Today, the 11th of July, is the feast of St. Benedict. After becoming a Benedictine oblate a few years ago, this is a day that has increasingly come to my attention. Looking at today’s reading in the Rule of Benedict has provided me with something that has increasingly become a challenge. In chapter 33, he refers to private ownership as an “evil practice.” He includes this quote: "All things should be the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes ownership of anything (Acts 4:32)."
Most people would immediately reject his idea as something to be followed only in a monastery. Others, of a more political mindset, would see this as the basis of the failed philosophy of communism. (A philosophy, I should add, which when implemented, never had love as its basis.)
In her commentary on Benedict, Joan Chittister says, “We take things and hoard things and give things to control our little worlds and the things wind up controlling us. They clutter our space; they crimp our hearts; they sour our souls. Benedict says that the answer is that we not allow ourselves to have anything beyond life’s simple staples in the first place and that we not use things—not even the simplest things—to restrict the life of another by giving gifts that tie another person down. Benedictine simplicity, then, is not a deprivation. It frees us for all of life’s surprises.”
In a world awash in consumerism, life’s surprises come with a price tag. And how often do we give gifts that really do “tie another person down”? I’m not to the point where I’m ready to abandon private ownership. But I also know that I can lose everything in an instant—whether by fire or storm or theft or whatever.
So I’ll celebrate the feast of St. Benedict, and I’ll try not to enslave others or myself with things.