The Rule of St. Benedict has a Chapter that I just read for my spiritual reading last week. It is called The Abbot’s Table. Obviously, we don’t live in the time of St. Benedict in the 6th Century. However, the notion of hospitality is still very much alive today for Benedictines, Cistercians, and Lay Cistercians, just to name a few groups who follow this admonition. I offer some reflections on what this concept means to me today.
I offer a somewhat unorthodox interpretation of The Abbot’s Table, which came to me as I meditated on Philippians 2:5.
LET EACH PERSON EAT AS THEY CAN
Each day, as I begin my seeking God in whatever comes my way, I see myself eating from The Abbot’s Table. On this table, I see foods arranged like as on a smorgasbord. I can eat as much or as little as I want from this table. Each day, I have a new plate and must place those things that taste good and nourish me on my plate.
I get to choose what foods I want. God is the cook and offers me food, not only for my body but more importantly for my spiritual energy to resist the ever-encroaching penetration of the corruption of matter and mind as I live out each day. I live in a world of matter, time, physical energy, and power, but, because I am an adopted son of the Father (by the grace and favor of God), I also live in a third universe, one that is incorruptible, a universe that has no end.
Christ is the food on my Abbot’s table. Reflect on this food that is not just symbolic but the energy of God that we need to sustain us in a state of incorruptibility that is the kingdom of heaven, now and after our corrupt bodies die.
44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him on the last day.
45It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.x
46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.y
47Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
48I am the bread of life.
49Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z
50this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.
51I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”a
52The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”
53Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
54Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
57Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.b
58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
59These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
The Words of Eternal Life.*
60Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
61Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?
62What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?*
63It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh* is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
64But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.c
65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
66As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
67Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
68Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
69We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”d
70Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?”
71He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.e https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/6
Each human approaches the Table of the Lord (The Abbot’s Table) with the sum total of our successes and failures at trying to love God with all our minds, our hearts, and our strength, plus loving our neighbor as our self. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:38ff) Although God’s table has everything we need to love others as Christ loved us, the variable lies in both the capability and capacity to eat what we need.
It is not up to me to judge what people eat from The Abbot’s Table, nor why they choose some foods but not eat others. I don’t worry about who is called to The Abbot’s Table or not. All humans are welcome at The Table of the Lord. Admittedly, some don’t know that it exists, while others do know but refuse to eat this or that food (maybe they are on a diet or fasting). We can choose food based on what is in our hearts and our love for others.
The real presence of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine is the actual Christ in front of me, the one that told me to eat this food to have life in me. The capacity of God in me to receive the sacred body into my soul depends on my Faith and humility to sit at The Abbot’s Table and recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
During Lent, a liturgical period of 40 days where we focus on moving from our false self to our true self as adopted sons and daughters of the Father, I use four Lay Cistercian practices to help me be present to Christ.
I share with you what I myself do. Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict each day.
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
1 Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech,* who drove him out and he went away.
2 I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be always in my mouth.a
3 My soul will glory in the LORD;
let the poor hear and be glad.
4 Magnify the LORD with me;
and let us exalt his name together.
5 I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
delivered me from all my fears.
6 Look to him and be radiant,
and your faces may not blush for shame.
7 This poor one cried out and the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
8 The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and he saves them.b
9 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him.c
10 Fear the LORD, you his holy ones;
nothing is lacking to those who fear him.d
11 The rich grow poor and go hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
12 Come, children,* listen to me;e
I will teach you fear of the LORD.
13 Who is the man who delights in life,f
who loves to see the good days?
14 Keep your tongue from evil,
your lips from speaking lies.
15 Turn from evil and do good;g
seek peace and pursue it.
16 The eyes of the LORD are directed toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
17 The LORD’s face is against evildoers
to wipe out their memory from the earth.
18 The righteous cry out, the LORD hears
and he rescues them from all their afflictions.
19 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted,
saves those whose spirit is crushed.
20 Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him from them all.
2 1He watches over all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.i
22 Evil will slay the wicked;
those who hate the righteous are condemned.
23 The LORD is the redeemer of the souls of his servants;
and none are condemned who take refuge in him.