In Chapter 55 of his Rule St Benedict takes time to consider what the monks personally need: the artifacts, clothes and other necessities as required in the sixth century. He lists them: “cowl, tunic, sandals, shoes, belt, knife, stylus, needle, handkerchief and writing tablets.” The monk is to be content with these basic provisions for his immediate personal needs, and looking around at our provisioning here, this list is still pretty much au courant.
This is not the end of considerations about what an individual may need, or what other things are communally provided. But all this poses another matter, and that is the powerful witness of genuine contentment. There is something about a person whose contentment does not spring from such things as unlimited disposable income or complete power of autonomy and command, a person whose life is woven meaningfully with that of others, with all the responsibility and occasional inconvenience that demands, whose circumstances are characterized by limit of some (or many) kinds—but who nevertheless is deeply content and gratefully expectant of God’s providence.
That kind of person is magnetic, even luminous, especially because within the last several decades we in America are being socialized to discontent. The deliberate cultivation of contentment is yet another way this kind of religious life, if properly lived, can be as a light shining in a dark place.