Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 54, Gifts from Home

Chapter 54 in The Rule of St. Benedict is a curious chapter. Basically, it seeks to limit the amount of gifts the monks are sent from their families:
2[The brothers] must not presume to accept gifts sent even by his parents without previously telling the abbot.
What's going on with this directive? I'm sure it has to do with issues of envy, power and living in community.

It reminds me of the men I work with in prison. Some of the guys have families who regularly deposit money in their commissary accounts. Other guys have no money, and no prospect of ever getting money. Because they have no families or have families who don't care about them.

The guys with families are the wealthy ones in the prison system and can buy things like extra food or fans for their rooms. (There is no air conditioning in the prison. And this is West Texas. Imagine how hot it is without a fan.) These guys become not only objects of envy but locations of power and influence. The goods they buy can be used as currency in the prison barter economy.

So my guess is that Benedict is trying to prevent something similar to this--haves and have nots--from happening in the monasteries.

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2 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 54, Gifts from Home”

  1. I've witnessed something similar to what you've described in my work with individuals in an outpatient mental health clinic who are living on fixed incomes. Usually their income is made up of SSI and some state assistance, which adds up to roughly $700/month and maybe around $100 of food stamps. In such limited economic circumstances those who have generous family members have luxuries like name brand clothes, food not from the food bank, and--if their family is really generous--a nice car.

    There is a difference, however, between what you witness at the prison and what I see. The ones who have the additional luxuries don't typically hold positions of power or influence. They actually end up being kind of isolated, like a little kid on alone at the park surrounded by his toys. Those without the additional luxuries seem to find a common bond in their shared experience and exhibit a general distrust of the the one who has the luxuries.

    I wonder how we might institute such a principle in our churches? Seems crazy to even consider. Can you imagine each Christmas the members reporting to the elders/pastors what they've received and then distributing the needs in a leveling fashion? Sound a little too radical and a little too much like the early church to catch any traction. At least in the American church.

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