12.15.2008

on poverty

Just over two months ago I vowed poverty, celibacy and obedience for 3 years in accordance with our Constitutions. Among other things, the section on the vow of poverty says:
Our poverty involves a life of dependence
and of limitation
in the acquisition, use and disposition
of material goods,
in accordance with these constitutions.
This vow commits us to a simplicity of life
in which necessity rather than desire
guides our choice and use of material goods. (CSJP Constitution 50)

The sharing of ourselves and our resources
which is integral to the vow of poverty
is central to our mission as peacemakers.
We try to make our own
the concerns of the human family
and work to bring about the well-being of others,
especially those who are poor and oppressed. (CSJP Constitution 55)

With reverence for the blessings of creation,
we use our resources,
both individually and collectively,
in a spirit of stewardship.
The spirit of poverty also calls us
to work for a more just society
so that all may be enriched
by a more equitable sharing in the
goods of the earth. (CSJP Constitutions 56)

Our Constitutions are beautifully written, and I often reflect upon them. This past summer we had John Dear, SJ as a speaker at our Congregation Chapter. He was talking to us on non-violence, and periodically in his talk he would quote our own Constitutions to us, waving the book and saying "I'm not making this up, it's in YOUR Constitutions." He challenged us to live out who we already say we are.

How are things going, vow wise, 2 months in? Well, really 2 years and 2 months as I lived in the "spirit of" the vows during the Novitiate. To be honest, in terms of poverty, I've been feeling the luxury of the vow of late.

For those of you who wonder what I mean by that, it's not that I'm living a lavish lifestyle. There is definitely, as our Constitutions put it, "limitation in the acquisition, use and disposition of material goods." It all comes down to choices. For example, do I want to spend 1/3 of my monthly stipend on a hair cut at my old hair dresser? Or do I want to take a chance at the Aveda Institute (aka Beauty School) for a $14 shampoo, haircut and style? I decided on the latter, and after spending 2 hours with a very chatty student and her "learning leader," my hair looks quite nice.

So yes, there is limitation and simplicity of life. But these days, many are faced with "limitation in the acquisition, use and disposition of material goods." With the recently declared recession rapidly turning into a depression, more people are having to make choices based on necessity rather than desire.

That's where the luxury of the vow of poverty comes in. Yes, I am living simply and have limited personal spending money. But I also have a roof over my head, a car to drive, food, utilities, health insurance, etc... As part of a community, there is a certain amount of worry that I just don't have. I'm noticing this especially these days, as the economy continues its downward spiral. In the life I've chosen, with its built in mechanisms of "sharing of ourselves and our resources," it's almost like I've got a safety net in the groovy community of women with which I've put my lot.

One could become complacent or take it for granted, I suppose. But I find myself feeling very blessed, and more than that, I feel some responsibility. As our Constitutions say, we are called "to work for a more just society so that all may be enriched by a more equitable sharing in the
goods of the earth. "

The question, I suppose, is what one does with their situation. Most of you reading this post have not taken a vow of poverty. Perhaps you're doing just fine financially. Most likely you're wondering about your 401K or possibly your mortgage. You may even be on the verge of a personal financial crisis.

Every situation can be a growing opportunity for us, individually and collectively. What if, as a nation and as a community, we took this financial situation as a reminder that we're all in this together. What if we "make our own the concerns of the human family and work to bring about the well-being of others,especially those who are poor and oppressed."

Food for thought this chilly winter evening.

2 comments:

claire said...

Yes, i do think that the days that are coming toward us are an opportunity for community building, and opening our hearts and arms to other ways.

Especially to those like us who have not lost everything...

Thank you for your post.

Susan Dewitt, CSJP said...

Susan, this perfectly captures what I've been thinking - it seems unfair that our lives are so much less disrupted by the economic crunch, but then: this is the kind of basic security I'd want everyone to have. It's good to be in a community of friends, sharing what we have and finding it more than enough.

Peace, Susan D