Chapter 59: The Offering of Sons by Nobles or by the Poor

1 If a member of the nobility offers his son to God in the monastery, and the boy himself is too young, the parents draw up the document mentioned above; 2 then, at the presentation of the gifts, they wrap the document itself and the boy’s hand in the altar cloth. That is how they offer him. 3 As to their property, they either make a sworn promise in this document that they will never personally, never through an intermediary, nor in any way at all, nor at any time, give the boy anything or afford him the opportunity to possess anything; 4 or else, if they are unwilling to do this and still wish to win their reward for making an offering to the monastery, 5 they make a formal donation of the property that they want to give to the monastery, keeping the revenue for themselves, should they so desire. 6 This ought to leave no way open for the boy to entertain any expectations that could deceive and ruin him. May God forbid this, but we have learned from experience that it can happen. 7 Poor people do the same, 8 but those who have nothing at all simply write the document and, in the presence of witnesses, offer their son with the gifts.

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

Although we do not accept boys into the monastery any more, there are still some teachings in this Chapter that are very important for us today.

First of all, we must make sure that any man who enters the monastery is really free from his family. That does not mean abandoning one’s family, but having enough distance from one’s family so that the monk is not always caught up in family concerns.

We can see from this part of the Rule and also from Saint Gregory’s writings that the families of the monks were still in contact with the monks. This is so typically Benedictine as contrasted with Trappist. Benedictines maintain their relationship with their families. The challenge is that inner, psychological and emotional distance that is absolutely necessary if a monk is every going to be able to seek the Lord in the Monastery.

Even in our own time, parents try to send gifts that are meant for their son and not for the other monks. The abbot always has to be careful of this type of situation. Or families begin to offer trips for their son for which they will pay. Or families give phone cards to their son and then the son can phone them. Or families give a cell phone to their son!

In some ways it would be easier just to end all relationships of the monks with their families, but this seems not the road of Saint Benedict. It demands more maturity and more growth on the part of the monk, on the part of the abbot and on the part of the community to maintain family relationships and to keep working at purifying such relationships so that they really do contribute to the building up of the monastic vocation and the community. May God help us!