My column in the July-August Faith magazine:
Recently I visited the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage outside of Cleveland and although the exhibit we went to see was excellent, what made a lasting impression on me was their gift shop!
It was one of those non-Hallmark places with things you don’t see anywhere else. Resisting the urge to buy everything, I did limit myself to what I wanted most, a mezuzah. Originally a mezuzah was a scroll in a little case fixed to an orthodox Jewish family's doorpost to remind them of their faith. This one is a metal “scroll” about 6” high and it announces, “Peace to this house.”
Peace/Pax has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. Pax Intrantibus, “Peace to those who enter here,” was placed above many of the doors and entrances in early monastic houses throughout Europe. Even today it is most common to have phrases or symbols built into the front doorways of our abbeys and monasteries. Though the phrases may vary, most include the word Pax/Peace.
In Benedictine communities the message of peace can be found not only over entryways, but in art pieces, liturgical books, medals and in many other formats.
In 1880 the abbey at Monte Cassino in Italy commissioned a jubilee medal in honor of the 1400th year anniversary of St. Benedict’s birth. Today that same medal is worn by followers of Benedict’s Rule throughout the world. It is crowded with symbols and letters, but clearly right above the cross on one side, is the word “Pax.” Coincidentally, the abbot of Monte Cassino at that time was a monk originally from an American abbey.
Here at our Erie monastery we continued this tradition by designing a four-foot high cornerstone to commemorate our chapel renovation in 2007. PAX is the only word; engraved under the same Benedictine cross used on the medal.
The modern “Welcome” mat may be a contemporary cousin of the mezuzah, placed at a house’s entrance as a sign of hospitality. In country living stores I’ve seen hangings such as: “Smith home since 1975” that can be hung on the lintel along with the house number.
Our contemporary mezuzah tells of our dedication and commitment to peace. What would you choose to say on a mezuzah if it hung at your entranceway?
P.S. By the way, the exhibit we visited was fantastic. It’s “Women and Spirit,” a traveling history of Catholic sisters in the USA and shares the effects thousands of religious women have had on education, health care and social services for 200 years. Go to womenandspirit.org for a great summary of it—with pictures!