One of my favorite lines in the Rule of St. Benedict comes from chapter 31, describing the function of the monastic cellarer (business manager): “Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar.” In other words, the guy in charge of the monastery’s mundane tools and equipment needs to regard those items as if they were as sacred and precious as the chalice and paten used on the altar to hold the bread and wine that will be consecrated during the Eucharistic feast. Do the math, my friends: the “vessels of the altar” are considered sacred precisely because they are containers of the Real Presence. If the cellerar (and, by extension, all the monks) are to regard even the most mundane of tools as just as sacred, isn’t this because even our most ordinary items are means by which we can encounter the Real Presence of Christ, in our labor, our work, our chores?
It’s a very simple and oblique way by which Benedict hints at the practice of the presence of God: contemplatives acknowledge that we encounter Christ not only in the Blessed Sacrament or in Sacred Scripture (wonderful as those thresholds might be), but truly in the most mundane moments of our day. In Benedict’s day, this would have been while working in the farm or cooking in the kitchen. We who live 1500 years later might also consider the sacrality of our cars and our computers, in addition to our kitchen utensils or handyman tools.
Last night I had a dream about clothes. Now, those of you who know me will acknowledge that I am hardly Mr. Fashion. Jeans and a t-shirt or polo shirt are my preferred “habit.” Yes, I try to keep myself basically clean and tidy, but I’m not much for dressing up (my “Sunday best” might involve swapping the jeans for a pair of khakis, but then again, it might not). But my dream was not about how upscale my attire might be, but rather about how I treat my clothes. In my dream I heard a voice: “If you are a partaker of the Divine Nature, shouldn’t you treat your clothes as if they were sacred vestments?”
Such a simple, obvious extension of Benedict’s wisdom. Care for our belongings as if they were as sacred as the vessels of the altar. Care for our clothes as if they were as sacred as priestly vestments. This applies regardless of whether you are a priest or a layperson, a Catholic or a Protestant, a person of wealth or someone of modest means. It’s universal, because the love and the presence of God is universal. If you are a tabernacle of the most high, does not that suggest that even the jeans and t-shirt you wear while puttering around the house are as important as the alb and chasuble of a priestly celebrant?