To be read: March 9, July 9, November 9
The Abbot should appoint brothers in whose lives and character he has confidence to oversee the property of the monastery’s tools, clothing, and general goods. 2Let him assign to them, as he sees proper, all the articles which must be collected and cared for. 3The Abbot will keep a list of these articles, so that, when the brothers in turn succeed each other in these assigned tasks, he may know what is given and what is returned. 4If anyone, however, fails to handle the goods of the monastery carefully let him be reprimanded, 5and if he does not amend let him come under the discipline of the Rule.
In yesterday’s reading, Benedict instructs the cellarer to “regard all the vessels and goods of the monastery as if they were sacred vessels of the altar…” That sounds a little over the top. Should I consider a mop bucket a sacred vessel? How about a plumber’s helper? If I need either and am blessed to have them, they are a gift. What Benedict is saying there, and what he is instructing in today’s reading are that we should respect all of our possessions as gifts from God and treat them with respect. “All the articles…must be collected and cared for…[and] if anyone…fails to handle the goods of the monastery carefully let him be reprimanded…” If we can truly begin to see that everything we own is actually a gift, and in essence does not really belong to us but is on loan from God, then we can begin to foster an attitude of gratitude toward these goods.
Americans tend toward idolatry of possessions, and as a result they are held captive by those possessions. But Benedict is offering an alternative to that perspective. If we can envision the goods we possess as belonging to God rather than ourselves, then we can loan them without concern, knowing that God gives freely to all. Nor should we grieve their loss when broken or stolen, because God who is faithful and generous beyond measure will provide for our every need. And when we share the good things God has “loaned” to us, then we facilitate their use for the good of the whole community.
As St. Benedict stated in chapter 4, “Your way of acting should be different from worldly ways” (v. 20). Rather than stingily hoarding goods for ourselves, as the world would expect us to do, we can learn to treat our possessions as “sacred vessels of the altar”. When we begin to put this lesson to practice, then we can learn to care for the good things God has entrusted to us and be free to share them with all around us who have need. That would be different!