I pray that those who are in authority, even in our country, would understand that when one welcomes those who are in danger of dying they will be blessed, because God takes care of his servants - The Archbishop

Mass on the feast of St Benedict


  • Homily by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna

    St Peter's Monastery, Mdina
    11th July 2018


    Today we are celebrating the feast of the patron of Europe, Saint Benedict of Nursia. Saint Benedict and companions, first in Subiaco and then in Montecassino, started what we may call a new movement of renewal that at its heart is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    If the Roman Empire was built on arrogance, on the might of power, on the slavery of people that were the object of the State, or rather the chattel of the master who buys them, this new culture inaugurated by Benedict through his monasteries, was built on the dignity of the children of God, not only for the monks who were the family of the monastery, but also for the villages and entire cities that grew around it.

    When we read the map of Europe we can see that certain place names witness to this monastic civilization that became an intrinsic part of European culture. For example, Münster, a city in Germany, means ‘monastery’ so does Westminster, that is located in the heart of London. These are but two illustrations of how Benedict and his companions built the Christian backbone of our continent.

    The Rule that St Benedict gave to his companions became a tangible example of how the Gospel is lived in the community, in a special way in the monastic community of people who leave everything for the kingdom of God. These monastics grew in virtue by working for unity among themselves and by submitting themselves in humility to their abbot or abbess.

    Among the innovations introduced by Benedict that have become part of the glory of our European heritage, is the culture of hospitality.  A characteristic trait of every monastery was the hospitality accorded to travellers who knocked on the monastery’s door. So much so that every monastery had its own guesthouse, in Italian ‘foresteria’ which is derived from forestièro [etymology: end of XIII c. forestier from Latin: fòris, fòras therefore a stranger, foreigner], where the Abbot and companions welcomed the stranger because this is the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing,
    let all humility be shown.

    Let the head be bowed 
    or the whole body prostrated on the ground 
    in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.

    I shall read out what Saint Benedict wrote in his Rule (Chapter 53 On the Reception of Guests) about guests in the monastery:

    Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, 
    for He is going to say, 
    "I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).
    And to all let due honour be shown,
    especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.

    As soon as a guest is announced, therefore,
    let the Superior or the brethren meet him 
    with all charitable service.
    And first of all let them pray together,
    and then exchange the kiss of peace.
    For the kiss of peace should not be offered 
    until after the prayers have been said, 
    on account of the devil's deceptions.

    [Saint Benedict was a very practical man, first one prays and then exchange kisses].

    Saint Benedict continues:

    In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing,
    let all humility be shown.

    Let the head be bowed 
    or the whole body prostrated on the ground 
    in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.

    [Let me repeat this: Let the head be bowed 
    or the whole body prostrated on the ground 
    in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.
    ]

    After the guests have been received and taken to prayer, 
    let the Superior or someone appointed by him sit with them.
    Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification,
    and then let all kindness be shown him.
    The Superior shall break his fast for the sake of a guest,
    unless it happens to be a principal fast day 
    which may not be violated.

    [It is the Abbot who fasts and not the guest – “The brethren, however, shall observe the customary fasts.” Because the guest is the master in this scenario, the brethren must fast but never the guest.]

    Benedict continues:

    Let the Abbot give the guests water for their hands; 
    and let both Abbot and community wash the feet of all guests.


    [One can only imagine the state of the feet of these pilgrims after having walked in dusty and dirty roads, however the monastics washed their feet all the same]:

    After the washing of the feet let them say this verse:
    "We have received Your mercy, O God,
    in the midst of Your temple" (Ps.47[48]:10).

    In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
    the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
    because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
    for as far as the rich are concerned,
    the very fear which they inspire
    wins respect for them.

    In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
    the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
    because it is especially in them that Christ is received


    We Maltese feel small, and rightly so for that is what we are. In real situations we realise that we cannot solve certain problems on our own, but we need the solidarity of others, we need the solidarity of the whole of Europe. The burden must be carried by everyone but woe betide us if we close the door, if we harden our hearts, and if we insult, criticize and condemn those who remind us what being Christian truly means.How wonderful it that we understand the great good that Saint Benedict has done for the whole of Europe, including our country, with this charisma of hospitality. I am so struck by the evangelical motivation of this hospitality and by the concrete reality of this Rule. Saint Benedict instructs his Abbot that he does not close the door on the stranger who comes knocking, or in our case, we should not close the ports, airports or fly zones for the stranger who visits our shores. We must say: “Christ himself is knocking on the door of my heart and on the door of our shores. And if we close this door someone will surely tell us: “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in” (Mt 25:43). If we close our hearts and our door our responsibility will be great and we can never escape it for some situations cry out to God, some injustices, of which we might be accomplices, cry out to the justice of God. And Saint Benedict will intercede for us.

    Saint Benedict instructs his Abbot that he does not close the door on the stranger who comes knocking, or in our case, we should not close the ports, airports or fly zones for the stranger who visits our shores.


    I pray for the intercession of Saint Benedict, patron of Europe – who created a network of hospitality throughout the continent – so that his spirit of hospitality does not perish. And I pray so that whoever has the power and the authority, even in this country, understands that when you welcome those who are in danger of death – you do not condemn them to death or to slavery – and thus you will be blessed for God takes care of his servants. But if you close your heart, if you close the door of your heart for those in need, you bring a curse upon yourself by your own hand. The choice is in your hands.

    In real situations we realise that we cannot solve certain problems on our own, but we need the solidarity of others, we need the solidarity of the whole of Europe.


    We cannot but insist that the solidarity that we show to our brothers and sisters should also be the solidarity that other countries, which are much larger and have more resources, should accord to us. But we pray for the intercession of Saint Benedict so that we will not be held up as an example of a people who close their doors, whose heart has hardened, and who close their eyes to avoid seeing the need of his brother and sister who are stripped of all dignity.We pray, O Saint Benedict, to soften our hardened heart, to free us from fear, because I do understand that when you find yourself in a difficult situation and there is a knock on the door, you are startled. The first reaction would be: “Who is this? I invited no one. Isn’t it better if I continue to mind my own business and enjoy the money I have saved? Why should I look for trouble?” The knock on the door, even on the monastery’s door can come in the middle of a stormy night. Isn’t it precisely at this moment that the pilgrim is more in need of assistance, when he and his children are drowning?

    Saint Benedict, pray for us!


     Charles J. Scicluna
        Archbishop of Malta


    Readings of the Mass:
    First reading: Pr 2: 1-19
    Psalm: Ps 33
    Second reading: Mt 5:3
    Gospel: Mt 19:27-29