What does The Rule of St. Benedict say about Possessions?
Benedict is most adamant that community members are not to have private possessions. Everything in this cloister is supposed to be held in common as Benedict instructs. (RB 33)
The superior of the community, i.e., Amma Jane, is to provide all things needed like food, beds and plenty of cat toys for use by all of us. Equal distribution is to be made to all, with the exception of course for those who are weak or sick and might need more, like elderly Mickey. In Chapter 55 – The Clothing and Footwear of the Monastics, Benedict even instructs the superior to inspect beds frequently for private possessions. Anyone who is hiding anything not given to them by the superior is to receive a very severe punishment. (For us, no crunchy cat treat in the evening.)
So, I was shocked when Prior John saw the cat toy in the bed and laughed. He told Amma but she did nothing about removing the toy or disciplining the poacher. Maybe this is because she, the pot, didn’t want to call the kettle black, to use that old maxim. I’ve heard Amma say to husband John, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.”
Randy Takes Charge
Something had to be done about this and it was up to me! I found Amma rooting around in her clothes closet, rearranging her stuff. Jumping on the slacks piled on the closet floor, I mewed my displeasure and disbelief about the cat toy hoarding. I quoted RB 33 – Monastics and Private Ownership. Benedict
clearly says that the evil practice of private possessions “must be uprooted and removed” from the community. No one may retain anything as their own – “not a book, writing tablets or stylus-in short, not a single item.” (RB 33.3) I hissed emphatically that this included cat toy hoarding. I finished by mewing what she already knew; that as the superior she was to at least issue a warning to the guilty party. (RB 33.7)
In all fairness to Amma, it’s hard to know which of the seven others hid the toy in the bed. I certainly didn’t know, but I suspect Br Ricky. On occasion I’ve seen him tossing that very same mouse around the Cloister. Surely Amma Jane could have made a general reprimand and warning us all of the dangers of private possessions. Next, she could have reminded us of the consequences of an infraction, i.e., no cat treats.
I think her judgment was colored by her own plethora of private possessions. I have it from a good source that John sometimes calls her “Imelda” (Marcos) because of the number of shoes she owns. Jane, however, claims the holdings to be modest. Can she wear casual suede mocs with a black dress suit and clerical collar? Absolutely not!
Randy Offers Suggestions from the Rule Regarding “Stuff” – Not Want, But Need
Clearly Amma needs some guidance from Benedict to stem the tide of hoarding. Culling the Rule, I came up with some helpful suggestions for her and perhaps for you as well. My goal is to help everyone have better discretion regarding “stuff.”
First, Benedict wants everyone to be given what they need. I like what he says about clothing and put this on the list.
“To provide for laundering and night wear, every monk will need two cowls and two tunics, but anything more must be taken away as superfluous.” RB 55.10-11
I don’t know any human who has only two outfits. Us cats are way ahead of the game here. We have just one outfit, unless of course, a human puts one
of those ridiculous human-styled outfits on us.
Seems to me that the more clothing you have the more difficult it is to store, to keep clean and to decide what to wear or take on a trip. That last one is a real problem for Amma! You ought to see the rushing around before she leaves to lead a retreat away from home. Her demeanor negates the word “retreat.” Even more important, the more each person has personally, the less there is available for others who really need things like clothes and food.
Provide What is Really Needed
A second thing I found is that Benedict says that the superior is to provide everything that is necessary so that the “vice of private ownership may be completely uprooted.” (RB 55.18-19) The problem is what do you do when you are your own superior like Amma? It takes a lot of soul-searching and discipline to know when to draw the line. Personally, I’m glad that I have only one outfit even if it has to do for both causal and dress occasions. It makes life much simpler and more fair.
Let Love Guide Actions
The third point I found is this:
“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” RB 4.20-21
Outside this community humans are encouraged, cajoled and lured into over-buying and constantly acquiring. Just go on the internet, see all the stuff. You just decide what you want, make a few clicks, and, ZIP, it will appear at your door.
Benedict reminds us of what is really important – living in a different way by keeping the love of Christ before you and love for others in your heart. I
encourage you to let that love guide your decisions about what you really need. It’s really fun and satisfying to share with others, human or feline. Please give all this some serious thought.
Got to go now. I’m going to have a heart-to-heart with Br Ricky about hiding cat toys in beds because Benedict tells me “Go to help the troubled.” (RB 4.18) See you next time!
Your feline friend,