THE VOW OF POVERTY AND REDEMPTORIST MISSIONARY LIFE
A brotherly greeting to all. I am Fr. Manuel Rodríguez Delgado, a Redemptorist, and the executive secretary of the General Secretariat for Formation in Rome. I have been asked to make a short presentation on the vow of poverty in our Constitutions.
The vow of poverty is presented in the Constitutions in numbers 61 -70 and in the Statutes numbers 043 to 047. It is interesting that in our Constitutions, the number of the Constitutions for the vow of chastity are 4, the number of the Constitutions for the vow of obedience are 5, but the number of the vow of poverty are 10.
We are privileged to have Constitutions and Statutes as our guide to Vita Apostolica because, besides being reflections of the Word of God and direct reflections of the thinking of the Second Vatican Council, they inspire us in our daily living of the vow of poverty in today’s world.
Much reflection and writing has been done on the vow of poverty in Religious Life and, in particular, the vow of poverty for us as Redemptorist missionaries. Rather than reflect on each Constitution or Statutes individually, in this brief presentation, I will make six general comments that will give us a foundation for all the Constitutions and Statutes on the vow of poverty and conclude the presentation by offering some concrete reflections for our time. Some of my comments have been shared in this series of videos because all the themes of our Constitutions are interrelated, especially when talking about our mission and our life.
First, Constitution # 56 introduces the profession of the evangelical counsels as a response of love to Christ “who loved us first”. St. Alphonsus spoke much about our response to Christ’s love for us. The vow of poverty is a response to Christ’s love for us.
Second, the primary reference for all the vows of religious consecration, and in this context, the vow of poverty is Jesus Christ himself, the one who “being rich became poor” (Constitution # 61), the one who “came to evangelize the poor”.
Third, the vows are interrelated. One vow influences the other two and helps to live them. I cannot be chaste if I am not first poor and dependent on God in an apostolic community and a person of prayer. I cannot be obedient if I am not first chaste and passionate about God and convinced of God’s love for me. The living out of the vows requires taking into account each vow and also discovering mutual interdependence.
Fourth, since ancient times the Church has modelled the total gift of man to God in the attitudes of chastity, poverty and obedience because they encompass the most fundamental dynamics of human beings: sexuality, possession, and power. To speak of the vow of poverty is to speak of one of the most intense passions of a person.
Fifth, why make the vows and, in particular, this vow of poverty? We make this vow because religious consecration is not a mere ritual act; it is not the automatic result of the rite of religious profession. It is a Consecration of Life, which is not made once and for all on the day of profession; it is made in our daily history. It is a progressive consecration. We are becoming “poor”.
Sixth, all the religious vows and the vow of poverty are not an abstract commitment. This vow touches the deepest part of our being as human beings. The vow of poverty is a commitment between human reality and God’s ultimate horizon. The vow of poverty is a deep confession of faith that is made with the heart from the human reality and driven by the Spirit of Jesus. For us, Redemptorists, the relationship of the vow of poverty to the poor is especially essential from the inspiration of St. Alphonsus since, in the Supplex Libellus of 1748, St. Alphonsus mentions the poor seven times as the reason for the existence of the nascent Institute.
Constitution # 65 tells us: “Missionary charity requires of the members that they live a life that is really poor and adapted to the condition of the poor they are evangelizing. By doing so, they show solidarity with the poor and become a sign of hope for them.”
TWO IMPORTANT CONCEPTS: AVAILABILITY AND SOLIDARITY:
For Redemptorists, genuine sons and daughters of Saint Alphonsus, taking the vow of poverty means living a life of constant exodus. Constitution 67 speaks to us of mobility. The ultimate purpose of Redemptorist poverty is not merely moral, to give a good example; it is essentially apostolic, to announce the Gospel with Life, and to be credible. Poverty without full availability for mission is meaningless. Religious consecration is not an escape from the world, but availability, clothed in radicalism, for the mission in the world. Redemptorist poverty is essentially apostolic; its purpose is to create availability and solidarity with the impoverished.
Our poverty is voluntary; we are not poor because of injustice or social oppression. Our poverty is not primarily one of renunciation, but of communion and solidarity. To make a vow of poverty is to be in solidarity with the impoverished. Solidarity with them is the most effective way to recover the most genuine sense of poverty and its community and apostolic dimension.
Without absolute availability and solidarity, poverty would be more of a juridical attitude, which does not have much value, and which opens many paths to justify everything we possess or want to possess.
All this leads me to what I consider to be of great importance for us in our times. Statute # 044 tells us that, “since the members belong to an Institute devoted to the evangelization of the poor, they must be keenly sensitive to the poverty of the world and the grave social problems afflicting practically all peoples. Poverty of every kind, whether it be material, moral or spiritual, must challenge our apostolic zeal. The legitimate aspirations of the poor will be their aspirations”.
The theme of poverty, of the poor Church, of the poor Christian in solidarity, is one of the themes of our time, stimulated by the awareness of the world around the poor nations and the hungry sectors of humanity. This is also one of the great challenges of the Church and religious life today because of the strong contrast between what we proclaim, the reality of the Church, and our life style.
There is much criticism of the lack of collective poverty among religious. Sometimes we live our personal poverty coherently, but we are inserted in grandiose structures that contradict our witness, especially when these structures are empty. Our sensitivity to the drama of poverty in the world is often doubted.
There is no doubt that the ideal of economic security and the consumerist habits of western society are deteriorating our Consecrated Life.
We have become trapped in the nets of the system. Perhaps most of the problems that religious life suffers today have their roots in the abandonment of evangelical poverty. When poverty suffers, all aspects of religious life suffer: spirituality, community, and mission.
Const. 63 obliges us, “Without neglecting traditional forms of poverty, they will willingly seek to discover new ways of practicing it, which will be ever more in accord with the Gospel, and provide both personal and community witness of evangelical poverty.”
There is no doubt that it is difficult to find new forms. It seems that, up to the present, very little has been proposed in a radical way in the following of Christ.
What is promising is the incarnation (or what Religious commonly call “insertion”) in many communities in poor and marginalized environments (cf. Statute # 045), abandoning traditional locations and the formation of small communities considered more functional for pastoral action mainly within the underworld of the poor.
Sometimes the vow of poverty can be used to dispense from the law of labor Consti. # 64 says, “As poor men, let them regard themselves as bound by the law of labor, so that performing his duties, each will contribute to the best of his ability to his own support and that of others”.
We often live lives as if one did not have to earn one’s own and another’s bread. Unconsciousness in economic matters this is frequent in religious communities, perhaps because many religious are dispensed, do not participate, or are not informed of the administration and daily expenses to maintain our monasteries. As one confrere said if you were to ask a confrere, even one in formation, how much does a bottle of milk or a pound of bread cost, most would not be able to answer.
At the moment, we are starting to live what can be called “post Coronavirus time”. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is and will continue to leave the world in one of the worst economic recessions in recent times. And that is not to mention the social consequences, such as prejudice, xenophobia, social and political fragmentation, etc.
We know that those who suffer and are abandoned most in these circumstances are the poor and marginalized. If the conditions of our brothers and sisters before COVID-19 were precarious, they will be even more so in this post-COVID-19 time. If the lifestyle of some religious was a scandal from the perspective of the Gospels and for the impoverished of our world, it will be even more of a scandal in this post-COVID-19 time.
Our Consecrated Life, our vows, among them the vow of poverty, our being and doing as authentic disciples of Jesus, are now calling us a renewed conversion.
If conversion is an essential part of the ministry of the consecrated Redemptorist missionary (Const. 3, 10, 11, 12), this conversion needs to begin from one’s own being, in one´s own life, and then be extended to the entire religious community. Constitution # 41 tells us:
“The members must give all their attention to putting on the new self, identity, created in the image of Christ crucified and risen from the dead, so as to purify their motives in judging and acting. For conversion of heart and continual renewal of mind should characterize their whole daily life.” (PO 13, 18).