A radical family
St Benedict’s Chapter 54, letters or gifts for monks—that no one receive anything from one’s family of origin that is not first shared with the community—is a terse chapter, whose deep structure harks back twenty chapters to RB 34, “distribution of goods according to need.” There, St Benedict says “in this way all the members will be at peace.”
Benedict is almost certainly addressing the varied backgrounds of his monks no less than their individual dispositions and composite of needs. But the real point is this: after Jesus, who is continuously calling into question the notion of family as only biologically understood, who is continually deconstructing this or that unassailable societal or cultural institution, the monastery is a place where a new sort of family, centered on Christ, is being realized in space and time. And a family is meant to be where each receives love that is real and can grow into a person who can love in turn. “Who are my brothers, my sisters, and my mother,” Jesus asks. “These also,” we gratefully say as we look about the monastery, our parishes, and our faith communities. Is this an ideal situation? Yes, and it is what we faithfully work toward and what forgiveness, compassion and reconciliation help bring us to.
Practices such as this one in Chapter 54 of radical sharing are meant to assist this understanding so that notions of family, clan, and people are no longer a biological or political dead end. They are a starting place for eventual opening out to all.