One of the most confounding things to those outside of consecrated religious circles are the three vows: Poverty, Obedience, and Chastity. Very few know that they are still a thing. Even less understand what they mean, and I get it. They are quite antithetical to our contemporary culture. In fact there are very few things that are as counter-cultural as the vows. So, it’s natural for people to be curious why one would voluntarily withdraw from some of the cornerstones of 21st century.
The first thing i’m going to talk about is poverty.
Let me state, for the record, that poverty does not mean destitution. It is a disentanglement from the attachment to material possession and the accumulation of material wealth. As simple as that sounds, it’s anything but easy or simple. From an early age, we are taught that possessions are an accurate measurement of success and worth. So, to walk away from that is to walk away from what we are taught to believe… from those things that are such an integral part of our lives.
Materialism can really be broken down into three primary areas: debt, assets, and possessions. Each have very distinct baggage associated with them; and they have to be approached in slightly different ways.
First, I would like to discuss debt, the one thing that most adults have in abundance. From car loans to mortgages to credit cards, most of us have more debt than we can possibly pay back in a single year, sometimes even in a decade. So, what can we possibly do to disentangle ourselves from it? I’ve found that different people approach this in different ways. There are those who save up in order to pay off their debts, and there are those who simply walk away from it. I’m making no judgments on which method is better. After all, each person has their own unique circumstances that will influence what they feel they need to do.
Next I would like to talk about assets, which I would define as the higher-valued items, such as houses and cars. Not everyone has to deal with this category, and it is more common the older you are. Obviously, such items can’t be taken into the religious life; and something has to be done with them. Sure, it would be easy to simply sell everything prior to entry into the order; and i’m sure that some postulates will choose that course of action. The other avenue would be to give them away or to rent them out. That’s the road that I plan on traveling down. I’m just going to give my assets to my parents in the hope that they could find some useful purpose for them. I look at that as a gift that I can give to those who have been my life-long champions.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about general possessions. They are the smaller items that range from electronics to sentimental items. While they don’t have the monetary weight that the bigger assets have, they sometimes mean much more to us, especially in the case of heirlooms and sentimental items. So, it would natural that they would be the hardest things for us to walk away from. Fortunately, we don’t absolutely have to in many cases. In fact, many of these items can come with us. Those that are not useful in the mission or have no emotional meaning to us can just be sold or left behind.
As for me, with the exception of a my laptop and a few sentimental items, this process has not been particularly hard for me. I haven’t really felt any anxiety or sadness over the impending separation from my material life. They are all just things, after all. They don’t define me, and they don’t have any real hold over me. They are simply means to an end.
I know that my easy experience with this step is probably not typical for those preparing to enter religious life. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not. People work very hard for the things they have. So, it’s natural they would have a hard time with it. I would advise them to reflect on their lives, before and after. They should consider carefully what they would be giving up, and they should also consider consider what they would be gaining in their lives as a contrast. It would seem to me that such a pondering should put the situation into perspective and almost always make the positive nature of the change incredibly clear.