As set down for reading on the 11th March, 11th July, and 10th November
This vice in particular should be torn out at the roots in the monastery: no one should presume to give or receive anything without the abbot’s permission, or have any private property, nothing at all, no book or tablets or stylus, but absolutely nothing, since the brothers may not have either their bodies or their wills under their control. They should look to the father of the monastery for everything they need and not be allowed to have anything that the Abbot has not given or permitted. “All things should be common to all,” as it is written, “lest somebody say something is his,” [Acts 4:32] or presume it is. If anyone is caught indulging in this most wicked vice, let him be warned once, then a second time; if he does not amend, let him undergo correction.
Being attached to things keeps us tied to the here and now. A large number of possessions would make it impossible, for example, to move from one town to another. They also require a significant amount of time in upkeep and maintenance, cleaning and preservation. In the face of our possessions and their hold over us, other things – more important things – can go by the wayside, and we are the poorer for it. The contemporary emphasis on more is better is, counter intuitively, the source of worry, anxiety, and poverty, both spiritual and material. The answer, according to St Benedict, is to have only those things that are the daily staples, and to not become encumbered by possessions that restrict our personal freedom. This Benedictine call to simplicity is not about deprivation, but about being free to experience all that life places before us.
Simplicity is more than the key to personal freedom, however. Simplicity is also the basis of human community. Common ownership and personal dependence are the foundations of mutual respect. If I know that I literally cannot exist without you, without your work, without your support, without your efforts in our behalf, without your help, as is true in community life, then I cannot bury myself away where you and your life are unimportant to me. I cannot fail to meet your needs, as you have met my needs, when the dearth in you appeals for the gifts in me. It is my ability to respond to your needs, in fact, that is my claim, my guarantee, of your presence in my life. In community life, we genuinely need one another. We rely on one another. Community life is based on mutual giving. (pp 166-167)
Joan Chittister, The Rule of St Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010). ISBN: 978-0-8245-2594-1.