The purpose of the monastic life is never to amass wealth for the sake of the self. Instead, Benedict’s definition of the relationship between persons and things is sufficiency—not frugality. Benedictine poverty does not reject the good things of life; it simply refuses to amass them, to make things and money the center of life.
The monastic ideal is about the ability to understand the difference between need and want, and between having what is necessary rather than doing without what is necessary, simply for the sake of doing without.
Those who follow the Benedictine way understand the personal impact and social import of what it means, in a starving world, to “hold all things in common.”
In a world where the accumulation of goods, money, power, and property denies millions the basics of life—their wages, their resources, their education, their health, their future—Benedictine spirituality confronts that kind of engorgement with the principle of sufficiency.
Benedictine poverty does not require us to refuse to have money or earn a salary or support ourselves. On the contrary, it simply confines us to what is necessary that we can help to sustain those who cannot earn the money they need to take care of themselves.
In a world where the scales of wealth tip precipitously toward the West, the white, the male, and the few at the top everywhere, it is Benedictine spirituality that refuses to give in to the acquisitiveness and amassing of goods. It’s the delusion of having at our disposal ten kinds of potato chips, thirty pairs of shoes, the biggest and the best of everything, that, in the end, wars against the desire of the heart to live a simple but sufficient life.
In a Monastery of the Heart, seekers live with one eye on the needs of everyone else as well as on their own. When we find we have accumulated good things in multiples and use few of them ever, it is time to give some of them away to those who have none.
It is not necessary to look poor to live a simple life. But it is necessary to live simply, to gather only what is necessary for ourselves, not necessarily to have the best, the most, the latest, or the most expensive, let alone to have all there is of anything.
To form a Monastery of the Heart in our time, the commitment to the development of Benedict’s concept of community must be far wider than it was in the sixth century. It must burst through every kind of gate into a world where national laws and local prejudices fail to take into account the effects of our over-consumption of food, energy, resources, and weaponry on those who find themselves hungry, empty-handed, and sick.
In a Monastery of the Heart, we must begin to define community globally rather than simply locally, and work at every level to make it so. We must see the moderation of consumption as our way to reach beyond the boundaries of our own lives to the obscenely poor—who stand outside looking in at our three-car garages and second homes and wish for just enough of what we have to live a humane life themselves.
—from The Monastery of the Heart: Benedictine Spirituality for Contemporary Seekers, (BlueBridge) by Joan Chittister.