What do markets have to do with monasticism? Quite a lot to the Benedictine monks of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Southern California, according to a recent press release. Their prior Fr. Joseph Brennan describes MonksInk, the monks’ business selling ink and toner cartridges:
Every monastery has something unique about them. For example, a monastery in Louisiana makes soap. Some make jellies and jams. The Camaldolese make amazing fruitcake. But we never developed anything like that. Until now, we only produced ceramics, and even these were designed by a brother monk in Belgium. We really needed to do something different. MonksInk was a good fit.
The article goes on to detail their offerings:
Product selection meets or exceeds what one could find at any big box office supply store — including ink and toner options for every make and model of printer, fax and copy machine, from HP and Epson to Xerox, and every brand in between. Buyers also have their choice of original manufacturer products, alternative cost-saving brands, or re-manufactured items. And, the monks are quick to point out, anyone can always add a prayer request or two as well!
The monks’ business philosophy, however, transcends any earthbound economics paradigm:
“The Benedictine motto is Nihil amori Christi praeponere — prefer nothing to the love of Christ,” explains Fr. Joseph with passion. “St. Benedict insists in his Rule that we monks welcome each person, each visitor, as Christ himself. Tangible hospitality and service. Personal attention. These things are very important to us and they are echoed in how we run MonksInk. Serving businesses with something they already need is more than a great business idea. It also gives us the opportunity to serve and welcome each corporate professional as Christ.”
I would not be surprised if these monks would agree with Lester DeKoster, who wrote,
Work plants the seed; civilization reaps the harvest. Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others; civilization is the form in which others make themselves useful to us. We plant; God gives the increase to unify the human race.
Every amicable partnership, even a business transaction, binds people closer together. The products we make, purchase, and use connect us with one another, whether to Benedictine monks in Southern California or to factory workers in Australia.
“Whatever we do has to be a service and meaningful for others,” says Fr. Joseph. “In our case, this includes serving corporate America with ink and toner cartridges at MonksInk.com.”
Business is (or at least can and ought to be) a way of serving others and through them serving Christ himself. Admirably, the monks do not assume the worst of business people but consider “the opportunity to serve and welcome each corporate professional as Christ” to be a gift.
MonksInk offers a refreshing alternative to the common assumptions that business is necessarily driven by greed or that all exchange requires a winner and a loser. They even challenge the assumption that flight from the world to the ascetic life means a condemnation of all that is “worldly” or “secular.” Rather, like their Benedictine forebears, they show that when one “prefer[s] nothing to the love of Christ,” all of life becomes infused with a transcendent value, where even business transactions can become a gift, an opportunity to welcome Christ himself and provide for the needs of others.