“Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble...not self-important because of the kindness shown to him - in this way all the members will be at peace.”
Rule of Saint Benedict 34:3-5
This quotation is from chapter 34 of the holy Rule of Saint Benedict. RB 34 itself begins with a quote from sacred scripture, the Book of Acts (4:35), in which we read: “Distribution was made to each one as he/she had need.” This passage from Acts is part of a description by St. Luke of the Christian community in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and just after the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.
The concrete situation of each member of the body, the Church, must be considered by the leaders of the community if the body is going to hold together. The bond of perfection is love, we read in the Letter to the Colossians – “above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything else together in perfect harmony.”
Genuine concern for the needs of others is a priority for the community if our witness to Jesus and his gospel is to be credible. If we can’t demonstrate our love for others in concrete ways among ourselves, then how will our preaching about love-of-neighbor among outsiders ever be taken seriously?
It is still the case today. As a monastic community we are expected to love one another. The Abbot, “father” of our community, is expected to assess the needs of each individual member of the community to determine how to distribute the goods of the monastery in a fair, equitable, and just manner. He must consider the actual condition of each monk, spiritually and physically – some will need more while others need less.
As disciples of Jesus, we must cultivate a spirit of gratitude for what we have been given. Personal needs, such as food, clothing, housing, fellowship, etc., as well as professional needs, necessities for the work we’ve been assigned such as an office, computer, cell phone, use of a vehicle, materials of all kinds depending on what our work is.
The heart is the seat of attitude, and attitude shapes behavior. If I am grateful for what I’ve been given, then I can more freely share and use responsibly what I have for the good of others. If I need more, maybe it’s because I have certain limitations – spiritually, emotionally, or physically. Instead of feeling privileged to have more, RB 34 instructs me to realize God’s love as the extra consideration I receive out of concern for the condition I’m in. If I am angry at not having what others have, the newest gadget or nicest office, etc., then I am focused on self and not God, and might resent others for not recognizing my status or value. This attitude is not humble and might be rooted in a shame-wound, a heart that compensates for feelings of inadequacy, feeling “not good enough.” What’s needed here is not nicer “stuff,” but grace!
The Abbot is instructed by St. Benedict to consider the concrete circumstances of each person. Each of us, before jumping to judgment about what another has as compared to what I have been given, should consider the condition of the other. There is a lot we don’t know about our neighbor’s real need or condition – God alone plumbs the human heart and knows its depths (read Luke 16:15; 1 Sam 16:7; Jer 20:12; Acts 15:8) so we have to refrain from judgment. We leave that to the Abbot who holds the place of Christ in the community, our task is to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with God (Hos 6:8.)