Chapter 61: The Reception of Visiting Monks

1 A visiting monk from far away will perhaps present himself and wish to stay as a guest in the monastery. 2 Provided that he is content with the life as he finds it, and does not make excessive demands that upset the monastery, 3 but is simply content with what he finds, he should be received for as long a time as he wishes. 4 He may, indeed, with all humility and love make some reasonable criticisms or observations, which the abbot should prudently consider; it is possible that the Lord guided him to the monastery for this very purpose. 5 If after a while he wishes to remain and bind himself to stability, he should not be refused this wish, especially as there was time enough, while he was a guest, to judge his character.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

We have about half of this Chapter to reflect upon today. Usually visiting monks don’t just “show up” any more. Instead, they write ahead about their visit. Most visiting monks don’t come with any idea of staying in the community they are visiting. Sometimes they come to our community simply out of curiosity. Sometimes they come because they have been invited by one of the brothers of the community.

Saint Benedict is very wise when he mentions the conditions that one hopes to find in a visiting monk: content with the life as he finds it and making no excessive demands. Experience shows very clearly that not all monks are content with what they find and easily begin to make criticisms and negative observations. When we find a monk who is never content with wherever he has been, we know that there is a serious problem. Other monks simply begin to criticize–and sometimes quite correctly–the defects that they find in a community. Even this is not a good sign! Benedict criterion for honest Christian correction is that the monk makes any criticism with humility and love!

This is excellent advice even for living together with any other person or with other monks: content with one’s own life and no excessive demands. Sometimes we forget to be content with our monastic life, even with its defects. Sometimes we begin to make demands on other monks without thinking about what we are doing. Sometimes we criticize but without humility and love. We know the difference if someone criticizes us without humility and without love. We should be able to recognize the difference it makes in the lives of our own brothers.

May God show us how to live together, how to receive the visiting monk and how to praise God in all circumstances.

Chapter 61. The Reception of Visiting Monks 6 – 14

6 But if during his stay he has been found excessive in his demands or full of faults, he should certainly not be admitted as a member of the community. 7 Instead, he should be politely told to depart, lest his wretched ways contaminate others. 8 If, however, he has shown that he is not the kind of man who deserves to be dismissed, let him, on his request, be received as a member of the community. 9 He should even be urged to stay, so that others may learn from his example, 10 because wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King. 11 Further, the abbot may set such a man in a somewhat higher place in the community, if he sees that he deserves it. 12 In fact, whether it is a monk or someone in the priestly or clerical orders mentioned above, the abbot has the power to set any of them above the place that corresponds to the date of his entry, if he sees that his life warrants it. 13 The abbot must, however, take care never to receive into the community a monk from another known monastery, unless the monk’s abbot consents and sends a letter of recommendation, 14 since it is written: Never do to another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

We conclude this Chapter on visiting monks with the conditions under which a visiting monk should be asked to leave or the conditions under which he might even be encouraged to transfer his vows.

Saint Benedict is very careful, however, to do the right thing in relationship to the abbot of the visiting monk. The abbot of the house may not accept anyone into the community without the consent of the abbot of the monk and his recommendation.

From experience it is clear that sometimes abbots do not recommend monks who are actually quite good monks and sometimes abbots recommend positively monks who simply do not work out in a new community. Saint Benedict has no comments on that type of situation. He is here simply making sure that abbots respect the vows and the rights of monasteries. And that is as it should be.

One aspect of this Chapter that is hardly ever used in practice is to change the order of the monks, the seniority of a monk. So those who come from other monasteries end up in the same seniority that they would have had if they had entered their new monastery from the beginning.
Over many years the tradition seems to say to the abbot and to the community: don’t move people around in their order within the monastery because it creates problems.

So let us ask our Lord to show us how to receive visiting monks. More importantly may the Lord guide us to lead strong and holy monastic lives.