Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rule of St Benedict Reading for August 2, 2009

April 2, August 2, December 2

Chapter 51: On Brethren Who Go Not Very Far Away

A Brother who is sent out on some business
and is expected to return to the monastery that same day
shall not presume to eat while he is out,
even if he is urgently requested to do so
by any person whomsoever,
unless he has permission from his Abbot.
And if he acts otherwise, let him be excommunicated.

Some thoughts

Well, here we are again at this mysterious passage which seems to make no sense. Benedictines can give hospitality, but not accept it? Whazzup with that? Double standard?

1st off, we have to consider that the title of this chapter gives us a clue: "not very far away." The inference is that the monk would be close enough to hear any signals from the monastery so there would be no reason to do anything except return to the monastery.

2ndly, Benedict gives no reason for this prohibition. It's possible we have a negative reaction to that. We who live in post-modern times like our reasons, don't we? We are less inclined to take anyone's word for it, are we not? The thing is, as I have said before, to properly understand the RB, we have to let go of many of our 21st century preferences otherwise we will miss what is there.

In ch 67 which we have read in the past and will be reading again in the near future, Benedict tells us that contact with folk outside the monastery could harm the monk and/or the monastery. It's possible we could have a negative reaction to that. Paranoid much? nasty much? Sounds that way to us. I might agree except that available evidence must force us to conclude that interaction with certain people can indeed be harmful.

Another point that we must consider is this. Back in that day, taking a meal with another was charged with much more meaning than it is today. It wasn't like going through the drive through, or heating it up in the microwave and scarfing it down while watching TV. It was sacred, it formed a bond. Indeed the importance of sharing a meal contributed to Eucharistic theology as we know it today. Benedict would not have bothered to remind his monks of this as it was basic to their world-view. Patently obvious to them. It is we who have lost the sacred nature of the meal.

3rdly, let's remember too that it would be no hardship for the monk to miss out on the suggested meal. he wasn't very far from the monastery and his return was expected within a specific time frame.

The "urgently requested to do so" is interesting. Kardong suspects that it may be family members who were so insistent. Family ties were something that once again were far more powerful than they are here in the west. Although there are, of course, exceptions to this. Family ties were difficult to break and Benedict may have known they could so easily have been reestablished.

Which puts the whole idea of excommunication, with which this bit ends, in perspective, does it not? If a monk has in fact reestablished himself with his family, then he has terminated his relationship with the monastery.

Well, that's how I make sense of it. What do you think?

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