Tuesday, August 02, 2005

RB 51: Brothers who are travelling not far

"A brother who is sent to do any business whatever and hopes to return to the monastery that same day, shall not presume to have a meal while out even if entreated by anyone whatever to do so, unless perhaps his abbot tells him. Should he do otherwise, let him be excommunicated."

At first blush, this chapter seems unecessarily harsh. Those of us who treasure St. Benedict as a compassionate and gentle father might be uneasy with the fact that he does not borrow this chapter from the Master, to whose vision of monastic life it seems to relate more closely.

On the other hand, we have seen in other places in the Rule that St. Benedict is strictest when it comes to issues having to do with individualism versus community. Any striking out on one's own is to be viewed as potentially damaging to the whole community project. We also should realize that in Benedict's day (as was the case until only recently in our own culture), meals were especially important community-defining events. Looking over the gospels and the letters of St. Paul, we can see that who eats with whom is no trivial matter. To decide to eat not with my brothers in the Domus Dei, the House of God, is to prefer to be in other company, presumably not that ordained for us by God.

We, I suspect, are not picky enough about the symbolism in our own dining habits. One way in which the state and corporate interests have subjected many of us to their power is by encouraging us to eat at McDonald's willy-nilly with whomever happens to be around; or to snack individually throughout the day (another bad sign according to St. Benedict). The lack of discipline in eating leaves us prone before our appetites and easily manipulated by those who provide our food. Why would we not prefer to make a statement and choose our company wisely?

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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