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The vow of religious poverty

06 Jul 2015, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Augustinians

povertyTalking about religious poverty reminds me of a question somebody once asked me; are there different kinds of priests in the Catholic Church? I did not hesitate to answer no. I answered no, not because I did not get exactly what he was trying to ask, but making him understand that the priesthood is one. There is just one priesthood, and it is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, every Catholic priest and even the laity shares in this one priesthood at different levels. The bible tells us that by our faith in Christ Jesus, we have become a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people… (1 Peter 2:9).

In the Catholic Church, young men are ordained into this one priesthood in different religious Orders, congregations, and dioceses. The question about the different kinds of priests does not arise in connection to the nature of the priesthood and the response to the call. Some are ordained as diocesan priests while others are ordained as religious priests; the difference is in response to the call to the priesthood and not in the priesthood.

The vow of poverty stands out among the things that differentiate the diocesan priests from the religious priests; the religious priests vow to live a life of poverty. This poverty is not the same as the kind of poverty we know; it is not destitution, it is not the state of lack, it is not the state of not being able to provide the necessities of life. It is poverty that eradicates poverty.

The religious vow of poverty sometimes confuses those who do not really understand it. I have heard some persons say that the religious claim to live in poverty, yet they drive the best of cars, live in very comfortable houses, and eat the best of food. These persons may not be far from the truth, but their understanding of the religious vow of poverty is very far from the truth. The religious vow of poverty is a kind of poverty where you own nothing but have everything; it is the poverty after Christ Jesus’s poverty. Jesus said he had nowhere to lay his head (Lk. 9:58); this is poverty at its highest form. For you to have nowhere to lay your head reflects how very poor you are, yet this Jesus who had nowhere to lay his head redeemed and owns the whole world. poverty and wealthThat is how religious poverty is like; we own nothing, yet we have everything. The rule and constitution of the Augustinian Order insist on this; call nothing your own, but let everything be yours in common. Food and clothing shall be distributed to each of you by your superior, not equally to all, for all do not enjoy equal health, but rather according to each one’s need. For so you read in the Acts of the Apostles that they had all things in common and distribution was made to each one according to each one’s need (4:32,35).

The religious priests personally own nothing; whatever you see them with belongs to their religious community. Religious poverty does not make the religious beggars in the ordinary sense of the world; it follows the footsteps of the poor Jesus Christ who had nowhere to lay his head yet owns the whole world. This religious poverty liberates the religious for their mission; it liberates them for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The religious vow of poverty calls to selflessness and dedication, poverty that liberates the religious from the attachments that slow down their work. This poverty is not a mere giving up of material goods; it must be joined with the humility of mind and heart in service of God. First of all, this form of poverty enriches the religious community in which it is accepted and practiced. Call nothing your own, as St. Augustine said, and share everything in common.

The vow of religious poverty and the sharing of goods in common is not an attempt to deny the reality of the individual; even in the blessed Trinity, the individuals are recognized and appreciated separately; the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three different persons yet one God. So also, in the religious community bound by the vow of poverty, the individuals are recognized but must be ready to submit themselves and their individual desires to the desires of the community. A religious is not extravagant when he or she looks good or drives a good car, lives in a good house, or eats the best of food, as they say. No, it is a reflection of the fact that when you give all for Christ, he gives all for you.

As an Augustinian, I own nothing, but I have everything. I am poor but very rich.

6 COMMENTS
  • Kene Ozegbe Reply

    Dear Father, My idea of poverty comes from :

    Go and sell your property and give the money to the poor – Jesus

    You yourself what do you have? give them something to eat – Jesus & Peter’s interaction

    We will work to earn our keep and beg when we can’t find work. – St Francis of Assisi

    These are the major ones. They all have an inclination of working circular works to have and in turn share, allowing yourself only the minimum necessary. Simply put, you live the standard of live of those you are helping. You can’t drive expensive cars if there are people not far away who need food. A car is advisable if in a long term it would have saved money for more charity. And you must go for the least necessary to do the job. Not the highly expensive and automatic typical of the rich.

    • Dear Kene, I appreciate your comment and I also agree with your idea of poverty. Its not different from ours, I only tried to make you understand the meaning and nature of the religious vow of poverty. Kene, we must not necessarily sell all we own before we help, except if you want to take the word of God literally. We help in so many ways as a community that you know nothing about and I don’t intend to blow the trumpet here. So many religious have dedicated their lives to the service of the poor, Orphans, elderly and in many other ways that you may not know. By the way, the command to sell everything and give to the poor is not met only for those living the religious vow of poverty, its for everyone including you. Have you sold any? Did you give the money to the poor?

      My dear, there are many Augustinians working in circular institutions, they don’t see there salaries and you will not know if they don’t tell you. Kene, to be comfortable is not a sin, but just try and help those around you.

      • Kene Ozegbe Reply

        Thank you father.

        No I have not sold any and consequently not given the money to the poor.

        You have drawn my mind so dearly to those Augustanians who work and not interested in their salaries for personal good. I am challenged by their sacrifices and self denial for perfection of love.

        I agree with all you have said about “go sell and give to the poor”. That’s in fact all I meant :conscious detachment for the good of others who have less than you or necessary befitting the dignity of the image and likeness of God. however, sell if you have to… I mean go the extra mile.

        Dear father, thanks for sharing your faith. It’s always beautiful when the contention is on charity and holiness rather than how much money, popularity or ‘magic’ (miracles) our ministries have.

        Our Lord bless you father and help us hid the call to perfection either as the givers in our riches or the receivers in our lack. May our incurable pride never make us too rich to receive where we lack spiritually and physically.

        My regards to your brothers, dear father.

  • Maxwell MoonChild Reply

    nice words of wisdom father,we need more of this.
    Father,some yrs back i made a vow to God, that if He would answer my prayer,i would make sure i contribute financially to everyone in need in nigeria and the rest of the world… i don’t know if this is possible…somehow Jesus Christ made a contribution to the world that is still and will continue to be in effect forever…i want to make such contribution…i want humans to stop suffering for good!!!but how???

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