During the course of my interviews for the Postulant Program, I was asked about my understanding of the vows made by religious. I remember joking that, having spent most of my adult life as a student, poverty certainly wouldn’t be as challenging as chastity and obedience, because I had been living that one for years!
I would be willing to guess that most people think a lot like I did: Poverty was all about things and money. This implied that since I didn’t have a lot of “stuff”, I knew how to be poor.
A few weeks ago in one of my classes here at Notre Dame, we were reading Thomas Aquinas’ treatise on the perfection of the religious life. In one passage, he argues that religious perfection stems from having given up everything to follow Christ. One of my senior lay classmates, knowing I was a seminarian, approached me after class and asked, “How does Holy Cross understand poverty? You don’t look very poor.” I must admit I was a little flabbergasted and didn’t have much of a response, which in turn got me thinking.
As postulants, we are not yet in vows, but we are nevertheless encouraged to live out their spirit during our first year in formation. To answer my classmate’s question, I turned to our Constitutions. They tell us that as an apostolic community, we indeed have need of resources to carry out our mission, so we do not renounce them outright. What we have, however, we share. Much like a family, each of us contributes what we have to meet the needs we all face.
We are encouraged to trust that the Lord and the community will meet our needs, freeing us to live the life—be it postulant or professed religious—to which God has called us. At the same moment, we are called to simplicity to ensure that we do not take more than we need and thus weigh down ourselves and others.
During my short time in formation, I have slowly realized that true poverty goes much deeper than just material goods. Holding all things in common is not just a question of “stuff”; it is an outward expression of the deeper reality that my life is not my own. First and foremost it belongs to the Lord, and even in a small way it is the property of my community.
For me, poverty is the commitment that underpins all the others I might make in life. The time I spend in prayer, study, or ministry reflects that my time and effort belong to God. Obedience challenges me to submit my will to another. And celibate chastity is a forgoing of natural human companionship for a greater love. All of these are impoverishments in some way, yet they somehow allow me to be free to belong to God and thus be truly rich.
Mr. Hugh Dowell is a Postulant at Moreau Seminary. He and other seminarians at Moreau post twice each month for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation at Moreau. Meet our other men in formation, and learn more about seminary life in Holy Cross, and specifically about the Postulant Program at Moreau Seminary, which constitutes the first year of religious and priestly formation in Holy Cross for college graduates.