Many religious orders take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but Benedictine Sisters do not. When we become Sisters, we make monastic profession of 3 promises: obedience, stability and fidelity to the monastic way of life. It is within the promise of stability that we commit ourselves to chastity and monastic poverty, or simplicity.
Simplicity, like all of our values, takes some getting used to. I have learned that valuing and upholding simplicity depends greatly on the difference between need and want.
For instance, do I need to stop at Starbucks, or do I want to? Since I can bring a coffee with me from home – it’s not as convenient, but is far less expensive – I see my longing for the latte as a want and not a need. (Full disclosure: I used to spend a lot of time in my neighborhood coffee shop when I taught school in Cedar Rapids. If you live there, give Brewed Awakenings a try … and tell them “hi” for me!)
A bigger want is a Wii. I would love to use it to exercise and play games. But we recently bought a portable basketball hoop and we also have a nice workout room. My want is definitely not a need!
That said, not everyone needs the same things. St. Benedict is clear in Chapter 34 of the Rule when he says, “Distribution is made to each one as she had need (Acts 4:35). By this we do not imply that there should be favoritism – God forbid – but rather consideration for weaknesses. Whoever needs more should feel humble because of her weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown her. In this way all the members will be a peace.”
That is, having a cell phone may not be a need for others – and we don’t all have them – but it is for me. I drive 13 mile to work every day, and need to be able to call if necessary. So I have been assigned one. Sr. Jackie, on the other hand, works a few steps outside the monastery doors at Benet House Retreat Center. She has a phone at her desk, and no need for her own cell phone. Whenever she (or any other Sister) goes on a trip, she checks one out to take along.
St. Benedict was wise when he wrote that we should show consideration for weaknesses (or needs). Needs can depend on many factors, including age, illness, job and temperament. We are all different, thank God. We all have different needs, and things we can and should do without. In our commitment to monastic poverty, or simplicity, the bottom line is this: we value one another more than any “stuff.”
Please contact me if you have any desire to learn more. I’d love to chat!!!