April 8, August 8, December 8

For bedding the monks will need a mat, a woolen blanket and a light covering as well as a pillow.

The beds are to be inspected frequently by the abbot, lest private possessions be found there. A monk discovered with anything not given him by the abbot must be subjected to very severe punishment. In order that this vice of private ownership may be completely uprooted, the abbot is to provide all things necessary: that is, cowl, tunic, sandals, shoes, belt, knife, stylus, needle, handkerchief and writing tablets. In this way every excuse of lacking some necessity will be taken away.

The abbot, however, must always bear in mind what is said in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘Distribution was made to each one as he had need’ (Acts 4:35). In this way the abbot will take into account the weaknesses of the needy, not the evil will of the envious; yet in all his judgements he must bear in mind God’s retribution.

Who is it that disciplines, that punishes? The discipline can be found in the behaviour we ourselves have chosen. It is an inner discipline of our conscience, one that is formed enough in the Spirit and community. We can realise and seek forgiveness. If this is not happening, then a wise abbot or guide can help us make the connections between our behaviour and our motivations.

In this search, this discerning, we can learn to see with the ‘abbot within’, that wisdom alive in us that Buddhists call the prajna-eye, that which the Christian would call the mind of Christ. It is the art of learning to look without thinking, of simply observing, like Mary, as she pondered things in her heart (Luke 2:19).

Possessions distract from the heart, that place of pondering. Benedict wanted monastics to have Christ as the sole focus of their lives, owning nothing. Ownership is an illusion, identifying us more with material things and less with the Divine within the material. As we possess, we can lose a sense of context, of the temporariness of stuff. Possessing the temporary confuses the heart.   

The human heart longs for that which endures. Any sense of comfort and security that comes with the material is short-lived – even if this sense lasts our whole lives; at death it is gone. Stability and growth in real love is about identification in and with the Divine, the eternal. Nothing else will satisfy as deeply. This is what the stance of the rule towards private ownership teaches us today.

What would happen, for example, if someone broke your coffee cup? A simple thing like a coffee cup can be something that the ego clings to, possesses. Little, everyday things can become egoic fetishes.

The abbot is asked here to take the Apostle’s as their model. The early Christian community gave all their resources to the Apostles so they could then distribute these resources according to the needs of each community member. This way requires from the abbot an awareness of each person and their needs, and a compassionate focus that tends to these needs. The abbot is to be someone mature enough in the spiritual and human life to have a genuine and sustaining focus on others, not themselves. The position of community leader models the use of attention as love.

Meditation is a practice and a growth in this loving attention. In meditation we give attention to the mantra – a word which draws attention into the silent love life of God at our depths. This love, as we attend to it, transforms us in and for love. As this happens, we forget not only ego, but also the deep Self as our humanity becomes love for love’s sake. As this happens our relationships, our communities, become the places where we naturally tend to the needs of those around us. We live from an inner resource that is continuous; we grow in being an abbot to ourselves and others.     

The whole group of believers was of one heart and mind; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the sale, and laid it at the feet of the apostles; it was then distributed to each as any had need. (Act 4:32-35, RNJB)