Years back I gave a keynote speech on the subject of “Evangelical Council – Poverty” in one chapter. Since the evangelical counsels are essential basis of our spiritual life, I hope to be able to give one or the other an impulse or a help for their own spiritual life:
All three evangelical counsels – and in this case especially poverty – are not an end in themselves, but are an expression of the “life in abundance” promised in the New Testament (Joh. 10,10). This means that, as Sr. Zoe Marie Isenring writes in her book “The Woman in Apostolic Religious Congregations”, they should be “a means to be more and not less human”.
This sounded provocative to me at first and raised a few questions:
- Material poverty as such is not a value for me to strive for, but an injustice that we are to remedy on God’s behalf. God wants abundance for all people, also overcoming poverty. Since we cannot change these injustices with violence – i.e. new injustice – this aspect of poverty obliges us to a simple and undemanding way of life, to a responsible handling of property and becomes a duty of sharing out of solidarity with people, because that is what they do the essentials are missing. Understood in this way, poverty becomes a means of being more human for the community of people – the means of a more just world. Let us ask ourselves as individuals and as a community:
– How simple and undemanding is my lifestyle?
– Will my lifestyle and the life of the community become a sign or a stumbling block?
– Are we, for the people, the ones who solemnly take the vow of poverty and are now living comfortably, while the people outside are the ones who even have to live poverty?
- Poverty always has to do with renunciation. Conscious and free renunciation are inseparable from poverty. Where this aspect is missing, the vow becomes an empty phrase and our life becomes implausible. But poverty must not be reduced to just doing without. We are created as free and beloved daughters of God and God has given us the things of this world for use. We can use them with joy and responsibility. The vow of poverty does not release me and each of us from our responsibility for our own lives. The superior is not responsible for my life and also not for the fact that I did not get so many things in life or had to do without them! I was created by God in freedom and willed as a free person. Also and especially as a religious. Only when I see myself as loved and wanted and can accept the things of this world as gifts, am I able to let go of myself and everything, to continue to give and to do without. Let us ask ourselves as individuals and as a community:
– Do I experience myself as a daughter loved by God?
– Can I enjoy the things of this world?
– Can I see it as a gift or do I have to have it all?
– Do I know the difference between an insatiable “want to have” and a good “treat myself to something”?
– Can I also give something to others, be generous towards them?
– Can I do without becoming bitter or grouchy?
- The vow of poverty only has a meaning and value if it becomes not just an external way of life but an internal attitude. Only when I am not attached to the things of this world am I truly free to follow Christ. But that then confronts me with the question: What does my heart depend on? What do I trust, do I really trust this God or do I have to take care of myself? This is probably the most essential, but also the most difficult aspect of the vow of poverty. Only those who are poor in this sense are always free for God’s call and can follow him – without obstructing marching baggage. This is not only about material things, but also, for example, positions in the community, at work or in personal life that you have worked for, but which can quickly become wealth. Let us ask ourselves as individuals and as a community:
– What does my heart depend on?
– Do I trust God that He is leading me or am I afraid of Him and his demands?
– Do I have to secure my life and therefore have or keep everything?
– How rich or poor am I really?
– What cannot or do not want to let go: the office or the task that I have held for so long; the convent where I feel so comfortable; the position that made me so respected …?
There is still a lot to be said about the vow of poverty. But they are only intended to be a small impulse for reflection and help us to understand and live the vow of poverty a new and more deeply.
Sr. Petra Ladig