In a world of planned obsolescence and disposable products, we can almost read past Chapter 32 of the Rule of Benedict without entering into its message. But as with other things in the Rule that might, at first glance, seem “old” or “out of date,” we find some important things here.
First, we see the word “entrusted” used in relation to the monastery utensils. We find ourselves entering the world of ordinary holiness, where even the most common items are considered a sacred trust. Some of this probably had to do with the simple fact that it was much more difficult to replace lost or damaged items, but it’s more than that. It is a spirituality where even the “paper clips” are received and used with gratitude.
Second, we see a connection between outward and inward cleanliness. The way we treat our tools may be an indication of the way we treat our souls. As I’ve told you before, St. Francis would not begin a meeting in a dirty church. He traveled with a broom, and if he was supposed to speak in a place that was unclean, the first act was to spruce it up. Over the years, I’ve thought of this most when I step into pulpits that have old bulletins, scraps of paper, and partially-burned candles (complete with used-up matches) kept in them.
Finally, we see that there is an interesting sense of inheritance. The monks knew that the tools would outlive them! Rakes and shovels would be around after they were gone. Part of stewardship is always passing things to the next generation in as good, or better, shape than we found them.
All this combines into a very important “physical” spirituality. God is the God of stars and planets—cathedrals and vestments—and—tools and goods.