Chapter 34: Distribution of Goods According to Need

1 It is written: Distribution was made to each one as he had need (Acts 4:35). 2 By this we do not imply that there should be favoritism–God forbid–but rather consideration for weaknesses, 3 Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, 4 but whoever needs more should feel humble because of his weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown him. 5 In this way all the members will be at peace. 6 First and foremost, there must be no word or sign of the evil of grumbling, no manifestation of it for any reason at all. 7 If, however, anyone is caught grumbling, let him undergo more severe discipline.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

Having established clearly that the individual monk should own absolutely nothing, Saint Benedict now turns his attention to the material goods that each monk actually has for his use, even while not owning them. As we find so often with Saint Benedict, he gives us a scriptural basis for the distribution of goods: to each one according to his need, as we find in the Acts of the Apostles.

This is a really difficult teaching for our present age, which generally judges a person’s worth by what they have. If a person is poor, they are quite often not thought well of. Even among the brothers, we tend to have admiration for the brother who has the best computer equipment, the brother who has a better room, the brother who gets to go to town more often, the brother who gets a special trip, the brother who goes to school before me, the brother who has newer shoes or clothes, the brother who has anything that I don’t have and want to have.

All of this, of course, is completely against the vows we make and the spiritual ideals that we try to live, but it happens nevertheless. We are weak human beings. On the other hand, if we can try to follow the Rule in this Chapter, our ways of thinking about others begin to change.

For Saint Benedict, it is the brother who has less, he should thank God and not be distressed! What a high spiritual ideal! We should all be striving to need less and to have less. This is our goal.

Saint Benedict concludes this Chapter with a strong condemnation of grumbling. Murmuring is what Benedict is talking about in this condemnation. Today we can call it grumbling, but the word murmuring is a wonderful word. One can feel the sort of undertones in a conversation where a brother is talking against someone else or talking against the life of the community or talking against the abbot and his way of doing this. Murmur, murmur, murmur… And it is always clear that the monk who murmurs and grumbles is not longer on the road of the spiritual struggle. One who is totally engaged in the spiritual struggle can also see the defects of the community and of the abbot and of the other superiors, but he is able to use all of that as part of his spiritual struggle. When a monk begins to murmur, he has abandoned that spiritual struggle and becomes just another person in the ordinary life of the world who wants to complain because the world is not treating him as he wants to be treated.

For our spirituality coming from this chapter, the biggest challenge is to learn how to struggle spiritually and never murmur. Then there is the challenge of accepting whatever is given to me with joy, peace and tranquility. Let us walk in the way of the Lord!