The poverty we embrace through our vow has its source, supreme example and eternal home in the being of God, who is a Trinity of Persons. In the Godhead there is no possessiveness, no holding back of self. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One in mutual self-giving and receiving. Faith sees the cross of suffering and self-giving love planted in the very being of the God revealed to us in Jesus. When God made room for the existence of space and time and shaped a world filled with glory, this act of creation was one of pure self-emptying.
But God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” By the vow of poverty we bind ourselves to have the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus.”
The poverty that comes from God is not a barren emptiness. Christ “became poor that by his poverty [we] might become rich.” It is only because we are being “filled with all the fullness of God” that we can pledge together in this shared vow to give ourselves away in a common life of worship, hospitality, evangelism and service. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
By this vow we renounce personal ownership. We are to be of one heart and soul, holding all things in common. By sharing everything we will be in harmony with the very being of God whose Triune life is boundless sharing. We will have a foretaste of the life of the communion of saints. We will recognize that the concern with individualistic fulfillment and private security that prevails in our culture is a trap from which we are being set free. More and more we will come to know that we were all baptized into Christ to be set free from self-centeredness. Our fulfillment comes together as members of one Body, and the Spirit will summon us again and again to surrender individual desires for the sake of our brotherhood and our mission.
If our religious poverty is to be authentic we must stay soberly aware of the essential difference between the deprivation of those whose poverty is forced upon them, and the way of life we choose by vow. We continue to be privileged by our education, our access to power and our material security. Nevertheless, the Spirit has many ways of making us poor and we are in no doubt that they will be costly to accept. In particular we can be sure that the Society’s life will be marked by fragility and many frustrating limitations. The resources to meet the demands made on us will seem inadequate, and our numbers too few. Our energies will seem insufficient for the claims made on them, and the task of balancing our life and husbanding our strengths too difficult. Even some of our ideals and dreams will need to be surrendered; the way God actually calls us to live may seem less appealing or less heroic than other forms of the religious life. God will give us our poverty. Every day we will be called to grow in reliance on grace alone and to surrender those inner and outer riches that hold us back from risking all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us.