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Letters or Gifts

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Chapter 54

In no circumstance are monastics allowed, unless the prioress or abbot says they may, to exchange letters, blessed tokens or small gifts of any kind, with their parents or anyone else, or with another monastic. They must not presume to accept gifts sent them even by their parents without previously telling the prioress or abbot. If the prioress or abbot orders acceptance, they still have the power to give the gift to whomever; and the one for whom it was originally sent must not be distressed, "lest occasion be given to the devil (Eph 4:27; 1 Tm 5:14)." Whoever presumes to act otherwise will be subjected to the discipline of the rule.

Rabbi Mordecai said: "If a single coin is left over in my house at bedtime, I cannot fall asleep. But if totally penniless, I sleep soundly, knowing that when the moment comes to awaken, I must immediately look to the Lord for aid." And the rabbi of Porissover taught: "If a person is poor and meek, it is easy for that one to be joyful, inasmuch as there is nothing to guard against losing." In a community based on equality in the midst of a highly stratified society, Benedict had no desire to create a subset of the independently wealthy whose parents or friends could provide for them beyond the means of the monastery. The purpose of monastic life was to discover that the possession of God was far more satisfying than anything we could receive from family or friends, that it was freeing, that it was enriching far beyond what we could collect for ourselves.

We live in a culture that sees having things as the measure of our success. We strive for a life that sees eliminating things as the measure of internal wealth. Enoughness is a value long dead in Western society. Dependence on God is a value long lost. Yet, enoughness and dependence on God may be what is lacking in a society where consumerism and accumulation have become the root diseases of a world in which everything is not enough and nothing satisfies.

About the Rule of Benedict
Benedict of Nursia was born in the year 480. As a student in Rome, he tired of the decadent culture around him and left to live a simple spiritual life as a hermit in the countryside of Subiaco about thirty miles outside of the city. It wasn't long, however, before he was discovered both by the people of the area and disciples who were themselves looking for a more meaningful way of life. Out of these associations sprang the monastic life that would eventually cover Europe.

The Rule of Benedict is not a treatise in systematic theology. Its logic is the logic of daily life lived in Christ and lived well. This early monastic rule is part of the Wisdom tradition of Christianity and is rooted in the Bible for its inspiration and its end. It deals with the meaning and purpose of life. The positions taken in the Rule in the light of themes in the wisdom literature of other culture find Benedict of Nursia in the stream of thinkers who lived out of a single tradition but from the perspective of universal and fundamental insights into life.

Excerpted fromĀ The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister, OSB