Above all, this evil practice [of private ownership] must be uprooted and removed from the monastery. We mean that without an order from the Abbot, no one may presume to give, receive or retain anything as his own, nothing at all–not a book, writing tablets or stylus, in short not a single item, especially since monks may not have the free disposal even of their own bodies and wills. For their needs, they are to look to the father of the monastery, and are not allowed anything which the Abbot has not given or permitted. All things should be the common possession of all, as it is written, so that no one presumes to call anything his own (Acts 4:32). (RB 1990:The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, p.231).
So, how does a dispersed monastic like myself, who is also married “own nothing?” It is a challenging question. How am I to rely on my Abbot’s authority to have something, when The Rule tells me I am not to own anything without his approval? Another good question.
If there is any one thing that many of us “own” is “our own” understanding of how things are done and/or understood. Every thing including that which is not seen, can be so easily kept as “our own.” Keeping watch in this Season of Advent is about letting go of all that we own; including but not limited to that which we do or understand so that Jesus may come to us with God’s understanding. Jesus did not come in the Nativity in the way we thought He should come. He came in the manner in which God had appointed. That is how we “own nothing.”
We own no thing by letting go of every thing. We let go of them by detaching ourselves from owning them by not allowing them to possess us. We recognize that we are to be good stewards of whatever we have or use. We also reorganize our thinking so that what we use is not ours alone, but belongs to the use of the whole of the human community. We need clothes to wear. We do not need the latest fashion to dazzle everyone who’s attention we draw to ourselves. We need a car to get to work and come home. We do not need the biggest, best and most extravagant model on the market. We need food to eat. We do not need to eat at the most exquisite restaurant, paying more money for one meal than a poor person can eat in one day. The more we think we need to own something, the more we push God out.
God is the One who wants to possess our hearts. St. Benedict calls it, “preferring Christ above all else.” It is a daily and gradually letting go and trusting that what we have to use is on loan from God, and that we are to return it; after being faithful stewards because we used it for the purpose it was given.
Prayer and contemplation are given to us to know the presence of God in our hearts and lives. We are to use them to grow closer to God, and return them unto God with our hearts all ready to be owned by God for all eternity.
Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB