07. Poverty and Stewardship in Practice
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As we come to enter more completely into the offering of the Eucharist we learn more and more to offer thanks at all times and in all places. This gift of overflowing gratitude to God, who supplies all our needs, enables us to let go of dependence on possessions and all that is superfluous. In the sacrifice of thanksgiving lies the secret of simplicity of life to which we bind ourselves in the vow of poverty.
This simplicity of life finds expression in the way we enjoy and value the goodness of ordinary things and the beauty of creation. As we cherish the essential gifts of life, we grow in freedom from the compulsion to accumulate things, and cease to long for wealth. The movement towards simplicity puts us at odds with our culture, which defines human beings primarily as consumers, and gives prestige to those who have the power to indulge themselves in luxury and waste. As a community and as individuals we shall have to struggle continually to resist the pressure to conform. Our vow of poverty inevitably commits us to conscientious participation in the movement to establish just stewardship of the environment and earth’s resources.
Our personal responsibility in this vow means taking care to gather around ourselves only what is appropriate and necessary. We must always seek the permission of the Superior to keep any gifts offered to us. We shall readily share among ourselves the things we have for our use, and give away whatever we cease to need. Whenever we have reason to buy anything for our own use we are to be watchful for temptations to be irresponsible. Our collective responsibility involves us all in the careful stewardship of our resources, especially in the policies which govern the use of our endowment and properties. Those who have responsibility for using funds allocated by the community need to guard against the temptation to misuse this power by spending thoughtlessly or failing to involve others in significant decisions.
The security we enjoy as a community makes us strangers to the precariousness and destitution that are the lot of the poor. Therefore we come to the poor in need of their witness to what it means to be powerless and to put one’s trust entirely in God. As a community we must continually watch for signs that God is calling us to live and work with those who endure the hardships of material poverty. Even when our work among God’s poor is limited in scope we should be their allies in every way. Our vow binds us to ruthless self-examination as to our real solidarity with the poor. In our education, preaching and political lives we are committed to advocacy for the poor, and the struggle to restore to them their just share of power and the bounty of God.
I think this reading touches everyone in one way or another. Trying to keep up with the “Jones” puts undo stress on us. By relearning how to spend our money and to clean the clutter from our lives is a very Spiritual and moving experience. As we do this not only do we become free of accumulating items, we begin to appreciate what we have more. This also happens as we clean the clutter from our minds and allow God to move into our hearts. As I simplify my life, I’ve grown to appreciate what I have and God’s creation around me more and more.
The lesson for me is that these decisions to resist holding on to something or to delay a purchase to give it more thought or experience the lack and see if it really matters, doesn’t mean I won’t ever be able to have whatever it was that I wanted. It is a process, more dynamic that I realize, of growing “in freedom from the compulsion to accumulate things.”
Maybe this Lent I will be able to give away those books in my attic that I keep thinking I might want someday.