Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Care for the Poor



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 those needs.

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 received."

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 poor people."

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 of us?

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 faith.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.