The Feast Day of St. Benedict of Nursia
This week I have the honor of writing on the Feast Day of St. Benedict of Nursia who lived from around 480 to 540 AD in Italy. Benedict was motivated by a deep passion for Christ and for following his Way. He withdrew from studies in Rome because he found the society there to be too decadent. Taking up residence in a place of solitude, he prayed and studied on his own until he was asked by fellow monastics to be their abbot.
He created a Rule of Life for his monks, a set of instructions for living that covered everything from the organizational structure of an abbey to the spiritual disciplines that would best aid each individual in drawing close to God. After him, each founder of a Western religious order would build on this comprehensive structure.
What I love about St. Benedict is the simple compassion for humans in search of a relationship with God that is at the heart of his teachings. His respect for the person as vessel for the Holy shows in everything he says. “Listen with the ear of the heart,” he instructs. And, from his Rule, Chapter 53: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
David Miliband, CEO and President of the International Rescue Committee, in a TED talk published on June 20 last year tells the story of a global refugee crisis. We have 68.5 million refugees and internally displaced people now – people fleeing war and advanced persecution. That’s not including the others fleeing for economic reasons. After sharing a few of their stories, he says, “the biggest question in the 21st Century concerns our duty to strangers. The future you is about your duties to strangers.”
Welcoming the stranger is hard work. It is frightening to embrace those whose customs, language and religious understandings differ from ours. And here is where our spiritual practices help. In study and prayer we remember that we are Christ’s people. For us, belonging centers foremost in being a part of the Body of Christ, not in our kinship groups and affiliations. Our belonging and our security rest with Christ.
On this Feast Day of St. Benedict, honor the Founder of Western Monasticism by doing something for a stranger. Whether it’s giving money to a refugee relief organization like the IRC, volunteering to help refugees in the U.S., or simply standing in solidarity with somebody who looks like they could use a friend, welcome a stranger, for through them you welcome Christ.