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Living poverty

April 9, AD 2012 5 Comments

In the latest installment of USA Today’s On Religion series, veteran journalist Judith Valente writes about Benedictine nuns in Atchison, Kansas. One choice sentence: “Whatever slender thread is holding our planet together, preventing us from blowing each other apart, just might stem from the prayers of these monastic women and others like them across the world.”

I was startled to read that because I had almost the same thought myself while putting together my own piece about religious orders and the vow of poverty. But a tight word limit forced me to cut a lot of worthwhile material from that op-ed. So for your Easter-season edification and in honor of those whose prayers preserve the world, here follow some thought-provoking reflections on poverty, wealth, and faith from a few of today’s monastics.


First from Fr. Richard Roemer, CFR:

“In our community, we always have to live in a poor neighborhood, which keeps our contact (with the poor) close… Wealth seems to call for higher walls and longer driveways and more distance, whereas poverty that’s freely chosen helps to break down some of those barriers.”

St. Francis of Assisi saw poverty “as the condition for giving love and also receiving love… That means we need to be emptied of ourselves as well as of attachments to things, to be empty enough to receive God’s love and the love of others. And it’s also the condition – giving love means giving away ourselves. And St. Francis even meditated on how God is always emptying Himself, or giving of Himself, by His nature. He is always becoming poor.

“The common good is better for everybody… A culture of selfishness, individualism, looking out for number one is not good for the common good. It’s not good for the (market) economy and not good for the economy of love… Greed isolates us. Selfishness becomes loneliness.”


From Fr. Peter Funk, OSB:

“Even when people don’t move around literally, the stuff we accumulate keeps our heart wandering in various ways. It can be source of technology – phones, the internet, that keep us in contact with people who aren’t actually present to us at the moment. We keep worrying about all kinds of stuff outside us that we can’t do anything about. Piling up stuff also keeps our desires wandering and searching about, never satisfied but always sort of wanting more.”

The vow of poverty “gives us an interior freedom to accept the world as it is, to accept my life and myself and my brothers as they are, and to move to a different plane of reality, really. To see what God is doing in the world, rather than what our desires are projecting onto it.”


And from Sr. Giovanna Maria, SV:

“Mother Teresa used to say ‘Give until it hurts.’ So I think we’re supposed to stretch our hearts a little bit, to be open to giving even if it hurts a little bit, even if there is a pinch. Because that’s the test of love.”


About the Author:

Anna Williams is a junior fellow at First Things magazine, a former Collegiate Network fellow at USA TODAY, and a recent graduate of Hillsdale College.