by Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS, Bishop of Monmouth
One of the most popular icons adopted by churches in the West is Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity which reflects the Old Testament account of the hospitality of Abraham. The icon depicts the three Persons of the Holy Trinity sitting around a table; the front of the table is open to welcome the worshipper into the very life of the Holy Trinity. The icon reflects the hospitality of God and the theme of hospitality runs throughout the Bible as being a sacred duty. It is therefore not surprising that hospitality features so much as part of the Religious Life and St Benedict told his monks to receive guests as Christ himself.
There is of course, the danger that nice religious people will just look after nice religious guests, but if monastic hospitality is to reflect the hospitality of Jesus then it needs to reach out to those on the edge. Wherever we look in the New Testament Jesus offers hospitality to those whom society spurns – the Samaritan woman at the well, Zaccheus stuck up his tree, a Prodigal Son, the poor, the blind, the lame and those with leprosy. Perhaps those on the edge today are the asylum seekers, mental health sufferers, family carers, single parents and victims of violence and abuse. St Benedict wrote of the care to be taken when receiving pilgrims and the poor because in them more particularly is Christ received. No wonder that today we use the term ‘radical hospitality’ to describe this ministry.
Hospitality however, is not just restricted to caring for guests; it is about developing a culture and mindset that not only welcomes strangers in the name of Christ but also welcomes new ideas and new ways of doing things. Hospitality is as much a matter of the mind as of the heart. Here I believe the Religious Life can teach the rest of the Church by example. So often new challenges and new ideas are resisted without any real consideration, but an hospitable heart and mind will be able to welcome new ideas, new ventures, new risks and recognise Christ presence in the life of the Spirit at work in our midst.