SPIRITUALITY: Sufficiency and Sharing by Joan Chittister

Sufficiency and Sharing by Joan Chittister

From The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life

“Do everything with moderation.”
(Rule of Benedict)

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 spirituality does not see indigence,
abject poverty, stringency,
and parsimoniousness
as a lifestyle to be desired,
let alone a high-level signal of holiness.

The monastic ideal is about the ability
to understand the difference
between need and want,
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
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.

“It is written,” the Rule says,
“Distribution was made as
each had need.”
And, “Whoever needs less
should thank God
and not be distressed,
but whoever needs more
should feel humble
because of their weakness. . .”

It is not the use of the goods
required to make contemporary life possible—
cars, computers, electronics, telephones—
that is the measure
of poverty for the Benedictine heart.
It is the over-consumption—
the unmitigated greed
that drives a person
to have in undue measure
what others have little or nothing of,
to want for the self rather than for humanity—
that is the distinction between
Benedictine poverty
and being poor.

Benedictine poverty does not require us
to refuse to have money,
or earn a salary,
or support ourselves
“as our ancestors did.”

On the contrary,
it simply confines us
to what is necessary—
so 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 to have at our disposal
ten kinds of potato chips,
thirty pair of shoes,
the biggest and best of everything,
that, in the end, wars against the desire
of the heart
to live a simple life.

In A Monastery of the Heart,
seekers live
with one eye on the needs of everyone else
as well as their own.

When we find that 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 love simplicity,
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.

In a Monastery of the Heart,
the commitment to the development
of Benedict’s concept of community
must be far wider
in this century than it was in the sixth.
It must burst through
the monastery gates 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 simply enough
of what we have
to live a humanely human life themselves.

1 Comment on SPIRITUALITY: Sufficiency and Sharing by Joan Chittister

  1. The heart of the matter and beautifully written by Joan, once again. Retirement is showing me once again how to be sustained by what is necessary.

    Lately the realization that poverty is a weapon of mass destruction, has haunted me. This piece of wisdom helps me deal with the feelings, and affirms my efforts to resist consumerism. Thank you.


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