To be read: April 8, August 8, December 8
For their bedding, a straw mattress, a blanket, a coverlet, and a pillow should be sufficient. 16These beds must, be frequently examined by the Abbot, to prevent personal goods from being found. 17And if anything should be found with anyone that he did not receive from the Abbot, let him fall under the severest discipline. 18And that this vice of private ownership may be cut off by the root, let everything necessary be given by the Abbot: 19that is, cowl, tunic, sandals, shoes, belt, knife, pen, needle, towel, and writing tablet; so that every excuse of want may be removed. 20The Abbot should bear in mind the following sentence from the Acts of the Apostles: “And distribution was made to every man according to his need”(Acts 4:35). 21In this way, then, the Abbot will have regard for the infirmities of the needy, not for the evil will of the envious. 22Yet in all his decisions, let the Abbot bear in mind God’s retribution.
There are two verses in this section of chapter 55 which help us clearly understand St. Benedict’s mind regarding what he considers necessary for the monks to possess (vv. 15, 19): these are the things listed for the monks’ use, but none of them are to be kept for private ownership. The brothers are given what they need, not what they want. Benedict says, “let everything necessary be given by the Abbot… so that every excuse of want may be removed.”
We don’t have an abbot to hand us what we need. And to be honest, most of us in the United States can have much more than what we need, and as a result we can indulge in what we want. It is a great source of temptation for all of us. The more we possess, the less we have to charitably give to those less fortunate. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” It is a useful proverb.
How do we know when we have stepped over the line from what we need into the realm of excess? Here is a simple quiz that one can take: Do you own more than one pair of shoes? Do you own your own car, truck, or motorcycle? Do you have a choice of food each day? Do you have more than one change of undergarments? Only one in ten people around the world can answer yes to even three of those questions. As Rich Mullens sang, “Birds have nests foxes have dens, But the hope of the whole world rests, On the shoulders of a homeless man, You had the shoulders of a homeless man, No You did not have a home” (You Did Not Have a Home). Our homeless Savior commanded us to “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you” (Matt. 5:42), and promised us that “whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42).
To truly be the Imago Christi we would, in essence, be the image of a homeless man. I am not suggesting that we all don rags, live in a cardboard refrigerator box, and beg. But Benedict’s exhortation that we live with what is sufficient for our needs is a challenge that all of us should take seriously. This is the Gospel ideal. This is the mark and measure that St. Benedict proclaims to us in this chapter.