans ”…let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…Rejoice in hope be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, Contribute to he needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
May this be true for you & me. Amen.