Consecrated Life: The Vows – Poverty
If you want to be rich, you must be poor. Then you will be rich in everything, if you are poor in spirit. It isn’t property that makes you rich, but the spirit.
(St. Ambrose, letter 63.)
This ‘spirit’ of poverty which St. Ambrose reminds us, despite it urging us to put our treasure in the kingdom of God’s justice, can, if allowed, become one of the most contested of all the Vows that Religious may face together.
As the constitutions of our Order remind us, that in our particular profession we promise to God, ‘to own nothing by right of personal ownership but to hold all things in common’.
But practically speaking, does this mean I do not even have exclusive access to my own toothbrush?
You see how the above question represents how ridiculous perceptions of poverty within the consecrated life may reach. Rather, we must keep in mind the decision to be poor both in fact and in spirit, but this is only done in order to endeavour to be truly free from the domination of wealth itself. The task then for our consecrated life is to conquer greed, and we can only do this in the imitation of Christ, who for our sake becomes poor in order that we may become rich.
It is then as an witness to and for the salvation of others that those in the consecrated life can even attempt to fulfil the words of our Lord who said, Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me’ (Mt 19:21).
For us Dominican Friars in particular, the life of factual and spiritual poverty is the very foundation of our Order. We imitate Saint Dominic and our first brothers, who in turn imitated the apostles, in sacrificing all worldly possessions in order to be free to proclaim the Kingdom of God. In the beginning of the Order, it was decided to not have any possessions, but to beg literally for our daily bread while preaching the Gospel. It is this apostolic poverty that occurs at the beginning of the Order, this spirit, which should animate the modern day friar, who in our own modern and greedy world, must again adapt accordingly.
For the Dominican then, it is this particular aspect of being frugal with ourselves which draws us to be closer to the poor we are sent to evangelise. We do this predominantly for the needs of study and the ministry of salvation for the sake of the Kingdom of God; we believe that it is this enduring love that will govern all matters pertaining to the fleeting necessities of life.
We should constantly remind ourselves, those in the consecrated life and those who are not, that so many people in the world are constrained by poverty. Countless work hard for only modest and even abject living conditions. We must then give an effective collective witness by publicly working hard in the apostolate, and praying for justice in those places it is so hard to come by.