Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Monastic poverty is not about destitution. The Gospel does not tell us that it is a good thing to live in abject poverty. Indeed, destitution like this hampers the search for God because we become totally focused on our immediate physical needs. Monastic poverty has two aspects: moderation and common ownership. As you might expect of an aspect of conversatio, poverty is something you have to work at, to choose each day what is enough and what is surplus to need. Those choices are made in a context of complete dependency on the monastery for everything. So, for instance, those working in compensated employment outside the monastery do not take their own salary; it goes into a common pot from which each woman is given according to her need. It also means that not everyone receives exactly the same because each woman is an individual and needs vary. Monastic poverty is thus a way of ensuring that needs are met in a spirit of moderation and the community bond is enhanced because none of us owns anything privately and we each depend on the others for what we have.
Chastity is not the same as celibacy. A married couple is chastely married if they remain faithful to one another and to the marriage vows. Celibate chastity, which is what monastics promise, means that monastics don't marry and refrain from sexual activity. We don't make this promise in a spirit of negation, but as a positive choice to channel our sexual energy in a different way. We love and we have deep relationships. Healthy people need to love and be loved; healthy monastics are no different in this respect. The intention behind celibate chastity is not to stop us having friendships or establishing bonds of trust and love with others, but to enable an intentional focus on building a loving relationship with God. This, in turn, will fuel loving relationships with others and, at its finest, generate love for the whole of creation.