Prayers, please, for an anonymous person who is having gall bladder
removal surgery on Wednesday. (Believe me, I really can spell
cholecystectomy, I just wanted to translate it....) Prayers, too, for
St. Leo Abbey on their patronal feast. God's will is best. All is
mercy and grace. Thanks so much. JL
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.
Benedictine poverty is easily translatable for the lay monastic,
married or single, into terms of simplicity and detachment, a holy
indifference to non-essentials. As such, it offers a powerful
opportunity for a witness against some of the real falsehoods of
modern consumerist society. This is not (nor need it be,) a preachy
attack on today's values, just a quiet refusal to go along with them.
It involves personal practice and choice, not confrontation.
Benedictine teaching on material goods is based on needs, not
desires. We ought to have all that is necessary and if, as sometimes
happens, that is not possible, we ought not to grumble.
Benedictine simplicity insists that we live in the moment of now with
Does your family have all that you really need today? If so, then
don't put your heart on hold till you can swing a below-ground
swimming pool. That's exactly why inordinate desires can be so
harmful: they DO put our hearts on hold, they take us out of the
contented present and force us to live in an uncertain future
of "when" and "if".
That future is not real. We might never live to see it. We have no
way of knowing whether or not we will live till lunch today. The
present is all we have and anything that distracts our view from it
is often a complete waste of time. Living in the now is a great
I always hate discussions of simplicity that are so general that they
leave people thinking: "Well, great, but how do I DO that?" Hence a
few suggestions, not at all as norms, but just as ideas. With them
comes a huge warning for Oblates who are spouses and parents. You can
make choices like this for yourself, in some cases, even for the
household, but you must never force such things on children or
spouses. That can be disastrous and produces the very same loss of
serenity that simplicity is designed to protect us from.
Clothes. Almost everyone can make do with less, male or female.
Before I became a monk, I generally had two pairs of slacks- one
khaki and one navy blue. They looked preppy. They went with
everything. Yes, after a while, people did notice I was always in one
or the other, but so what? The shirts were different and I was clean.
The shirts came from the Salvation Army: years of wear in good
clothes for less than $5 a pop, less than $2 a pop if one waited till
Recycle in your own home. Towels go down from the bath, to the
kitchen, to rags. With all the rags you will soon accumulate living
this way, you can say goodbye to paper towels, unless there is some
reason you really need them. Cloth napkins? Wow! They even seem a bit
upscale and you can stop buying one-use paper. Trust me, ordinarily
washing them once a week is fine.
This is not stinge, folks. Insofar as possible, consume stuff that is
really good for you, avoid stuff that is wasteful or harmful. We
become immune to the very high levels that our society actually
encourages waste, almost demands it.
How many people over fifty recall their first reactions to disposable
lighters, ballpoint pens and razors when they first came out? It was
like: "Huh??? You throw them away???" When was the last time you
bought a refill for a ballpoint pen? Now one hardly sees any pens BUT
disposable ones. Big, big money and profits were made by the
companies teaching us to throw away and waste the WHOLE item, not
just the used part. We got used to that, sadly.
I went back to non-disposable razors some time ago, but they cost a
good deal more than the throw away kind, which have filled who knows
how many garage dumps in 30 years. Somebody gave me a Zippo lighter
for Christmas two years ago. It is a bit of a hassle to keep it in
flints and fluid, but it means that I have spared the planet from at
least a little plastic.
By the way, you don't do this because it will end over-consumption.
It won't. The world has not moved to Schick razors and Zippos, nor
are they likely to do so any time soon. What it does, and this is
important, is limit your complicity in the nonsense. That, so long as
one does not become self-righteous, can be an immensely freeing thing.
Always remember the Zen principle: the only thing that is lacking is
the sense that nothing is lacking. Modern consumerism thrives on and
insists that we ALWAYS feel something is lacking. Not so, we can be
free of that. Why be lied to any more?
Love and prayers,