Saturday, December 08, 2007

Reading for Dec 8Ru, 2007

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

April 8, August 8, December 8

Chapter 55: On the Clothes and Shoes of the Brethren

For bedding let this suffice:
a mattress, a blanket, a coverlet and a pillow.

The beds, moreover, are to be examined frequently by the Abbot,
to see if any private property be found in them.
If anyone should be found to have something
that he did not receive from the Abbot,
let him undergo the most severe discipline.

And in order that this vice of private ownership
may be cut out by the roots,
the Abbot should provide all the necessary articles:
cowl, tunic, stockings, shoes, belt,
knife, stylus, needle, handkerchief, writing tablets;
that all pretext of need may be taken away.
Yet the Abbot should always keep in mind
the sentence from the Acts of the Apostles
that "distribution was made to each according as anyone had need" (Acts 4:35).
In this manner, therefore,
let the Abbot consider weaknesses of the needy
and not the ill-will of the envious.
But in all his decisions
let him think about the retribution of God.

Some Thoughts:

Benedict allows for a high degree of comfort, does he not? A good night's sleep is important.. We should make note of that.

It sounds a bit harsh that the abbot is to look through the bed looking for some thing a monk might have that he ought not. What harm can it do, we might wonder? Especially we who have so much above and beyond the basic necessities of life. Obviously, Benedict makes sure the monks have every thing they need. Just enough and not anything extra. What is the reason for this? The RB says "let him think about the retribution of God."

What does that mean? For give me while i muse out loud, as it were.

I said a few days ago that the RB is said to describe a spiritual poverty rather than a more Franciscan sense of material poverty. And yet, I think St. Benedict does stress a material poverty. He allows his monks to have everything they need, those who need more are allowed more. But the context is also within the retribution of the Lord.

I think of the Hebrew Scriptures and the many warnings about what happens when we don't take care of the poor. I wonder if this is what Benedict had in mind?

Insight for the Ages: A Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

"The best way to know God," Vincent Van Gogh wrote, "is to love many things." Things do not destroy us. It is the way we approach things that entraps us. The Rule of Benedict provides for human needs without frugality, without abstemious control, without small-mindedness and without indulgence. False asceticism is not a Benedictine virtue. Deprivation is not a Benedictine ideal. On the contrary, the point of Benedictine life is to live simply, joyfully and fully. Benedict wants the monastic to have enough, to have it from the community and to avoid hoarding, accumulating, consuming and conniving. The Rule recognizes that people who lack the necessities of life often spend their time either consumed with thoughts of subsistence or struggling against bitterness and clawing for survival. On the other hand, people smothered by things run the risk of slipping into indolence or becoming blinded to the important things of life. In striking a balance between the two, Benedictine spirituality seeks to free the body so that the soul can soar. It is a gift long lost in a consumer society.

Self-control is one value in the lexicon of monastic spirituality but compassion is another. Benedict may expect simplicity from the monastic but he clearly expects great largesse from the abbot and the prioress. The function of authority, in other words, is to hold the Rule aloft in the community, to be clear about its standards and respectful of its values, without ever using the Rule as an excuse to frustrate people or irritate them or control them.

There is a great deal of pain administered in the interest of virtue. Righteousness allows no exceptions. As a result, laws meant to free the spirit so often enslave it to ideals far beneath its purpose. Benedictine spirituality, practiced in the little things of life like the distribution of clothing that calls for a minimum and then allows more, says that we must always grasp for what we cannot reach, knowing that the grasping itself is enough.


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