Saturday, September 04, 2010

Donations and earning a living.

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.
Work it.
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?



  1. We jokingly talk about rolling ciggies...
    what a mountain of money that would make!
    And, opening a "smoking room", not a part of the monastery, mind you...kinda like the "speak=easies" of days gone by...:<)!
    I'm totally kidding! (Or am I??)

  2. I thought of your monastic postings when I heard that Mass reading this morning, too.
    I heard Mother Angelica and her sisters got their start making fishing lures. Don't know if they are still doing it.
    My nephew (who likes to make weird things) makes mead. I haven't heard of any monks making that. Of course if you make mead you have to have honey. Beekeeping? That sounds sort of Benedictine.
    Along with the microbrewery idea they could make gourmet soda pop; all natural ingredients.
    Then there's niche things like web design.

  3. Melody - those are great ideas - mead is very monastic.

  4. Our Trappists ued to bake bread,made a two-grain oatmeal-type cereal (really stuck to your ribs), and honey and creamed honey..the creamed honey came in different flavors and made wonderful gifts. I used to get individual containers for gifts for my coworkers for Christmas, and I always sent a set of six flavors to my brother and his family...the first inquiring question is "Honey this year?? "

    I found that myself consuming the local honey helps my allergies immensly.

    Alas, they no longer have the vocations to be able to conduct these activities.

    The Discalced Carmelite nuns in Salt Lake City have an annual festival at their monastery, where all kinds of sinful activities occur..such as eating, drinking, dancing, raffles (a nice person donates a car every year plus the nuns make a nun doll for the raffle), carnaval,silent auction, etc. They also make altar breads and holy cards/note cards/ stationary. Their festival is in a couple of weeks.

    I make rosaries and chaplets but I could never sell enough of them to pay the mortgage. Like you said Terry--they're "supplimental" income...


  5. It can also be a problem if a product is too successful. The monks of Caldey Island, Wales, make perfumes from the wildflowers which grow on their island. Many years ago they placed a small ad in The Sunday Visitor. They were overwhelmed with the response. If they wanted to continue selling in the US, they would have had to expand their operations. They decided to stay small and only sell in the UK. That was probably the right decision for them, but it was my loss. My mom gave me some of their cologne, and it was like nothing else Big Cosmetic Industry has managed to produce.

  6. Melody: You make a great point...we've attempted any number of ways to generate income;
    but if you're gonna run a business in order to actually make money, you have to devote yourself to it at least eight hours a day...and for small communities, this is a real burden, if you're praying the full Divine Office, Mass, community life, lectio divina, etc.
    Some have found a way to balance all of this...but it is a real tension; especially in this economy.
    The dilemma is always:
    do we spend time gardening and trying to preserve food?
    Do we attempt at some kind of "cottage industry" and neglect our prayer life?
    Do we actually have a regular demand for what we are producing?
    How much do we depend upon benefactors to supply our basics?
    And with the cost of health insurance alone (which breaks the bank here every month), what kind of options do we have?
    It's all well and good to try to make a living from the "work of your hands"; but somebody has to clean, do laundry, cook the meals, empty the trash, etc., etc...
    and then do some kind of work to provide actual cash...
    it's a struggle.
    And I'm speaking here of a contemplative community that does not have "jobs"...teaching, pastoral work, etc. Even the stipends for doing "outside work" do not really make a difference, in the long run.
    Just like in a family, I guess.

  7. Father - couldn't you just make booze for yourselves then? LOL! Just kidding.

    Actually, being dedicated to St. Joseph, I think he is pretty much obliged to take care of you.

  8. BTW Father - the subtitles 'you better work' and 'work it' are from a dance song - there is no subliminal message involved.

  9. Melody - I love the cologne idea.

  10. Terry: LOL!
    If we could make any kind of booze here, I'm in; totally!!:<)!

  11. Your marijuana comment made me laugh - makes me think that some of the LCWR gals might actually be doing that, but not to sell it... LOL

  12. LsrryD: You a wise man; perceptive, as well.
    What else could contribute to the absolute insanity there...well, maybe Alzheimer's...but anyway.
    My word verification is "chitt".
    Go figure:<)!!

  13. Sorry, that should be "LarryD"...

  14. And Terry:
    We live a "St. Joseph spirituality" here..."just in time" frills...
    for over twenty-five years this has been the case; you are correct. The Good Father, St. Joseph will NOT let us down; we may have to "sweat it out" sometimes;
    the icon of the "flight into Egypt" which is in my cell, constantly reminding me to trust and obey ("for there's no other way"...a Protestant song from my youth...anyway), is indeed a great consolation; poverty and anonymity and disdain, even from those who should support and love you, are a part of our spirituality...poor Jesus...He was really treated with great hatred and rejection; that's how we try to live.
    Can't say I do it well.
    But I do try.

  15. Our Carmelites nun are also sponsoring a 5K run this year in addition to their fair..


  16. Sara: Cool!
    In the desert?

  17. As a further thought:
    I wish, I mean it, we could just live off the garden, some alms, some remunerative work...when we first began, things were so much simpler.
    Now, it is just a nightmare, at times.
    And everybody is going through it.
    And this is more of the reason why we have to be accountable, as religious, esp. as contemplative religious living from the donations of benefactors, in every way.
    To feel "entitled" just because you're a religious is wrong;
    it's an injustice and, quite frankly, it is like "stealing" from the faithful, esp. the poor.
    As my superior has said to me, countless times, (a diocesan priest, nevertheless my superior):
    "You vowed yourself to this life;
    you have to live the consequences."
    And he is so ever right (as much as I'd like to smack him side-ways for reminding me of this...remember, I'm a "hidden red-head", and part Irish to boot:<)!)

  18. Nope--the monastery is actually on the east side of Salt Lake close to the mountains. the race starts somewhere and ends at the monastery...

    Folks here like running 5K-10K run/walk races so usually events here have pretty good turnouts. If you get a shirt with your entry fee that helps too.

    It might be a good fundraiser for your monastery....minimal expense...volunteers could help with water stops and registration.


  19. Father--like you said though..everyone is going through it..

    I probably receive no less than 20 pieces of mail a week from various Catholic congregations...boy when you get on a mailing list you sure get passed around..

    But to repair buildings (especially after the recent floods), for Haiti, for missions, for retirement homes, for vehicle repairs, to build new buildings, so and so's medical treatments that insurance/Medicare won't pay for, to buy hearing aids, for poor kids, for handicapped kids, for seminarians, for pro-life stuff, Mass cards, prayer cards and other little trinkets sent..on and on..

    And I do not hav einfinite disposable income so I do have to rather pick and choose whom I support. However if it is something that I use or give away (like prayer card or book marks) I send a dollar or so, and let thenm know that th eitemis going to the troops or the VA hospital.

    I do like the little books that the Salesians publish...I always buy 10 or so to take to hospitals, the VA, and doctors offices, as well as for our Adoration and the Newman Center at the local university. I also give some to our military chaplains on base. Those little books get alot of mileage..


  20. Sara: God bless you for your generosity and kindness.
    I know that that makes a big difference;
    the poor, elderly and disabled need so much love and compassion...I hate it when they are taken advantage of; it just kills me.
    The Lord hears the cry of the poor; I know it and believe it.
    Bless you!

  21. Absinthe and marijuana... now we're talking Terry.


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