Our Retreat Center housekeeping routines got a little off track this week. Consequently I spent part of last evening cleaning guest rooms. I dusted with the thoroughness of a Benedictine – up and down, back and forth, with the grain, over and under, not missing an inch of exposed surface on desk after desk and dresser after dresser and chair after chair…oh, and the lamps and mirrors and picture frames and so forth as I tried to make things just right for our next set of guests.
As a Benedictine, I was content. Monastics value manual labor. St. Benedict says, “when they live by the labor of their hands…then they are really monks.” It was satisfying work.
This morning I was back at it, moving room to room accompanied by the homely hum of the vacuum cleaner. As I worked, I started thinking about Papa Francesco. Much ink has been spilt on Pope Francis and many pixels have been pixed and parsed. But for me, it was the homely, humble hum of the vacuum that brought to mind our new Pope.
I think that Papa Francesco would also find satisfaction in setting things right for the next pilgrim who comes to our door. Although a Jesuit, and though bearing the name of Francis, I think he would like the words of Benedict:
All guests are to be received as Christ.
And then this:
Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received. (RB 53)
So it seems that it’s not really about manual labor after all, as satisfying and contemplative as that may be. It’s about setting things right in the household of God, preparing a place of solace and rest for all who come. And so desk by desk, dresser by dresser, room by room, I do my small part to help prepare a place of mercy.