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St Benedict and Caring For Creation

We are guests in God’s world and stewards of its resources. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.’ (Genesis 2:15). The Rule envisages a life where prayer and practical work are both important – the Benedictine tradition of practical agriculture and animal husbandry reflected care for God’s creation and care for community members and guests.

The contemporary Benedictine community of Regina Laudis, Connecticut, combines this traditional life of prayer and practical agriculture with forest management, recycling, conservation and care for fragile environments. ‘The degree of reverence for creation mandated by St Benedict sets a standard that has made Benedictines environmentally conscious from the beginning…. Our commitment to reduce waste, recycle, and reuse where possible is evidence of our gratitude to the Creator and our respect for others’. 

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St Benedict calls the abbot "the steward of the community", emphasising care, respect and appreciation for material things – treating ordinary goods of the monastery ‘as sacred vessels’.  Most of us don’t have farms, but we act as stewards of creation in our own lives by recycling, re-using or passing on goods to others, by planting trees and gardening with respect for wildlife. We now aim in LCSB community meetings to make less waste and use fewer resources. By all these actions, creation is restored for all to enjoy.

The goods of the world are ours to steward or take care of, not to possess, and respect for the earth and the goods it produces goes alongside respect for others and appreciation of their needs. The Rule makes provision for special consideration of the needs of the old, young and infirm. Benedict cites Acts 4 "Distribution was made to everyone according as he had need" as guidance on how communities should share material things as they are needed.

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In our own societies, people collect surplus food and distribute it to the community through food banks so that it is not wasted and helps those in need. On some Birmingham allotments, users have become multi-ethnic communities sharing produce and ideas and supporting each other. Sharing projects for material goods are popping up in many places, encouraging community building and supporting those with fewer resources.

These are all examples of the Benedictine concept of hospitality at work within our own society. Benedict says ‘Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: "I was a stranger and you took Me in" (Mt 25:35) (RB 53:1), and our community aims to “offer welcome, listening, hope, friendship, and a holy space on our precious planet….All are welcome” (LCSB website).

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Benedictine hospitality is concerned with issues of justice – it should extend to beyond our own family friends and community to those we know are in need, even those far away, wherever they are. ‘Hospitality says the problem is mine, not someone else’s. It is my door and my heart upon which these people are knocking for attention’ says Joan Chittister. In the film The Letter, Pope Francis offered welcome to those affected by climate change, by failure of crops, floods and wildfires, leading to extreme poverty, violence, displacement and migration.

How do we welcome the poor and those suffering the effects of climate change like Christ?  We need to recognise what in our own lives can change to reduce the problem, and act on it. And where we can, to encourage local organisations, councils and government to do the same.  Where we feel we are powerless, we have the power of prayer. When we feel alone against a massive problem, we have the Benedictine example of working patiently together. Tens of millions of people around the world this month are taking a plastic free pledge and changing how they live. When we take a small action, we are not alone! Above all, we are people of hope, and through our hope, prayer and action we can create the world anew.

Photo Credit: Hannah Busing on Upsplash

Catherine Stott




Joan Chittister OSB ‘Living the Rule of St Benedict Today’ p.128/9

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