April 2, August 2, December 2
Chapter 51: On Brethren Who Go Not Very Far Away
A Brother who is sent out on some business
and is expected to return to the monastery that same day
shall not presume to eat while he is out,
even if he is urgently requested to do so
by any person whomsoever,
unless he has permission from his Abbot.
And if he acts otherwise, let him be excommunicated.
Well, I have now read today’s reading from the RB five or six times and am still puzzled as to why Benedict did not want the monks to eat outside of the monastery! How could that be a fault meriting excommunication?
I suppose there would be the danger of splurging on rich food, if any were on offer, which would normally be eschewed (rather than chewed!) in the monastery.
‘By any person whomsoever’ is interesting… What if the monk had a message to take to a person of very high rank, perhaps even the Emperor? Would he give offence by refusing a meal? Or did everyone understand that Benedictine monks could not accept food outside of the monastery?
And if hospitality is holy (which I believe it is) is it fair to deny someone else the joy and the blessing of giving hospitality by refusing their food?
Having just read it through again, my eye’s been caught by ‘on business’ and ‘expected to return on the same day’. Perhaps then this is a purely practical ruling. The monk might be distracted by the
opportunity to eat something different from monastery fare and might be late in carrying out the business entrusted to him. Or he might delay himself so long with eating and being sociable that he leaves it too late to travel back to the monastery before nightfall, thus not returning on the same day and causing anxiety and distress to the other brothers.
Or perhaps it’s just a matter of fairness and everyone being treated equally – that a monk outside the monastery should not be in a position to enjoy possibly better food or a greater variety of food than the monks who have stayed at home will have available? Or perhaps it’s to remind him that he is still a member of the community even when outside the monastery walls and he can’t make his own decisions on any matter, even about eating, because his vow of obedience still binds him to what the Abbot has asked of him. And also keeps him in communion with the rest of the brothers… Or perhaps it is to prevent grumbling and murmuring. If a monk had a delicious repast outside the monastery and returned to the same old diet, the monk might complain.
I’m thinking of the old chorus, ‘Let us break bread together, we are one.’ Eating together is one of the binding features of family life and community life, so much so in Benedict’s eyes perhaps, that if at all possible, brothers should only eat with other brothers and not elsewhere?