To be read: March 10, July 10, November 10
The vice of personal ownership must by all means be removed by the very root from the monastery. 2No one must presume to give or receive anything without permission of the Abbot; 3nor to retain anything whatever as his own, neither a book, nor a writing tablet, nor a pen, nor anything else whatsoever, 4since monks are not allowed to own even their own bodies or their wills. 5For everything that they need, they must look to the Father of the monastery, and are not to be allowed to have anything which the Abbot did not give or permit him to have. 6All things are to be held in common, as it is written, so that no one call or take to himself anything as his own(cf Acts 4:32). 7But if anyone should be found to indulge in this most evil vice, he should be warned a first and second time. 8If he does not amend, let him be subjected to punishment.
Benedict quotes from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 4, where Luke tells us that “the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (v. 32). As we discussed yesterday, our acquisitive culture here in America is detrimental to our spiritual health. There is an almost infantile mindset that if I have something in hand it is mine, and as a result our possessions effectively possess us.
Jesus said that if I see my neighbor in need and do nothing to help, I have failed to fulfill the Gospel. “And the multitudes asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’And he answered them, ‘He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise’” (Luke 2:10-11). And the apostle James reiterates this challenge in his epistle: “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). That is why Benedict begins this chapter with the exclamation “The vice of personal ownership must by all means be removed by the very root…” and then adds the words “from the monastery.” But whether we live inside or outside the monastery, personal ownership without a spirit of charity and gratitude for these gifts, is a vice that must be rooted out of our spirit.
Benedict goes on to say, “For everything that they need, they must look to the Father…” Here he is referring to Father as the abbot, but we know that “every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). God loves you and will provide for you. Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). Benedict knows that the worldly attachments, both physical and emotional, are unhealthy for our spirit. In our baptism we died to self and were raised in Christ, so that as Benedict indicates, “monks are not allowed to own even their own bodies or their wills.” Even our own bodies now belong to God, and our loving God will take care of them if we entrust them to Him. “For everything that [we] need, [we] must look to the Father.”