St Benedict’s Chapter 34, Distribution of Goods according to need, continues a series of chapters about “stuff,” but the deep structure of the series is about trust—what it is to be a creature, dependent first entirely on the will and the largesse of God, and second, related interdependently in so many ways with all other creatures. In this chapter, that deep structure comes very close to the surface clothed in the subject of need and contentment.

This is one of the places where it can be seen clearly that the rules, vows, and promises we live by are not a set of check-off boxes: did we do A, B, and C, today, and make sure not to do D, E, and F? No, they are instead a veritable jungle gym—something variously to hold us up, to push on and against, to facilitate strength and growth as we progress into the likeness of Jesus. They are there to question us lovingly and searchingly so that our motivation for doing or not doing anything becomes more and more transparent to the love and will of God. This is as true of baptismal vows, marriage vows, and any other serious commitment we live by as of monastic vows.

In the present case—distribution of goods—why does it happen that we need or don’t need something, and what is “need” anyways? Sometimes we receive what we don’t think we need, and how do we respond then? In some ways this is even more challenging.

The Rule makes for a constant dynamic dialogue between and among us and God who invites us, lovingly pulls us bodily along into this life. Rooted and grounded in God, we are not allowed to stay rooted and grounded stolidly in our preferences and inclinations, our suppositions and our ignorances. Thanks be to God.

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