Vow of Poverty, Not Destitution

Blog Published: August 18, 2014
By Sister Julie

Poverty? That's not good at all, right? The word itself often calls to mind the reality of destitution that many people in our own country and indeed our very own neighborhood face every single day -- living without sufficient resources. 

But the word poverty is also one that is an important part of our lives as Catholic sisters and nuns -- as well as religious brothers, monks, and friars. The vow of poverty, along with the vows of celibacy and obedience, shapes our lives -- how we live together, how we pray, how we go about our daily life, and how we engage God's mission.

Does that mean we are to live lives of destitution? I've been reflecting on it since we received a question from one of our blog readers. She wrote:

The vow of poverty is heavy stuff especially if one is accustomed to wondering whether there’ll be enough money for tomorrow’s meal. What has been your most unforgettable experience wherein you really felt the weight of this particular vow?

It's understandable that the poverty and the vow of poverty are connected to one another. It's the same word, but the experience of both is very different. Poverty itself is a very serious and literally a life-or-death situation -- the vow of poverty is not. Nor do we religious try to pretend that we are living that way of life by professing a vow of poverty. To do so would be problematic on so many levels. That being said, there are Catholic sisters and nuns who actually are destitute and struggling to make it through the day -- and help others in the same situation too.

So what's the vow of poverty if not destitution -- real or fabricated? The vow of poverty means holding all things in common within a religious community. In other words, we as individuals do not own one single thing. Everything I have, including the shirt on my back, belongs to the community. It is not mine. It is for all of us, each according to need. Sound familiar? The vow of poverty comes straight out of the Gospels -- indeed it, along with the 2 other vows of celibacy and obedience -- are called "evangelical counsels" which all of us -- not just religious -- are called to live!!

This is how it has been helpful for me to articulate the vow in my life. Borrowing from a "vintage" blog post I wrote in 2007 ...

"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. " (The Vow of Poverty)

What has been your most unforgettable experience wherein you really felt the weight of this particular vow? In response to the blog reader's question, I offer two experiences that really got me.

  1. My story of encountering those 4 little words, "For the use of ..." found in my blog post, The Vow of Poverty.
  2. My story of getting the car of my dreams in The New-To-Me Nun Car. My addendum to this story is that after a couple years, the Neon was on its way to God. One of the nuns, knowing how much I travel, had a newer, more sturdier car -- she contacted our Car Nun, Sister Carol, and said that she would give it up so that I could use it. She did. Did I feel the weight of the vow of poverty? You bet. I will never forget Sister Janet and her awesome witness to the vow of poverty.

Think about what poverty in this sense -- holding all things in common, living simply, not being attached to stuff -- means in your own life. How might living with poverty in mind help you to grow in relationship to God, to be more fully yourself, and to reach out to others -- especially those who are without sufficient resources?

Want more on the Vow of Poverty? Check out our other resources on the vow of poverty.

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