Guests remind us that, ultimately, community is not self-serving. Community serves the needs of the society and culture it is a part of. Benedict reminds us here that Jesus has identified himself with the guest as a stranger in their human need. Christ abides in the uniqueness of each person, and in their circumstance. To turn them away, to ignore their needs, is to close our selves off from the union-in-being that each person is with the divine life. In not receiving a guest community does itself real damage: we forget who we are.
This routine for the community’s receiving of guests is not just for the guest. This way of welcoming is included in the communal life so that the essentials of communal life are not themselves compromised. Yes, there is alteration and adjustment, however there is no compromise. A community of the rule does not stop praying or eating together, fasting or observing silence because of guests. This is a teaching for us today. How many of us have missed meditation and prayers because of visiting friends, family, or others? How many of us have, in our own homes, let silence be disturbed as we allow for visitors? To ask, for example, for a time of quiet while we went to meditate, even inviting our guests to meditate with us – might this be a blessing for them?
What might it mean that Christ is ‘more particularly’ received in poor and in pilgrims, more so than in the rich? This is not a value judgement, more an observation. The Christ in and with all is seen more readily in those who have nothing to lose and in those willing to lose what they have. Those who hold to what they have, especially if they have a lot, while they may enjoy a more secular awe, can have what they have acting as an impediment to the seeing and receiving of Christ. It is thus important that the feet of all be washed, so that the Christ in and as all be honoured regardless of circumstance. Here, feet washing is all about service, humility, and the honouring of guests. If we are not to wash the feet of our guests today, how might serve them, expressing a humility that honours them as the sacred humanity they are? What might we lose for them?
Why would Benedict ask guests and community to pray together first before the intimacy of a kiss of peace? There is a realization here that we can be deceived; we can misperceive intentions and action, seeing and feeling according to desire rather than the life of love. A kiss or a hug from someone new could set this in motion.
Attraction is sometimes a tinsel fleeting. Love is not tinsel; love is more akin to gold. Community is a place to experience the difference between tinsel and gold. Gold, of course, can manifest in community, however its showing requires time, discernment, and patience. Often the loving thing to do is to not act on attraction, waiting instead to see what the everyday life of community together will do with this attraction. Here there is an opportunity to experience the variations of love and desire.
This waiting can be a challenge. Waiting here is all about respecting the life of communal relating, as well as learning the gentle art of getting to know someone in a kind and loving way. All will be well because once gold is discovered, it lasts and has its place in the communal life – it is a blessing for everyone. Sometimes attraction becoming gold is the stranger community is asked to receive.