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Ancient Monasteries Practiced Radical Hospitality

The Rule of St. Benedict, written by Saint Benedict of Nursia 1,500 years ago, has instructions for a very specific role in the monastery—the porter in charge of answering the door. The porter's job is to open the door to the monastery when someone knocks. Not much of a role, you say? Ah, but there's so much to it. One contemporary Benedictine author notes, "The way we answer doors is the way we deal with the world."

The porter is given very specific instructions. He is to sleep near the entrance to the monastery so he can hear and respond in a timely way when someone knocks. The porter is to offer a welcome, in Benedict's words, "with all the gentleness that comes from reverence of God," and "with the warmth of love." As soon as anyone knocks, the porter is to reply, "Thanks be to God. Your blessing, please." He is to say this before he even knows who's on the other side of the door. And then the porter is to make sure that the other monks know of the presence of a visitor in their midst so that they can join in extending a welcome.

In contrast, the 20th century writer Dorothy Parker used to answer her telephone with this greeting: "What fresh hell is this?" How do you respond when someone knocks on the door of your church or home or life? Is it closer to "What fresh hell is this?" or "Thanks be to God"?

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