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29/08/2013: Malawi

 

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1 September 2013Dear Brothers and Friends,This month’s message is prompted by some positive reactions to the previous one that I received while during the weeks I spent in La Verna with the brothers preparing for final profession. We dealt with our lives, Marist spirit, vows, and brotherhood in considerable detail. Perhaps it was the combination of discussions on poverty and the presence of Franciscans at their retreat centre that made me reflect more deeply about our vow of poverty, and on poverty in our lives as African Marist Brothers.

Let us relate the vow of poverty with last month’s letter where I spoke of solidarity with the poor people around our communities. Here follow some quotes on religious poverty and the poverty of the poor people by way of introduction:Greek philosopher Socrates (470-399 BCE):“The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556 CE): “The surest as well as the most needed contribution we can give to reform the universal Church, is to go about it lightly burdened with things as possible, as our Lord himself has shown us”.Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948 CE): “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”

From an unknown source: “You need not discard your possessions; it is enough to throw away your possessiveness.”
I have deliberately mixed quotes of people who suffer poverty and the need for spiritual poverty as I believe that there is a close relationship between them and the way we practise the vow of poverty.

Poverty and the vow of poverty are not easy realities to get our heads around. It is worthwhile to tangle with them as we consider religious life. Importantly, poverty in the sense of the vow is not the same as poverty of destitution or the lack of subsistence or means of supporting oneself and one’s family. Poverty is not a good state and that is why I challenged us to stand in solidarity with the poor. We should be active in reducing the incidence of poverty in the neighbourhood around us. That is why I asked you to look at the wages paid to our workers.

Our vow of poverty is more like a vow of simplicity and a daily call to use our resources 2in a way that many will benefit. This is much like the early Apostles; they would work, do service, inherit goods, but would bring those goods to the greater group to be distributed according to the needs, not wants. I see our vow of poverty, being very practical about how we use our resources and working hard to make sure that not only we but many around us have what is needed for basic quality of living.

The vow of poverty does not mean destitution. For me the main thing that matters is simplicity that liberates us brothers and laypeople to be devoted entirely to the service of the Gospel. A question that comes to my mind when thinking of poverty is: “Do I own my things or do my things own me?” This is a question I ask myself many times so that I can live a simple life. In Africa we are tested in our poverty by many difficulties. When schools receive inadequate funding, teaching does not pay a living wage, public transportation systems are unreliable and inadequate, pupils cannot pay fees or what they pay is too little to run the institution well, the buildings are run down and there is not enough money to repair them, health care is poor or non-existent and many other examples can be given. How can we live with an easy conscience in this community when our personal needs are met and our lifestyle is well above that of the community around us? A thought that I would like to share with you is. It seems to me that while living more simply is a noble thing in itself and something to strive for in our Marist way of life, our real call is to concretely help the poor.

What hits me really hard is to see our beautiful world being destroyed by people (some brothers and laypeople) clamouring to livewealthy lives – buying clothes, cars, exotic foods, gadgets, and the like. We need to purposely desire to live simply, and use our talents and possessions for the common good, I am grateful to St Marcellin for showing us how to do this, how to choose poverty intentionally. I admire our founder and the early brothers who did this many years ago. Questions we need to ask: “How attached am I to the things I have? Can I share or give up what I have?” I read once that it is not what we give up but what we keep that makes the difference. God wants to fill us with himself so we must want to empty ourselves of all these things. It is hard in today’s world because there are so many things available to us.
I will stop here and continue thoughts on the vow of poverty and solidarity with the poor at some later date.

Brothers, let us hold nothing back. Let us be detached from everything except, Jesus and Mary, believing everything depends on them. Love is the key to the vow of poverty.May God bless you.

_________________

Br. Joe, Provincial

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