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In consecrated poverty we seek to share the lot of the poor and to unite in their cause, trusing in the Lord as provider.
— Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, 5:44
When I finished my term as rector of Moreau Seminary in May 2010, it took a week to box up and store my worldly possessions. For the past 14 months I have lived in East Africa, and everything I possess fits more or less into two big suitcases. I haven’t missed a thing from my storage room, except maybe my fishing rods. Once again, my life has become simpler.
Though I’m living more simply, I do not claim to be an authority on living the vow of poverty.I like gadgets, and I like a good meal out once in a while. I have also been known to enjoy around of golf. Still, I want to live an authentic religious life, and it cannot be so without regular reflection on the meaning of consecrated poverty.
The vow of poverty is not primarily about renouncing things. The vow is something interior and spiritual—not something easily quantifiable or measurable. It is primarily about our relationship to God, to things, and to others.
The first dimension of poverty concerns our relationship to God. This vow makes no sense if one is not passionately in love with Christ. He becomes the pearl of great price. One is prepared to leave all things behind for love of Him. In studying His life in the Scriptures, we find that far from renouncing life, Christ celebrated it. His first miracle involved winemaking, resulting in his opponents accusing Him of being a glutton and a drunkard.
This leads to the second level of the vow of poverty: our relationship to things. We learn, like Saint Paul, the secret of enjoying abundance and of being content with very little. That is the lesson that Africa is teaching me. We can begin by opening our eyes to the riches each day provides. How about the songbird I hear upon waking, the roses growing outside my office window, or the cook singing in the kitchen?
How about the faces that I observe around the table, or the soft drumming at Mass and the host in my hands? For the man vowed to poverty, each day slowly becomes enough. We learn anew how to enjoy life as when we were little children. When our vision is clear, we even learn to appreciate what is ugly and unpleasant in life but given to us, nonetheless.
The third level of this vow concerns our relationship to others. The vow of poverty makes the most sense when lived in a religious community. In Holy Cross, we live much as I imagine Jesus and His disciples lived. They held a common purse, and their needs were provided for by women of means. They were neither destitute nor obsessed with personal comfort.
The vow of poverty is an invitation to be a man for others. It is not natural to live one’ s life for others. Most men only learn to turn from selfishness and self-centeredness by having a wife and children for whom to care. In Holy Cross, this vow is what helps turn us away from our innate self-seeking. No longer obsessed with our own needs, we can more readily focus on the needs of others, including those whose needs are the greatest.
Along the way, we awaken to the reality that we are richly provided for by Christ. As our Holy Cross Constitutions remind us, “He has nothing but gifts to offer” (Constitution 8:118). Our Constitutions then proceed, though, to challenge us to see even the Cross as a gift. It is precisely
through living consecrated poverty and cultivating trusting dependence upon God that we can come to see how our choicest and richest blessings have come to us from the crosses we have borne. And that is why—although I may not be the perfect model of living the vow of poverty—since the moment I first professed this vow for love of Him, Christ has made me a rich man.
By: Fr. Pat Neary, C.S.C.
Superior, District of East Africa
Final Vows: September 1, 1990
Ordination: April 6, 1991
To learn more about religious vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross: