When most of us think of the Benedictine value of Hospitality, we are drawn to Chapter 53 of The Rule in which Benedict states: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”
During my initial Oblate formation, when I first read these words, I interpreted them to mean that each guest was somehow a stand-in for Jesus, and we were supposed to imagine that we were welcoming Jesus into our home. But, after reading the remarkable book, Universal Christ by Father Richard Rohr, as well as drawing from my own contemplative prayer experience, I’ve come to realize Benedict was talking about something much more profound than simply imagining Jesus at our door. Benedict is instructing us to “Welcome all as Christ” because each of us really is the embodiment of the Universal Christ.
According to Rohr, the Universal Christ is Divine Presence pervading all of creation since the very beginning. “God’s first ‘idea’ was to become manifest—to pour out divine, infinite love into finite, visible forms.
Whenever the material and the spiritual coincide, there is the Christ,” he writes, “Jesus is the union of human and divine in space and time; Christ is the eternal union of matter and Spirit from the beginning of time.” The Universal Christ permeates all creation, including us. We are all the image and likeness of God. “There is only Christ, he is everything, and he is in everything,” St. Paul proclaims (Colossians 3:11). The Christ Mystery that Paul speaks of in Colossians is the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything.
In Oblate formation, we learned that Benedict was inspired by the lives of the desert mystics of the 4th century and their central focus of Seeking God through experiences of Divine Union in contemplative prayer. Benedict’s model for monastic life was intended to create a community of practice that would be a structure for both prayer and work to support each member on this quest to seek God. For Benedict, I believe the natural extension of this experience of Divine Union was to understand experientially the truth of the Christ mystery that Paul speaks of in Colossians.
With this profound understanding of the inherent Christhood of each person, Benedict’s instruction to “Welcome All as Christ” seems obvious. In each person we meet, there is a spark of the divine light that shines through everything, if we have eyes to see it. As Rohr states: “Christ is the light that allows people to see things in their fullness…to see Christ everywhere else.” (p. 33). “This is the illuminating light that enlightens all things. When Christ calls himself the ‘light of the world’, he is not telling us to look just at him, but to look out at life with his all-merciful eyes. We see him so we can see like him, and with the same infinite compassion” (p. 37).
With enlightened eyes to see the radiance everywhere else, our message to the person at the doorstep is clear: You are the radiant light of Christ, and we welcome you.
Rohr, Richard, OFM. The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for and Believe. New York, NY: Convergent Books, 2019.