In the next few weeks I hope to post about several of the common/general monastic vows. Many of the Western Monastic traditions are characterized by similar monastic vows, for example: obedience and chastity. There are also common practices, such as daily prayer, study, acts of service, and hospitality. I hope to explore these are more in the following weeks.
Today’s focus will be on the Benedictine vow of simplicity. St. Benedict did not require his monks to take a life of poverty, but they are required to have everything in common. The Benedictines actually became quite wealthy as an order, but individually the monks were poor. The Order was able to fund several projects and improve the life of several communities, in the Middle Ages. Benedictine monks are not allowed to really own anything, they are given things by the monastery but if they were to leave or be discharged from the monastery, they must give their habit and things in their cell back to the monastery. If a monk/nun’s family was to send him/her something, the abbot would take the package and either keep the contents, give it to the monk/nun, or give it to another monk/nun or the whole community. This is a firm example of the principle that all things were to be held in common in the monastery; it can also teach the monk/nun humility. Simplicity in this respect means holding all things in common, so having no personal property. This aspect of simplicity can be difficult outside a monastery; however, it is not impossible. Those in the Third-Order or Oblates can regard the things in their house as belonging to the whole church community or monastic community. So if someone needs to borrow a vehicle, tools, or whatever; the monk/nun would give (or lend) it to the person. This reminds us that all things are gifts from God and we entrusted with these things.
Simplicity can have another aspect as well, the idea of not having the newest or most expensive version of something. Our culture encourages us to buy the newest, best, most expensive version of something. Look at how a certain computer company runs it marketing and production schedule, something new comes out and then within about six to nine months, there is a newer version of the product, but the price has dropped. So people worry about getting the newest version and spend a lot more money on the product. So simplicity encourages getting by with what you have, using something until it is no longer useable. I do this all the time with clothes/shoes, pens, phones, computers, books, etc. I usually try to buy used books, games, DVDs, and other stuff. My wife and I also try to eat at home for most meals; she has started making bread and yogurt at home. There are several ways that we can learn to live a more simple life and learn from the monks and nuns about what it means to have everything in common.
Question: What do you think you can do to live a more simple life? How are you living a simple life?