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Letters or Gifts

Tuesday, August 6, 2024
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.