March 11, July 11, November 10
Chapter 33: Whether Monks Ought to Have Anything of Their Own
This vice especially
is to be cut out of the monastery by the roots.
Let no one presume to give or receive anything
without the Abbot's leave,
or to have anything as his own --
whether book or tablets or pen or whatever it may be --
since they are not permitted to have even their bodies or wills
at their own disposal;
but for all their necessities
let them look to the Father of the monastery.
And let it be unlawful to have anything
which the Abbot has not given or allowed.
Let all things be common to all,
as it is written (Acts 4:32),
and let no one say or assume that anything is his own.
But if anyone is caught indulging in this most wicked vice,
let him be admonished once and a second time.
If he fails to amend,
let him undergo punishment.
There are certainly Gospel counsels to poverty: "Go, sell all that
you have..." was the reading that led St. Anthony the Great into the
desert. There are also ascetic benefits to any detachment, freeing
one from reins that tie the spirit to earthbound stagnation. There
are, however, very pragmatic reasons behind poverty, too.
If Communism had kept God and truly embraced equality, it might have
worked! A lifelong student of the Romanovs (but not of economics,) I
have never been able to figure out why Russia had such a hard time
financially after the revolution. The wealth of the nobility was
beyond the West's wildest dreams, even royalty was aghast at Russian
splendor. Had that been resolutely dissolved and divided equitably, I
have a hard time figuring out why so many were in such great need.
But, of course, the Bolsheviks did not keep God, which left their
altruism for sharing wide open for human corruption to take over,
which it did. George Orwell's parable, "Animal Farm" was right on the
money: the pigs moved into the farmhouse and nothing changed except
who was in charge, in fact, things actually got worse in the barnyard.
Aside from human jealousy, or from righteous indignation at unjust
levels of economic dispersion, property possesses another
characteristic which makes it very wise for monastics to seek to
limit it. The world uses wealth and goods to establish rank, to
confirm (or, God save us, confer,) power. This view is neatly
expressed by a tongue in cheek bumper sticker of a few years
back: "The one who dies with the most toys wins."
The last thing a monastic needs is rank. The same goes for power,
unless one is already very, very holy and very mature, wise enough to
use either rank or power with sanctity. That's a point few of us have
reached. Without that necessary growth in holiness, either rank or
power can be absolutely fatal to the monastic search and struggle.
Our states in life demand different levels of goods. This is
especially true of Oblates who are parents or spouses. We must never
dare to force our simplicity on those beloved non-Oblates in our
midst! Still, there are excellent examples of detachment and
simplicity in the midst of plenty. Not all of them were saints,
The last Grand Duchess of Russia, Olga, sister of the Tsar Nicholas
II, died in 1960. She was a picture of no-fuss simplicity all of her
life, long before revolution and exile. She died in a friend's
apartment in Toronto, above a barber shop, not in the Winter Palace.
Not a word of complaint from her at all. Her primary interests had
been being a colonel's wife and a mother to her two sons. Nothing
else mattered to her. Since her husband was a commoner, she was
hardly the apple of her Empress mother's eye, but that didn't matter
either. What little she had left was shared with admirable
generosity. Of all the Imperial family, Olga was best suited to
exile, because she had always been used to simplicity and even to
hard work. Many other Romanovs fared hardly so well....
Love and prayers,