Chapter 51: Brothers on a Short Journey

1 If a brother is sent on some errand and expects to return to the monastery that same day, he must not presume to eat outside, even if he receives a pressing invitation, 2 unless perhaps the abbot has ordered it. 3 Should he act otherwise, he will be excommunicated.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

Again Saint Benedict emphasizes the importance of belonging to the community. Today, we live in an age of incredible individualism. Hardly any of us think at all about what it means to eat outside. We have lost any sense that eating with others means sharing their lives. We are used to MacDonalds, to Burger King, and to other forms of fast food. We are used to restaurants where we eat with relative anonymity. We are quite happy to eat alone and don’t feel that by eating alone we are cutting ourselves off from our community.

From another perspective, we modern monks need to learn to value eating together in silence as a sacramental form of eating. Quite often we only value it because we are happy not to have to speak with one another every day! And there is value in that, in preserving the silence. Yet we must deepen our awareness of the sacramentality of our meals. We must be aware of the sacramentality of brothers serving other brothers at the table in imitation of Christ Himself.

For monks from our monastery, it is necessary to eat outside and yet at times we spend too much on eating and look forward to our town trips simply as escapes from the discipline of monastic life. It should be the other way around–although we must admit that even for Saint Benedict’s monks it seems that they must have liked eating outside, since Saint Benedict has to tell them not to do it!! And it is clear that sometimes they received “pressing invitations,” which means that people really wanted them to eat outside with them.

We can see that Saint Benedict expects the monk to go out and to return fasting and only eat in the monastery. There are times when that is still a prudent thing to do. But with the large number of fairly cheap restaurants that do not present any moral danger for the monk, in our time the abbot can permit the monks to eat outside. Again, with the provision that they eat simply and inexpensively when that is possible.

May we strive to live as strong monks, praying with our community whether we are home or away and seeking to deepen the sacramental character of our eating together–and even fasting when we are away from the community from time to time.