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The year officially started with a week of orientation activities at the Lay Centre, with the community half comprised of returning residents and half of new members. Robert White, our assistant director and patristic scholar, lead a couple of guided walks around the city and the neighbourhood. House meetings included topics ranging from the sharing of life and responsibilities, prayer in community to living with diverse faith traditions and the psychology of building healthy community life. Felix Körner, SJ and Tim Costello, SM of the Gregorian joined us on different nights to add their wisdom to the discussions.
The week culminated with a day of reflection spent at the Casa San Bernardo at Tre Fontane and lead by Abbot Edmund of the Benedictine Abbey at St. Paul Outside the Walls. Tre Fontane is the site where Paul was martyred and where, according to pious legend, after he was decapitated his head bounced three times. At each place where his head hit the ground, a spring welled up. One of the churches on the site was constructed over the three springs, which are each commemorated with their own altar featuring a relief of the Apostle’s head. Nevermind the fact that pre-Christian pagans had already built shrines on the site of the three fountains…
The church, it is interesting to note, has two main altars on the axis, over which are depictions of the martyrdom of St. Peter on one end and St. Paul on the other. Even here in this place of the martyrdom of Paul, his co-patron of Rome seems to have gained the upper hand as all the chairs are oriented to the altar of Peter rather than Paul!
Three churches and a retreat centre share the grounds with the Cistercian abbey. In addition to the Church of San Paul of the Three Fountains are the abbey church of Sts. Anastasias and Vincent, and the church of Santa Maria Scala Coeli. The Benedictines and the Trappists are both involved in various ways with the site, which includes among its various activities the raising of the sheep which are shorn on St. Agnes’ Day to prepare the pallia presented to Metropolitans on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul by the bishop of Rome.
Abbot Edmund Power, OSB, lead our day of prayer and reflection around the theme of Hospitality as Spirituality according to St. Paul and to St. Benedict.
Hospitality is reciprocal, not just social but sacred. This can be missed in the host-guest relationship in English, but in Italian the same word is used for both: Ostpite. Recieving hospitality is as sacred a duty as offering it. Paul’s observations that “All is Grace” indicates that following the law is insufficient, we must rely on one another. Little wonder the semitic cultures put such emphasis on hospitality.
Genesis 18 gives the famous account of Abraham receiving the three figures at his tent under the Oak of Mamre. (Interestingly, today is the Feast of the Patriarch Abraham, according to the Roman Martyrology). Paul treats the topic in three places we examined:
Romans 14.1-4 –
Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
2 Cor 6.11-13 –
We have spoken frankly to you, Corinthians; our heart is open wide. You are not constrained by us; you are constrained by your own affections. As recompense in kind (I speak as to my children), be open yourselves.
Phil 4.14-20 –
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress. You Philippians indeed know that at the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, not a single church shared with me in an account of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was at Thessalonica you sent me something for my needs, not only once but more than once. It is not that I am eager for the gift; rather, I am eager for the profit that accrues to your account. I have received full payment and I abound. I am very well supplied because of what I received from you through Epaphroditus, “a fragrant aroma,” an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
We concluded with a reading and observations on the Rule of Benedict, chapter 53, which deals with the “Reception of Guests”. Benedict describes a formal, sacramental act of welcoming a guest and describes the balance between keeping the life of the community going yet making exceptions to fasting and other norms in order to make the guest be welcome. The priority he gives is clear: First the poor and pilgrims, with whom Christ is particularly received, then brothers in the faith, and others.