In a recent comment, Marilyn asked what I think of the vow of poverty. She pointed out the different meanings of the word poverty: 1) lacking resources and 2) renouncing the right to individual ownership. The vow of poverty has more to do with the second meaning.
Here’s how I came to internalize in part what this vow means. When I first came to the convent, I noticed that in the sisters’s prayer books, the inscription in the front read — in pencil — “for the use of Sister (name)”. In some books, you could see faintly see names from previous users of the prayer books, sisters “dwelling now in light”. In all of my books, I write “Julie Vieira” in the top right corner signifying it is MY book and I want it back if I lend it to someone. When I asked a sister about why they say “for the use of” she said that no one of us owns a single thing in the congregation — even that prayer book that we’ve used for years and which bears the marks of our praying hands and of our tears. By the simple act of writing “for the use of” a sister recognizes that she truly does not own a thing and that all she has is gift. A sister recognizes that if one of her sisters needed that prayer book, she would give it to her in a heartbeat. One might think that giving away a book is a simple things. Sure it is (well, being a biblioholic myself, I would have a tough time, but I’d do it). But this applies to ALL THINGS. Not one thing in this house is mine. Not the books, not the clothes, the furniture, nothing. The vow of poverty compels me to hold all things in common, to live simply, to not become attached to material things (again, books are very hard for me not to become attached to), to be moderate in all things.
Keep in mind that the vow of poverty is not lived in isolation. It is lived in harmony with the other two evangelical counsels: celibacy and obedience and so cannot really be understood apart from those vows. In addition the vows aren’t professed just for their own sake. They are the context for our relationship with God and one another and for our mission to serve the Church and world.
There are many ways that religious interpret and give meaning to this vow within their own communities. For the religious reading this, please comment on what this vow means to you and your community.