1 At the door of the monastery, place a sensible old man who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose age keeps him from roaming about. 2 This porter will need a room near the entrance so that visitors will always find him there to answer them. 3 As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor man calls out, he replies, “Thanks be to God” or “Your blessing, please”; 4 then, with all the gentleness that comes from the fear of God, he provides a prompt answer with the warmth of love. 5 Let the porter be given one of the younger brothers if he needs help. 6 The monastery should, if possible, be so constructed that within it all necessities, such as water, mill and garden are contained, and the various crafts are practiced. 7 Then there will be no need for the monks to roam outside, because this is not at all good for their souls. 8 We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
After treating of the Abbot and the Prior, Saint Benedict turns an official who is often the “face” of the monastery for those who come to visit: the Porter. The Porter is the first monk that most monks meet when they come to a monastery. Very often the only impression that many visitors have of what a monk is, is based on this meeting with the Porter of the monastery.
Many of us have heard stories of how badly people are received in lots of monasteries, particularly in Europe. But the same can happen in any monastery. The Porter and any monk who meets a visitor give to that visitor a sense of what a monk is. If the monk is cranky, short-tempered, abrupt, etc., that is how the visitor will perceive all monks. It is really important that the Porter and any monk who comes into contact with a guest or a visitor truly reflect the Lord Jesus!
We also hear emphasized in this chapter the need for monks to remain in their monasteries and no be wandering around outside. When monks do meet a guest or a visitor, they should not be involved in conversations with them. This is difficult at times! Sometimes, of course, monks intentionally try to meet guests and this is not acceptable monastic behavior. Monks should guard and value their solitude in the monastery.
At the end of this Chapter, Saint Benedict places a very clear and short admonition to read the Rule often in community. In the tradition, this has come to mean reading it three times a year–just as the novices are supposed to have it read to them three times in the year. We also read the Constitutions once a year and the Customary once a year–again with the hope that no one can plead ignorance of the basic structures that form our community.
May the Lord help us be strong and good monks, observant and always filled with charity and love.