Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
13th Friday in Ordinary Time
Today’s scripture readings present us with two related images of what people could do and be, and they stand in stark contrast with what the secular world expects people to do and to be.
In the first reading, we have the image of Rebekah, a woman of great faith, who leaves her family and her wealth in Haran, and makes the long journey to Canaan in order to marry Isaac whom she had never even met, simply because that was God’s will for her. In the Gospel, we have the related image of Matthew, who leaves everything he had and his wealth as a tax collector in order to follow Jesus, simply because Jesus said to him, “Follow me”. Taken together, Rebekah and Matthew show us that we too can be expected to leave everything we possess in order to do God’s will for us.
St Benedict is very clear that that is God’s will for monks. In Chapter 33 of the Rule, he writes that “without an order from the abbot, no one may presume to give, receive or retain anything as his own, nothing at all”, since we “are not allowed anything which the abbot has not given or permitted”. Accumulating a lot of possessions in our cell or locker is what St Benedict calls a “most evil practice”, and that is in stark contrast with the secular values of today, where the whole idea is to acquire more and better consumer goods.
All of us are influenced by this society, and the danger for our spiritual life is that we will bring the consumer mentality into our daily lives, even in the monastery. It’s not enough for monks to make a one-time renunciation of property and say that as individuals we own nothing and everything we have is with permission. The sheer number of things in our cell, or people in our address book, or websites we visit every day, can be an obstacle to God getting through to us. We can see them. But we can’t see God. They can become the gods we spend the most time with, idols that are user-friendly because they give us a sense of our own power and security and importance.
The consumer mentality ends up in a devaluation of death, because the dead can no longer consume anything, and they have no possessions. A monk with a consumer mentality does not “keep death daily before his eyes”. He gets attached to this world, and spends his time acquiring things which he will have to give up at death anyway.
It’s better to follow the example of Rebekah and Matthew, and root out this “most evil practice” from our lives. Then we shall find ourselves in the company of “many tax collectors and sinners who came and sat at table with Jesus and his disciples”.