The Vow of Poverty

Blog Published: January 3, 2007
By Sister Julie

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.

Archived Comments

Mema January 3, 2007 at 3:14 pm

In former years, the vow of poverty was expressed by using the pronoun “OUR” for everything, hence owning nothing.

Marilyn January 3, 2007 at 8:32 pm

Julie, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. It does make a lot of sense–and it’s quite inspiring in a way. There aren’t many material things that I’m attached to. I’ve moved many, many times and have given away most of my possessions over the years. Even books. “…compels me to hold all things in common, to live simply, to not become attached to material things…to be moderate…” I think those are wonderful aspirations.

Maria in the UK January 4, 2007 at 8:07 am

Thanks for sharing the thoughts. God bless.

Kristen January 4, 2007 at 10:14 am

I always liked the Mother Teresa quote: “Poverty is love before it is renunciation.” I had that on my frig for a long time, especially when my kids were all little and I felt like I had abandoned my youthful zeal for the poor, trading it all in for a comfy suburban case of the blahs…

I realize now that I renounced a lot of things in those early years of motherhood (and even up to now – my one year old keeps me up at nite way too often), and became much richer for the trade-in!

Sister Julie January 4, 2007 at 10:37 am

Kristen … so true. When I think about my sister and brother-in-law and their two little boys, I am in awe at how much they have willingly given up for love of their children. Not only the money needed to raise children, but the time taking the boys to swim meets, viola practice, doctor appointments, etc. Yet they find joy in each of these things. Again, I am in awe. We all have so much to learn from one another. It is pretty cool how my sister’s marriage and parenting helps me more deeply understand my vows.

Pretty Lady January 4, 2007 at 10:43 am

God bless you! You have my prayers, too.

Valerie Aguilar January 4, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Your blog entry on “The Vow of Poverty” is very insightful and inspiring. Thank you. Being a French Literature student, I can totally relate to having an attachment to books, thank you for reminding me about the concept of “for the use of” and how we should be aware of how we relate to material things and others around us. Blessings!

Jeanne Brolan February 25, 2007 at 5:16 pm

I came by this web page by accident, I wanted information on poverty. I have two elderly sisters from two different religious communities who are freinds of mine, they are each struggling with this subject. I just wanted to see what was out there on the subject so I could get an idea of where they are coming from. To my surprise I got to listen to Sr. Helen Prejean, she spoke at my graduation in 2001 and I was so impressed with her then. Today her words mean so much more to me being that I have just received a grant to work with the families in one of our cities worst housing project. Her talk gave me much to think about and made me see how blessed I am to have the Job I do. I have gone on to read other pages you have and as I am reading I thought this is not a Scranton IHM this sounds like some one from Monroe. I live in Scranton and had a Aunt who was a Monroe IHM for over 50 years. Sr. Mary Avila McMahon. “A Nun’s Life” is just like something she would have done if she had the tools in her day. I thank you for what you do, I find it Awesome!

Sister Julie February 25, 2007 at 9:05 pm

Hello Jeanne! Glad you found your way to this blog, and I’m pleased that you enjoy it. I’m so jealous that you saw/heard Sister Helen Prejean. I will be going to a conference in March and will see/hear her in person for the first time! I am very excited!

Do you know the Scranton IHMs? They are our IHM “cousins”. I’ve worked with a few Scranton sisters since I’ve been an IHM. I am so proud to be part of a big “sisterhood” family which includes IHMs of Monroe, Scranton, and Immaculata and the Oblate Sisters of Providence. I don’t think I’ve heard of Sister Mary Avila, but I’m sure my IHM buds know her.

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