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Renouncing ownership

Renouncing ownership

How shall we live once we realize that everything belongs to God?

Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist reflected on the witness of Benedict of Nursia, whose feast day is today.

Now Benedict is no Saint Francis. Saint Francis lived almost 700 years after Benedict.iii To “renounce all” to Saint Francis was, literally, to strip himself of every material thing. Not so for Benedict. Benedict, in the fifth century, readily acknow­ledges material things. To “renounce all” for Benedict was to strip himself of the notion of personal property – private ownership of material things – because everything belongs to God In his Rule, Benedict makes no division between natural and supernatural, between sacred and secular. It all belongs to God. Every thing, every vessel – whether it comes from the altar, the bakery, the storeroom, the kitchen, the garden – it all is sacred because it all belongs to God.iv

Benedict was almost ruthless in his adamancy against the notion of private property, of private ownership.v We must not indulge ourselves with the delusion of private property, private ownership, because we are not owners of anything. We are “stewards.” To Benedict there is no ownership, there is only trusteeship: the responsible holding in trust of something only temporarily loaned to us for its good usage. And he reminds us that we remain accountable to Christ, the one and only master of all goods, and property, and possessions and talents. Perhaps, not surprisingly, one of the many titles which Benedict assigned to the abbot is “steward of the household,” with the hope that each monk would equally adopt this same attitude towards the material possessions that come into his life.

For Benedict, to “renounce all” is to be detached from material things. When we claim “ownership,” it is very difficult to tell whether we are clinging to things or the things clinging to us. And yet, with equal conviction, Benedict commends us to enjoy the things entrusted to us. To not value or enjoy the things which we hold in trust would be to deny the holiness of things and to lose sight of God’s amazing generosity.

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