The kitchen for the abbot or prioress and guests ought to be separate, so that guests – and monasteries are never without them – need not disturb the community when they present themselves at unpredictable hours. Each year, two monastics who can do the work competently are to be assigned to this kitchen. Additional help should be available when needed, so that they can perform this service without grumbling. On the other hand, when the work slackens, they are to go wherever other duties are assigned them. This consideration is not for them alone, but applies to all duties in the monastery; members are to be given help when it is needed, and whenever they are free, they work wherever they are assigned.
The guest quarters are to be entrusted to a God-fearing member. Adequate bedding should be available there. The house of God should be in the care of members who will manage it wisely.
No monastics are to speak or associate with guests unless they are bidden; however, if the members meet or see guests, they are to greet them humbly, as we have said. They ask for a blessing and continue on their way, explaining that they are not allowed to speak.
The community leader, along with the guest quarters and kitchen, act as a kind of buffer between the community and guests. In fact, it could be said that the community leader throughout this chapter is acting as a guardian of the communal life. As they welcome guests, spending time with their personality and inclinations, the community leader can discern what kind of influence different guests are having, as well as what the communal response could be.
This is all part of the balance between how guests are received and the preservation of a healthy enough contemplative and communal life. In choosing to welcome all, all sorts are welcomed. Some may not yet understand the importance of preserving the rhythm and spirit of a contemplative lifestyle; others may be more receptive. Reception is a two-way street; while a contemplative and a contemplative community are willing to receive and welcome guests in all their variation, a guest is not necessarily ready to receive what contemplative means.
A guest is not a community member. In time, some may become members as their motivations and calling are tested. Whatever is happening, Benedict is asking that members walk a middle way between real welcome and the preservation of lifestyle. This is done kindly and gently. Over time contemplatives are about losing their rigidity as the divinity within is welcomed more and more. As this happens, it becomes more a natural thing to welcome guests as a part of the contemplative way of life. Separateness falls away as divinity is welcomed. Hospitality is perhaps the biggest indication that divine love is operative in us.
What grows in us is an acceptance of difference. The challenge is to not allow this acceptance to have free influence over the daily rhythm. Acceptance of difference is not the compromising of a way of life. Visiting friends, family, and others may be used to having the TV or the radio on all the time; they may find eating together somewhat alien; extended periods of quiet may disturb them; stopping everything to meditate may be a strange thing. If our guests feel welcomed amid what is different for them, then this is a sign that we are genuinely welcoming of what is different about them for us.
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Hebrews 13:1-3, NRSV)