To be read: April 6, August 6, December 6
A monk is not allowed at any time to give or to receive letters, tokens, or gifts of any kind, either from parents or any other person, nor from each other, without the permission of the Abbot. 2Even if anything is sent to him by his parents, let him not presume to accept it without making known to the Abbot that he has received it. 3And if the Abbot allows it to be accepted, let it be in the Abbot’s discretion to give it to whom he pleases. 4And let not the brother to whom it was sent, become sad, that “no opportunity be given to the devil”(Eph 4:27; 1 Tm 5:14). 5Whoever shall presume to act otherwise must fall under the discipline of the Rule.
This chapter sounds very harsh at first glance. The monk “is not allowed at any time to give or to receive letters, tokens, or gifts of any kind…”; and even if the Abbot allows the monk to receive a gift, it is “in the Abbot’s discretion to give it to whom he pleases.” The import of this chapter, though, is less about the giving and receiving of gifts than it is about maintaining detachment from the things of this world. What are the things that we consider truly valuable? What is it that we possess? And have we become so possession conscious that our possessions, in effect, possess us?
When we begin to see the whole Body of Christ as the Family of God then our sense of possessing things becomes less problematic. We can begin to live the principle of Acts 2:44: “all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Letting go of our possessions means giving up these gifts to the Imago Christi, the members of the Body of Christ. It is a discipline, an act of the will. St. Luke states again in Acts 4:32, “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.” This is a goal for all of us to work toward.
One day, upon returning home from the church, my next door neighbor was standing next to her car, crying. As I got out of my car I went over to see if I could help. She told me that her car had died and her brother, who is a mechanic, had come to look at it and declared it beyond repair. I offered to help her find a new car, but she began to sob, saying, “I don’t want a new car. This is my car! It is the only car I have ever owned, and I want it to last forever. I don’t want a new car.” Her car possessed her.
What are the things that would devastate you if they were stolen from you, became irreparably broken, or were destroyed? We all have things which are precious to us, but they are just things. Fires happen. Tornados and hurricanes demolish everything in their path. Wars devastate communities and lives. And things simply grow old and wear out. The things of this world are passing away. The things of God are eternal. The things that are truly valuable are the unseen things of God: His love, His mercy, His salvation, His Kingdom. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). But St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Church at Rome that the things of this world are useful in helping us see these unseen things of God. He says: “His invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (1:20). When we let go of our possessions God can use them to redirect our focus, and by receiving them as gifts we can then freely give them up to the Imago Christi, the members of the Body of Christ. By giving the things of this world into the care of Christ, we allow Him to direct their usage. Then we are free to receive the eternal things of God.