Chapter 54: Letters or Gifts for Monks

1 In no circumstances is a monk allowed, unless the abbot says he may, to exchange letters, blessed tokens or small gifts of any kind, with his parents or anyone else, or with a fellow monk. 2 He must not presume to accept gifts sent him even by his parents without previously telling the abbot. 3 If the abbot orders acceptance, he still has the power to give the gift to whom he will; 4 and the brother for whom it was originally sent must not be distressed, lest occasion be given to the devil (Eph 4:27; 1 Tim 5:14). 5 Whoever presumes to act otherwise will be subjected to the discipline of the rule.

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

Here we note the real challenge of not forming relationships that will pull us out of the monastery as the years go by. How easy it is today to begin such relationships. Today it is generally not by letters, blessed tokens or small gifts–although those realities are still with us–but stronger yet is the connection of the internet.

Today it is not only that people send gifts to monks but that monks even solicit gifts. Monks sometimes ask their friends or their families for particular gifts that they want and which they probably could not have if they asked for them from the community. Such gifts are not necessarily evil in themselves, but when a monk begins to ask others to supply him the things that he wants, there is inevitably a tension in his monastic life. Sometimes brothers come and tell their superior that a friend or a family member would like to give them a particular gift. Sometimes the superior agrees to that.
But one could imagine the consternation if the abbot or the superior of today were to receive the gift and give it to another monk! In this area we all have to examine our consciences. Sometimes all of us like to play at being monks while avoiding the truly difficult of being a monk.

Saint Benedict truly wants us detached. That means that we should have an attachment to nothing except God. The only way to test that detachment is really to give up things and not to seek things on our own. Only God should be sought in our lives.

Forming a true monk is a bit like breaking a horse! Horses want to be free and don’t like to have a halter put on them or even a rope around their necks. So we also want the freedom to run our own lives and make our own decisions and have the things that we want–and all of this goes against a strong monastic life. At some point we have to begin to choose for the Lord. Just because we have not yet chosen for the Lord does not mean that we are not called to choose God in all that we do.

May we reflect on our lives today and begin to choose for those values that truly give us a deep inner freedom.