Benedict, Mary, Meditation, and the Marginal (Part 2)

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This is part two of an article that was first published in the Australian edition of the ‘Newsletter of The World Community for Christian Meditation’, June-July 2023.

Mary MacKillop’s living of Jesus’ mission was to seek out the suffering.  What was Benedict’s? Benedict’s response in his time was to set up communities of prayer and hospitality. Hospitality was a risk during his time of societal instability[1]. As well as this, he wanted to preserve and promote the way in which Christ could work on a human life, freeing us for love and union with God. Central to the outward focus of these praying communities was the reception of guests (see chapter 53 of the Rule of Benedict). While all were welcomed, Benedict asked that “great care and concern be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received.”

While Mary’s primary response was to seek the marginalised, Benedict’s was to receive them. Of course, after the seeking there was care and support, so too, after the receiving. In both this seeking and receiving, the marginalised of Benedict’s and Mary’s time were supported. Both Mary and Benedict expressed, in their own time and place, in their own ways, the mission statement of Jesus. The question remains, how do we, as Christian meditators, show this same love and compassion to the marginalised of our time?

Both Benedict and Mary were, in their own ways, contemplatives-in-action[2] supported by the God-life within themselves and their own Christian communities – Benedictine and Josephite. A communal and a personal attentiveness to God was practiced by both and was vital for both as a support for their missions. As it was for Jesus.

The meditator and Christian are also invited to be a contemplative-in-action. Being Christian and a meditator, we are invited to live out something of Jesus’ mission and the mission of the WCCM. Both are not mutually exclusive. Meditation can support us as we (in our own personal ways) include and support the marginalised. And we can also show the ways in which meditation itself can be practiced by the marginalised as a way into the experience of the God of Jesus. How we do this depends on temperament and the drawing of our hearts within our own circumstance – just like Benedict and Mary.

What has been my experience? Back in 1995, I volunteered for twelve months, in Sydney, with a live-in community inspired by Mary and her Josephites called Josephite Community Aid (JCA). We walked with the mentally ill living in boarding houses, as well as newly arrived European war refugees (from Bosnia-Herzegovina). At this time, I was new to Christian meditation and discovering how it could support my volunteer experience.

My time volunteering with JCA instilled in me a deep appreciation of the importance of Jesus’ mission. I was also discovering that I too was one of the poor that Jesus loved. My own personality and internal disorder limited what I could do. Over many years, meditation has helped God to sooth and heal me and has helped me see my limitation as a freedom to focus on what is possible.

Over the years, both JCA and the WCCM have helped me in the integrating of meditation (the internal practice) with my own commitment to the marginalised (the external practice). After volunteering with JCA I began working to support people with acquired brain injury as they lived in their own homes. Also around this time, I continued a friendship with Cam – a friend of mine with a substantial brain injury due to a car accident.

Today I support Cam as he continues to live with the ways his injury has marginalised him. My meditation practice helps me greatly in this. As well as being a part of our local mediation group, I am also wondering how I might provide meditation as a way of loosening the bonds of captivity for those not with the WCCM and somehow marginalised.   

How do we all, as Christian meditators, live with the marginalised of our time? They may be closer to us than we think.

[1] ‘Benedictine Hospitality’, Robert Atwell, in The Oblate Life (ed. Gervase Holdaway), 2008, pp. 87-93. “Benedict’s households of God were stable and economically self-sufficient units. They were not only places of prayer and learning, they were safe havens for weary travellers, the weak and the vulnerable. Monasteries were valued places of hospitality and refuge.” (189)

[2] I’ve never really liked this description. It sounds as if there is an option in the contemplative life: you can act or not act. Contemplative life is part and parcel of the Christian life and so part of an active life. How we act is influenced by time, place, temperament, and the call of our hearts. All this needs to be in dialogue with the mission of Jesus so that his mission becomes somehow, uniquely, and practically, our mission.   


  1. Personally, I would refer to contemplation and describe what we mean by that (not label it as “Christian”, WCCM or meditation which I feel are innately exclusionary) and how contemplative action is possible, and what distinguishes it from un/non contemplative action

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