Originally published in the Fall, 2014 edition of "Monk Life" an electronic publication by
the Office of Vocations.
As a junior monk, one of my responsibilities includes heading
down to the kitchen just after lunch and helping box up and
distribute food for local men, women, and families who need
assistance from the monastery. It's easy to think that poverty is a
"big city problem," but the reality is, even in rural southern
Indiana there are people in need. As monks, we are called to meet
In the chapter titled "The Tools for Good Works," St. Benedict
commissions the monks, as part of their monastic observance, to
"relieve the lot of the poor" (RB 4:14). This directive, occurring
early in the Rule, appears to be ordered toward the
physical needs of the poor, that is, food, clothing, etc.
But as we see in Chapter 53, "The Reception of Guests," St.
Benedict tells his monks that "great care and concern are to be
shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more
particularly Christ is received" (RB 53:15). This second, and
seemingly more important, directive takes the original commission
to "relieve the lot of the poor" to a whole new level.
St. Benedict recognizes that we must not only feed and clothe
the poor, but also speak to them, listen to them, empathize with
their troubles and concerns. In other words, we must meet not only
their physical needs, but their emotional needs as well.
We must recognize the poor as human beings, as worthwhile, lovable,
children of God, "because in them more particularly Christ is
Our beloved martyr St. Meinrad certainly exemplified this
monastic ideal of receiving the poor and pilgrims. He received, and
even celebrated the Eucharist with, the very men who would later
rob and beat him to death. He still welcomed them as Christ, even
though he knew it meant sacrificing his life.
At Saint Meinrad Archabbey, we carry out this tradition of
receiving the poor. Our almoner, Br. Raban, with the help of the
novices and junior monks, packages and distributes food boxes to
local needy families on a daily basis. Br. James and I often joke
that Br. Raban "doesn't do anything but sit with them and talk"
while we are "doing all the work," that is, packaging the food.
The reality is, Br. Raban has the most important task in
receiving the poor, namely listening to them and
engaging them. Br. Raban truly exemplifies St. Benedict's
directive that "great care and concern are to be shown in receiving
Our Benedictine charism of hospitality is without borders when
it comes to social or economic classes. We are called to receive
everyone in the name of Christ who comes to our door. St. Benedict
especially commissions his monks to see Christ in the poor, but
more importantly, will they see Christ in us? Will we have the
strength to have "great care and concern" for the poor as is asked
It is easy to get wrapped up in the relative security of the
cloister; but tending to the needs of the local poor truly pulls us
out of that security and puts us on the "front lines" of our