The Open Door

On the wing. – Rule of Benedict Chapter 66

On the last day of my pilgrimage, September 25, 2021, I should reach Einsiedeln, located in the heart of Central Switzerland close to Zurich. The towers of the Benedictine Abbey—the most important baroque building in the country—greeted me already from afar. Since the Middle Ages, the Chapel of Our Lady with the famous “Black Madonna” has been one of the most significant pilgrimage places in Europe.

I was curious what would await me at this famous place and had some ideas—certainly many people, I presumed. When finally in front of the basilica, I was surprised that there weren’t as many people as expected. This was certainly due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. But for me, it was still a lot of people because I had hardly met anyone in the last few days except for hotel employees. It had been a lonely path. Arriving  just in time for Vespers, I was happy to join.

Every day (except High Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), the monks go in procession after Vespers to the Chapel of Grace and sing the polyphonic “Salve Regina” in a choral setting from the late 18th century. Truly overwhelming. The tradition goes back to a foundation from 1547.

Late in the evening, I remembered that I wanted a pilgrim’s stamp after all. But where should I get it on Sunday? After Sunday Mass, I noticed an open door at the front of the church and thought it might be worth trying to go through it. An open door is easier for me to step under than to knock on the door. I now found myself at the monastery gate and was greeted by a friendly brother. When I asked where I would get the stamp, he answered: “Here, from me.” Not only did I get my stamp, I met an open ear and heart. With a stamp and comforted, I went on my way. When I think of Brother Alexander, Chapter 66 of the Rule comes to my mind:

1 At the door of the monastery, place a sensible (old) man who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose age keeps him from roaming about. …3 As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor man calls out, he replies, “Thanks be to God” or “Your blessing, please”; 4 then, with all the gentleness that comes from the fear of God, he provides a prompt answer with the warmth of love.

I think we’ve all had experiences of open or closed doors and how we’ve been received. Benedict describes that everyone who knocks is welcome, no matter when. In this first year after the death of my husband, I often experienced how beneficial a short conversation between door and hinge can be. Saint Benedict knew about it.

Annerose Schlaudraff, OblSB

Photo: The towers of the Benedictine Abbey, taken by oblate Annerose Schlaudraff