Chapter III

Religious Poverty





A. Introduction

1. Some problems about understanding & living poverty today:

  • Many different meanings given to the word “poor”.  ,,,
  • Lack of biblical, historical & theological vision of poverty.
  • “Having” is considered more important than “being”.
  • Often limited to considerations of economy.

2. Some Pre-Suppositions:

  • Only evangelical poverty, “for the Kingdom”
  • In context of salvation history: common call of all Christians to follow Christ (“Discipleship”); special vocation of religious to follow Christ according to a certain lifestyle, of which celibacy is the first and fundamental expression.
  • Charity (love) is the essential “law” (call, invitation) of Kingdom. Without i, poverty is a sham.

B. Vatican II’s Call to Renewal: (P.C., 2)

1.   Continuous return to the source of all Christian li (Gospel).

2.   Return. to the original inspiration behind a given community (Charism). D63

3.   An adjustment of the community to the changed conditions of the times.

C. Poverty in the Old Testament (various views…)

  1. Real poverty is an evil, a misfortune: “Blessed are the rich”. No belief in afterlife, hence richness here is important.
  2. Real poverty is caused by the injustice and avarice of people. Prophets denounce the rich. God takes up the cause of the poor.
  3. “The poor of Yahweh” ” recognize their need of God, and place their trust in Him; humility, piety, trust in God.

D. Poverty in the New Testament

1. Jesus: (CC 23)

    • took on the condition of common humanity: he was really poor. was also poor “in spirit”.  
    • taught- “Blessed are the poor( Lk.) in spirit (Mt.)”.
    • “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom…”
    • proclaims the good news (Gospel) to the poor: (Lk. 4:18). /as a sign of the authentic kingdom attitude to the rich attitude to the “marginated”
    • – gives absolute priority to the Kingdom: “Seek first the Kingdom.”
    • to proclaim the Kingdom accepts all the discomfort and sacrífice of an itinerant missionary; requires his disciples to be willing to do the same.
    • leave everything; total availability for the Kingdom ‘I became poor so that we might become rich: 2 Cor. 8:9; Ph. 2: 6- 11.

2. The First Christians (Acts 2:44-45; 4: 34-35) (CC 24)

  • ‘”one in mind and heart”
  • held possessions in common; shared with each other according to each one’s needs.
  • I Cor. 11:21: It should not happen that some live in privation while others have more than they need

E. Poverty in the History of the Religious Life

1. Anchorites (Hermits), 4th century

  1. oFollow Mt. 19:21 literally: renounce, sell, give to poor, follow. ,
  2. oProphetic against “worldly”, accepted Church.
  3. opossessed minimum of goods; worked; sold surplus & gave to poor; lived poor; no savings for future or old age.

2. Cenobites (living together in common, in “monasteries”) 5th century onwards.

  • individual divestment before entering community
  • work & pray; possess everything in common; share among selves. ?v           -Some monasteries became very wealthy:
  • Depend upon superior for use; poverty of “permission”.
  • Goods, poverty, not directly oriented to apostolate or to service of the poor.

3. Mendicants, Conventuals (Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.) 13th century onwards.

  • itinerant preaching & poverty (follow Mt. 10 & IS. 10) –
  • Poor individually and collectively; cannot own anything.
  • witness of poverty to rich merchants, clergy, monasteries.
  • From 13* century onwards all religious took the ‘vows1 of poverty, chastity (celibacy) & obedience.
  • Solidarity with the poor.

4. Apostolic

(Jesuits, Christian Brothers, Claretians, most modern congregations of men and women religious: 16th century onwards)

  1. oFounded for an apostolate: evangelization, works of mercy, etc. ‘
  2. o “Entire religious life … should be penetrated by an apostolic spirit, as their entire apostolic activity should be animated by a religious spirit” (P.C. no. 8).
  3. oMost initially worked for the poor and
  4. oCollectively own the goods necessary or useful for their work, but always in a spirit of poverty which is an evangelical witness and means of the apostolate. Tend to be centralized and International; resources shared for more effective apostolic ministry in missions, for poor, etc. CC25; D66)
  5. 1.No ‘hatred” of goods as evil (as some Greek philosophers taught).
  6. 2.Not “ascetical means to perfection” as some philosophers, etc.)
  7. 3.Poverty is essentially total availability for the Kingdom, given absolute priority: Free from to be free for.
  8. 4.As such, poverty is a requisite for all Christians.
  9. 5.Religious poverty is a particular way or style of living Christian poverty: vowed, public profession, visible sign or witness, non-possession or non-use of goods as one’s own, sharing of goods held in common, special lifestyle, etc. (CC 27)
  10. 6.Material poverty does not automatically confer salvation. (Kingdom is not socio-economic).
  11. 7.Yet sign of Gospel is that good news is preached to the poor, freedom from oppression, dignity of children of God.
  12. 8.Witness values of religious poverty: “no permanent abode here”; vs. materialism, consumerism, avarice, injustice,
  13. 9.Goal of poverty: prolong and bring the poverty of Christ to the present world,

F. Theological Reflections & Consequences:


A. Introduction

1. No “How to Practice Poverty Handbook”.

B. Tensions & Problems Inherent in poverty:

1.         Being in the world but not of it.

2.         Needs for apostolate vs. need to witness poverty.

3.         Efficiency vs. poverty.

4.         Poverty & austerity vs. human needs, life in community, charity.

5.         Trust in Providence vs. using God-given Intellect and means.

6.         Not-having (poverty), vs. having in order to give (sharing with poor).

7.         Idealism vs. realism.

C. Response to these tensions:

1.   Need for discernment, dialogue, prayer.

2.   Shows our inability, our need to depend on God.

3.   Much depends on Individual conscience.

4.   In many aspects poverty is relative, to place, time, situations

5.   Yet there are plenty of clear indications for orientation.

D. Some General Criteria

  1. 1.Motives must be for the Kingdom, to bring Christ’s poverty to the Church of today, etc. as explained above.
  2. 2.Poverty must be practiced In charity, It should be an expression of love. It should not divide but unite us.
  3. 3.Practiced according to our specific charism-
  4. 4.Adapted to the needs and signs of our modern times. (PC 2,13)

E. Poor both in spirit (not attached) and in reality (actually poor).

  1. 1.Affective and effective poverty. (CC 26)
  • not “rich island in a sea of poverty” (1971 Synod)
  • not “comfortable poverty, loving the reputation rather than the reality of being poor” (St. Ignatius Loyola)
  1. 2.Place all trust in the Lord, not in power, friends, influence, “clout”, favor, etc.
  2. 3.Don’t complain but rejoice when you feel the pinch of poverty.
  3. 4.Religious life should not be “a super welfare state with 100% security.”
  4. 5.Poverty of spirit is often an excuse to keep the rich happy.

F. Witness of poverty should be collective as well as personal.

  1. “Members of a rich community cannot be or call themselves poor”(K. Rahner).
  2. Dangerous excuses: “The community owns it, not me”; “It wasgiven to us as a gift”; “I   have permission….”
  3. Avoid appearance of luxury or the immoderate accumulation of wealth or possessions.
  4. The Congregation and all its communities should strive to give a collective witness of poverty.

G. Lifestyle should be joyfully simple and austere, in keeping with the poor.

  1., food, clothing, transportation, vacation, etc.
  2. 2.”The squirrel within us.”
  3. 1.Become informed about world hunger, injustice, etc.
  4. 2.Listen to the cry of the poor.
  5. 3.Make choices which favour the poor. Work preferentially with them.
  6. 4.Live a simple lifestyle, like the poor.
  7. 5.Actively share the struggles of the poor.
  8. 6.Side with those who struggle for social justice.
  9. 7.Use our institutions for the benefit of the poor; share our goods.
  10. 8.Work with the rich and powerful from the viewpoint of the Gospel call to evangelical poverty for all, especially in favour of the poor. Show the rich their Christian responsibility.

H. Obliged to law of work, like the poor. (D 69, 70)

I. Ministry should not be sought just for gain or profit.

J. Preference for the Poor and Marginated:

Conclusion: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”


A. Image and Responsibilities of the Administrators:

  1. Collaborating servants within the community and for the community.
  2. Administer the temporal goods of the Congregation in a spirit of justice, charity and poverty, as a service to the Congregation, its mission, and its members.
  3. Attitude toward goods: should not absolutize them: they are only a means to reach the Kingdom (I Cor.: 7: 29-3 1).
  4. Should not become worried, but trust in Providence (Mt. 6:3 1 -33). “Seek first the Kingdom…”
  5. Are not owners but stewards of what they administer. Should avoid extremes of avarice & prodigality.
  6. Finances are never an end in themselves. They must be administered for the goal of the institute, in a spirit of poverty.
  7. Avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish.”: avoid pettiness.

B. Accountability : Need to inform community and superiors.

C. Obligations of Social Justice:

  1. oJust wages,
  2. odecent working conditions,
  3. obenefits,
  4. olegal requirements.

D. Budget:

  • importance
  • how made;
  • norm of expenditure:
  • control; no area excluded.

(A detailed commentary of the chapter on Poverty is given in Our Project of Missionary Life, Commentary on the Constitutions Vol. 2, PP. 317-381)