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Almsgiving

Therefore, when anyone receives the name of Abbot, he ought to govern his disciples with a twofold teaching. That is to say, he should show them all that is good and holy by his deeds even more than by his words, expounding the Lord’s commandments in words to the intelligent among his disciples, but demonstrating the divine precepts by his actions for those of harder hearts and ruder minds. And whatever he has taught his disciples to be contrary to God’s law, let him indicate by his example that it is not to be done, lest, while preaching to others, he himself be found reprobate, and lest God one day say to him in his sin, “Why do you declare My statutes and profess My covenant with your lips, whereas you hate discipline and have cast My words behind you?” And again, “You were looking at the speck in your brother’s eye, and did not see the beam in your own.”

– Chapter 2 “What Kind of Man the Abbot Ought to Be” Part 3

Starbucks
Morning

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet on the road of peace.
Glory be.

I’m using the Glenstal Book of Prayer as an introduction to the Divine Office (Opus Dei). It includes morning and evening prayers for one week, as well as thirteen pages of “prayer stops” for mid-morning, noon, afternoon, and compline. Also included are selections of familiar prayers such as the Haily Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, the Jesus Prayer, St. Patrick’s Breastplate, the Prayer of St. Francis, the Rosary, and the Stations of the Cross; ritual prayers for various occasions (before and after meals, before work, in time of sickness, a prayer for peace and tranquillity); and blessings for home, family, journey, and more. The blessing for a person in need of inner healing goes like this:

LEADER: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
PEOPLE: Amen.
LEADER: May the grace and peace of Christ be with you.
PEOPLE: And also with you.

The blessing is followed by a reading from Isaiah 43.

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and though the rivers rise, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the fire shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

At just 160 pages the Glenstal is a slim and beautiful book. I want to move on eventually to the one-volume shorter breviary, which I own, but runs to a daunting 2600 pages. From now on, I’ll try to include in each post selections from that day’s liturgy. The passage at the top of this post is from the Canticle of Zechariah. By coincidence, today is the feast day of Saints Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist. Today I need the good news of the tender compassion of God and the dawn of a new light to those who dwell in darkness. I need the claim of ownership in Isaiah – “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – and experience a power beyond my own: “When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the fire shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”

Glory be.

Home
Evening

The second purpose for manual labor in the monastic tradition is almsgiving. The Didache, a treatise on Christian community thought to have been written in the late first or early second centuries (and traditionally attributed to the twelve apostles), says of almsgiving:

Do not hold your hands open for receiving and closed for giving. If you possess something by the labor of your hands, give it for the redemption of your sins. Do not be reluctant in giving, or murmur when you give, for you well know who He is who gives a good reward. Do not turn away from the needy, but share all with your brother and do not claim that is is your own. For if you are sharers in immortal things, how much more in mortal.

I’m reminded of what we read last night during Family Dinner in the first four chapters of Acts. Those who were added daily to the ranks of the kingdom of God through the teaching of the apostles became part of a community where everything was held in common, and no one was in need. And R. pointed out that every miraculous movement of the Holy Spirit was followed by a community meal.

Sorg writes that the monastic ideal of the “blissful union between strictest poverty and perfect charity” legislated by Benedict amounts to an “intransigent communism.” This book was first published in 1951, during the rise of Joe McCarthy and one year into the Korean war. How must have Dom Rembert’s original readers responded to that comparison? No doubt this is one of the reasons Dorothy Day liked the book so much. The “techniques of action” for The Catholic Worker, she said, were manual labor and voluntary poverty.

Sorg quotes a long passage from History of the Monks of Egypt by St. Rufinus:

In the country around about Arsinoe we saw a certain Serapion, priest and father of many monasteries: under his care he had more than ten thousand monks in many and diverse congregations; and all of them earned their bread by the work of their hands, and the great part of what they earned, especially at harvest time, they brought to their Father for the use of the poor.

For it was the custom not only among these, but among all the Egyptian monks, to hire themselves out at harvest time as harvesters; and among them would earn eighty measures of corn, more or less, and offer the greater part of it to the poor, so that not only were the hungry folk of that countryside fed, but ships [were] sent to Alexandria, laden with corn, to be divided among such as were prisoners in jails, or as were foreigners and in need. For there was not poverty enough in Egypt to consume the fruit of their compassion and lavishness.

That last line knocks me flat.

Is there really any excuse for someone in this world to go hungry or to live in squalor? There are plenty of provisions to go around. Isn’t the rest kind of up to us? It occurs to me that for all the things we can’t control in this world – catastrophic acts of nature, for example – there is plenty we can. I imagine, perhaps simplistically, a man lamenting to God, “Why is there so much poverty in the world?” and God basically turning the question around: “You tell me.” God’s economy looks like daily mannah from heaven and collecting more left over food than you started with. But that economy of abundance seems to rooted in the principle of enough, a principle that does not come naturally to me or to most Americans. As Ghandi said, there is enough to “satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

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