Of the three vows that all monastics take, poverty likely comes with the most baggage. While the other two vows-chastity and obedience-elicit their own powerful and primal responses as they concern sex and power, the vow of poverty governs the use of money, and money trumps them both. A major part of my formation as a monastic oblate in the Order of Julian of Norwich (OJN), in fact, was focused on shaping my understanding of the vow of poverty in the larger context of my relationship with God and stewardship of His creation.
In one of her visions, Julian of Norwich is shown the created universe as being as small and fragile as a hazelnut in the palm of God's hand and explains that, "It is necessary for us to have awareness of the littleness of created things and to set at naught everything that is created, in order to love and have God who is uncreated."-like many things from the Bible or the writings of the great spiritual masters, much easier said than done. Through some trial and much error, however, I can honestly say that I have experienced the grace of God's unlimited bounty firsthand along with the exhilarating joy of going out on a limb, trusting that God will provide, and seeing that He always does. The OJN Oblate Manual recognizes that:
Having money means having more opportunities to grow as a person-through travel, education, cultural events, and hobbies. It provides a measure of security and gives one a voice of authority in the secular arena. Yet as Christians and especially as people committed to prayer we are aware that the fullness of life comes in a relationship of loving surrender and cooperative union with our Lord. We are aware too that all the travel, all the entertainments, all the education and cultural enrichment and all the relationships which can be found in the world will never be enough to sate our longing for God.
My support of St. Mark's-our parish ohana in which we experience the joy of Christ's love through our love and caring for one another, are fed and sustained with the grace of His sacraments, and from which we go forth to share the good news with others-comes directly from this awareness and understanding.
Moving towards proportional giving is part of a larger journey of discipleship and life transformation and is usually not achieved overnight, however. God is not simply a cosmic Daddy Warbucks in the sky who will bail us out of every financial difficulty that we land ourselves in simply because we're putting a few extra dollars in the collection plate each week. In his infinite love and compassion, God desires that our growth in stewardship be motivated by a desire for a deeper relationship with Him and be accompanied by fundamental changes in our relationship towards the things we possess and the money we use to obtain them.
In tandem with the deepened spirituality that goes hand in hand with a genuine desire to become a more faithful steward, I have found that careful planning and education are indispensable. Formulating a budget and keeping track of all income and expenses-either on paper or, better yet, digitally with a software package like Quicken-can reveal much about where your treasure goes and where your heart is.
Insights from the secular voluntary simplicity movement have helped me to make wise choices and get the most out of the resources I have, with a myriad of books and websites available for those who are interested (see this video, for example). What it really came down to, however, was a complete reorientation of my attitude towards "stuff" and the acquisition of it for its own sake. Being a faithful steward, even as a monastic oblate, doesn't mean that I need to renounce all worldly goods and live a life of radical poverty like St. Francis, but it does mean that I discern carefully between wants and needs and evaluate all aspects of my life-not just those that occur on Sunday morning-in light of my relationship with Christ and His creation.
Michael Ida, OJN