You better work.
St. Paul boasted that he earned his living by the work of his hands, telling the Corinthians in today's first reading at Mass, "We work hard at manual labor." Indeed, this is what monastics do, and why contemplative monasteries generally have a specialized work from which they earn their living and sustain themselves. Some farm or raise cattle, some roast coffee, some make candy, some make vestments and sacred art, some make coffins, and so on. On the other hand, some online ministers have a wish list and a paypal app... while poor monks go hungry. With St. Paul the poor monks might say, "We are fools on Christ's account. Ah, but in Christ you are wise! We are the weak ones, you the strong! They honor you while they sneer at us!" - 1 Cor 4: 9-14 Well, maybe it is not that bad.
Just this last month I was hit with large auto repair bills ($1500-), hospital bills for my cat - I won't tell you how much, and the house insurance went up 31%. So I am thinking of selling off some art and antiques just to live. Believe me, I know what it is to go without in the 'great recession'. But this isn't about me.
So - aside from donations, how can a group of hermits earn their living?
Writing icons and teaching iconography is a good start - but unless an artist makes prints and reproductions - affordably - and has a market for his or her work, art isn't always that lucrative. At best it is mostly supplemental.
- Coffee has been done - but competition never hurts either. I drink Louisiana coffee and chicory - I know of only two brands available - so... That angle might be a good one. Chicory gives the coffee a full bodied taste, sometimes reminiscent of a slight bittersweet cocoa. I love it and drink two pots a day.
- Another venue could be tea - tea is huge. Imagine monastery tea? I like it. Tea has a contemplative image too.
- I thought of marijuana but realized that wouldn't be legal to produce... unless medical marijuana gets legalized. What?
- Candy and cookies and breads of course - but that stuff is so perishable. Although no one makes marzipan - imagine marzipan pigs and St. Nick's at Christmas - some with chocolate covering too.
- My big idea however is micro brews - featuring monks or nuns drinking - pictured on a cool European style label. Home made brews are big - and maybe not so hard to make. Same with home distilleries - they are popping up around the country. I think a cool monkberry vodka could be a big seller.
- Clothing - how about making monk-style work shirts? European chefs and kitchen workers once wore a sort of linen blouson big shirt, with a button-down hood attached - it could be belted as well. I wore one when I travelled across southern Europe as a pilgrim. (Think of cutting off a cowl to make a shirt.) Also monk neck rings and scarves and hats - made out of fleece - with an embroidered crest. Cheap and easy to produce and warm. I prefer a neck ring to a scarf anyway.
So there you have it - some of my ideas for monks and nuns to be self-sufficient. Any other suggestions?