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Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We distinguish between natural poverty and supernatural poverty. The natural poverty which is binding by the natural law, requires that we respect other people’s property, whatever they own; that we not only do not steal with hands, we do not even steal with our hearts, otherwise known as greed or covetousness.

Every human being is obliged by the natural law to observe the precept of poverty. The precept of poverty means that I am to be satisfied with what I have, even though some one else has much more than I do, I may not steal. I may not steal either physically or even psychologically. Then we said that is also a supernatural virtue of poverty. And the supernatural virtue of poverty we subdivided between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

In the Old Testament there is only the supernatural poverty of precept, and it is spelled out especially in the two commandments: the seventh and the tenth of the Decalogue “Thou shall not steal” and “Thou shall not covet”.

However when we come to the New Testament it is still supernatural but now we distinguish once more between the New Testament supernatural poverty of precept and the supernatural poverty of council. And we said whenever we use the word “evangelical poverty” we should always make sure that we know which kind of poverty of the gospels of evangelical poverty we are talking about, because there is an evangelical poverty of precept binding on all the followers of Christ. Is it more demanding than the Old Testament poverty? Yes. We are not only not to steal but Christ tells His followers they are to share. Already (watch this) in the New Testament evangelical poverty of precept includes the obligation to practice charity. Charity is not an option. Charity is an obligation.

Remember the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Though we say in the form of a parable the only person in whom Christ consigned to Hell was the rich man, which in the vulgate is called Dives, which is the Latin for “rich man”. Then as you know both Lazarus and the rich man died; Lazarus went to Heaven, the rich man went to Hell. And then as part of the parable…remember what Christ said in the parable that this man who was rich was sent to Hell because he did not share.

Sisters, you Missionaries of Charity let’s make sure that we do not in spite of our English language… Is the English language English or Protestant? Protestant- the most Protestant language in the world is English. More Protestants talk English than any other language. We have to think and behave like Catholics, but when we talk we have to somehow squirm and twist our English language to express Catholic ideas. I really believe for most people speaking English, charity means something which you give that you don’t have to. Don’t you think so? Well, that may be good English but it is not good Catholicism. Otherwise Christ could not have sent in the parable, consigned the rich man to Hell. Right? The rich man sinned and he lost his soul, because he failed to practice the kind of poverty that Christ wants His followers to practice. And the poverty for the followers of Christ is not only (watch this) not taking away from someone else to which myself, the poverty of precept preached by Christ means that I take from myself to enrich another. Am I making sense? You won’t find that in the English dictionary.

This is the precept (am I still clear?) the obligation of poverty as Christ taught His followers.

We spent quite some time on the subject, I am just trying to summarize and bring ourselves up to date. But then, we saw beyond and above the evangelical poverty of precept. There is an evangelical poverty of council. This is where I not only do not steal, (That is Old Testament poverty) that I not only share which is New Testament poverty of precept, but in the council of poverty I go beyond the precept and in order to more like Jesus I give up as He did.

And then we said the basic qualities of all consecrated poverty, otherwise known as the poverty of council, but listen, the poverty of council, people, Catholics can practice on again off again as the occasion arises. But there are some people who having reflected on the beauty and sublimity of following Christ the whole way, they not only practice the council of poverty on occasion, they bind themselves under vow to practice the council of poverty for their whole lives. That is the Church’s understanding of consecrated poverty. Consecrated poverty is a life time commitment to follow Christ in the practice of evangelical council of poverty.

And we said all consecrated poverty, in any institute, (either religious institute and also secular institute) there are two forms of consecrated life under vow in the Catholic Church: there are religious institutes and there are secular institutes, and both take vows of poverty. What do all those who take vows of consecrated poverty expected to do? They are expected to at least practice the poverty of dependence. Dependence on whom? Dependence on the community. But remember what we said, it is not just the individuals that is under vow, who else is under vow? Not just the individual members of the community, but the community. Needless to say, there are degrees and degrees for this practice of the poverty of dependence by the community. Dependence on whom? Whom does the community depend on or should depend on? Divine Providence. And sisters I think I mentioned this previously, the main reason for the disappearance of hundreds of religious communities in the sixteenth century, whole nations lost all forms of religious life, the main reason for the convulsion for which religious institutes are going today, the main reason is right here. That the communities do not depend as they should on divine providence. Am I making sense? There are religious communities with invested capital in the millions of dollars, millions! It is not my business here to analyze why some communities had and I would even say have to have, some investment so that their property for example belongs somehow legally to them so that they can continue. Like the Society of Jesus to own the buildings in which they teach.

The first is therefore, dependence. What is the second quality of members? “Sharing.”

Who shares with whom? The members share with the community. In other words, religious communities may and it is totally legitimate for the religious institute to share that is the members of the community share with one another in the community. That is part of God’s will for religious institutes. That the members of the community share and share alike. But it also means that what I ever get I never obtain for myself; it is always for the community. But then having said that, remember we further explained that over the centuries of the Church’s history besides these two most fundamental forms of evangelical poverty namely: poverty of dependence and poverty of sharing within the community, there is also such a thing as poverty of dispossession where individuals who enter a community dispossess themselves as individuals of whatever they owned when they entered the community or whatever they now possess.

Not every community includes his understanding of the vow of poverty, the poverty of individual dispossession. Until the sixteenth century the Catholic Church never knew any other kind of religious life except religious life in which each member took a vow of dispossession. For fifteen hundred years, that is the only kind of poverty known to the Catholic Church. Then in the sixteenth century there began what we now call religious congregations. And one of the marks of a religious congregation as distinct from a religious order is that members of a religious congregation do not dispossess themselves of whatever they own when they enter, or take vows in a religious community.

You sisters as Missionaries of Charity have any of you before you took your last vows… Is there any one here that has taken their final vows?

(At this point audience laughs)

Well I just thought I would ask. Well then no one here has taken a vow of poverty of dispossession. Am I correct? Remember what dispossession means. Dispossession means that I give away what I own, not only what I own but what I have a **** . Now the Missionaries of Charity do any of you when you take your last vows do you take (now I am repeating my last question) do any of you take a vow of dispossession when you take your last vows? When you take your last vows, you should be taking your last vows next December. When you take your last vows in December will you take a vow of dispossession? You know it is pretty important to know what you are doing. So let’s backtrack. I just want to help sisters. December the 8th is that going to be you’re… Now when you take your last vows, your vow of poverty will it change anymore? You already took a vow of poverty. Will you dispose of anything more than you have already given up? Will you give up what will come to you? Let me be clear then. Are you saying then that when you take your final vows are you dispossessing yourself, are giving up your ownership, your possessions? Is that your understanding? Will you give up anything in December?

In our final profession we make our will and freely dispose of all property which we possess or may one day possess. Well then, what is this about five years?

At this time Father Hardon reads from the Missionary of Charity’s constitutions on possessions and belongings.

Now sisters you better be sure you know what you are doing when you are taking your final vows! Don’t you think this is important? From what I read (this is my English) what I read here: Chapter seven- Consecrated Poverty, number forty-six, D. “At our final profession we make our will and freely dispose [I would understand that to mean dispossess] ourselves of all property of which we possess or may one day possess.”

Is that your understanding? If I were a Missionary of Charity I would read this very carefully and know what I am doing. I knew what I was doing. Now at my final profession I took what you have “D.” in your constitutions. I made a will and I freely disposed of all my property which I then possessed. It wasn’t much, but such as it was, or what I one day might possess. However, now this distinction we Jesuits do not make. So far the M. C.’s are like the S. J.’s. Last week in the Bronx Mother Teresa was talking to some of your Missionary of Charity followers and she said, “Father Hardon is partly M.C.” Well she said it. But as a S.J. what follows here says, “We may also be permitted to renounce any inheritance, which we have acquired or are due to acquire.” Now inheritance is not the same thing as possession. Does that make sense? In other words, this is my trying to understand the meaning of your constitutions. My understanding of this explanation of “D” is that while at your last vows you make a dispossession of whatever you actually own, or may one day possess, but you do not yet (this is my reading I repeat) renounce any inheritance. I presume somebody else still owns it. Does that make sense? That is my understanding. Somebody else still owns it; they may have made you an heir. Being an heir is not the same as owning it. “Either of which we have acquired or are due to acquire an inheritance”. Then if you wish but you are not acquired in my understanding after five years you may renounce your inheritance. And this renouncement of patrimony can be made only after five years of final vows with the permission of the Superior General with the consent of a council. This is my interpretation.

In one last sentence under poverty. The Society however, may possess buildings of its own, and other property but always in conformity with evangelical poverty and simplicity. This is my rereading- thanks for bringing the constitutions.

My understanding of the poverty of the Missionary of Charity comes in three parts:

Part 1 (I keep adding the qualifier I understand) I understand that at your final profession you do dispossess yourselves of all property which you either possess or may one day possess and you make a will to that effect.
Part 2 (My understanding of the Missionary of Charity’s poverty) I understand that however, at your final vows while you renounce your property, your actual possessions, you do not renounce your inheritance. That is what I read here. But five years after your final vows you may, with permission of the Superior General also give up your inheritance. Regarding number two- this is where the Society of Jesus differs from the Missionaries of Charity. At our final vows we dispossess ourselves of whatever we actually own and we dispossess ourselves of all inheritance. We don’t have a choice. You have a choice (my reading). We may also be permitted…

Tape ends midway through Father Hardon’s explanation.

Copyright © 1999 by Inter Mirifica

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