Good Zeal

Pandemic Hospitality

Sister Priscilla meets with Oblates via ZoomHospitality has been one of the core values of the Benedictine way of life since the sixth century. St. Benedict describes the reception of guests in Chapter 53 of his Rule, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, who said: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matt. 25:35). Proper honor must be shown ‘to all, especially to those who share our faith’ (Gal. 6:10) and to pilgrims.”(53:1-2)  Our monastic community expresses its perspective on hospitality in our Community Philosophy:  “As Benedictine women, we are called to discern and respond to the needs of the Church today, especially those of a local church with which we share our charism: praying, promoting good liturgy, proclaiming God’s word, witness in community, receiving guests, teaching, healing, and working for peace and justice.”

While the pandemic has caused us to close our physical living space to the public, our hospitable hearts have remained wide open. We miss our Sunday Mass guests, our retreatants, our families and our many friends. The ache is genuinely felt.  However, staying ‘safer at home’ is bringing us even closer together through deeper prayer and is harvesting within us a deeper universal connection with the world beyond our monastery walls.

The virtual world of technology has provided multiple tools for staying connected to the world in so many ways. If this were the pandemic of 1918, we would not have all the virtual benefits we have today. Even five years ago, we didn’t have all the technology in place that has allowed us to adapt during the pandemic this year.

    • So how are we practicing virtual Benedictine hospitality during this present pandemic crisis?
      * Daily postings on our Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama Facebook page share inspirational thoughts and occasional news about our life together.
      * Periodic news postings, weekly blogs, and a pdf version of Benedictine Update are shared on our website. (
      * Several Sisters periodically email or phone donors and friends to keep in touch. Many friends also contact us, keeping in touch and asking for our prayers.
      * Through the conferencing website Zoom, we have participated in global prayer groups, attended virtual conferences, offered online retreats, and held Oblate meetings. The Zoom portal also made it possible for our scheduled annual Community Retreat Director, Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB, to provide live conferences for us all the way from Rome, Italy, eight thousand miles away! Several Sisters have even been able to visit with families face-to-face via Zoom, Skype, or Face Time.
      * Sister Minona Anne D’Souza’s perpetual monastic profession was a private ceremony, but it was video streamed  via Zoom so that her family could watch from their homes. Even though no guests were present, it was a beautiful and profound experience for the whole community.
      * Specific donations have been provided to charitable organizations directly serving individuals affected by the pandemic.

Television and the Internet have helped us to see how the world is striving to stay connected: grandparents playing cards with their grandchildren via Zoom, virtual concerts, Broadway musicals, movies, meditation videos, live-streamed worship services, exercise opportunities, virtual tours, and virtual learning.  Yet, some ways of deepening relationships and staying connected are happening without the use of technology. Time spent staying at home with the ones you love offers the opportunity to practice the hospitality of presence–of being fully present with one another–to listen attentively, to share ourselves genuinely, and to be a bridge of universal connection for our world.

In the Summer 2020 issue of Benedictine Update, our Prioress, Sister Tonette Sperando, shared the following message about this time in our history:
“I have perhaps never sensed so strongly the connection between you and us─your Benedictine Sisters─as I have in these recent months. The challenges of these times and the necessary separation from friends and family have brought to me a deepened awareness of the reality that we are one as God’s children. The slower pace and deeper silence have allowed me to be more attentive to my connections to all God’s creation. This sense has pierced the very core of my being as I have joined my prayer to the prayer of the world, to the cry of all God’s children, to the cry of the poor, to the cry of creation.”

We look forward to the day when we are able once again to receive guests. We definitely will be there waiting to greet them with open arms. Until then, the beat of our hospitable hearts remains strong and constant. We are in this together.

By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB

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