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Commentaries on The Rule of Life

By Fr. Bruno Cocuzzi, o.c.d.

 

 

Article 13

 

Article 13 – “By virtue of their Promise, the Secular Carmelites should have a particular esteem for the beatitude of poverty.  They should love it as Christ loved it.  In their daily effort to live according to the Gospel, they should try to realize what a wealth of generosity, self-denial, and above all hope and interior liberty, poverty makes available to them.  In poverty they will find the way to union with Him who, ‘though He was rich, yet for our sake became poor’ (2 Cor. 8,9) out of love for us, and Who ‘emptied Himself’ (Phil. 2,7) to be at the service of His brethren”.

 

1.  In looking back to the first sentence of Article 12 and ahead to Article 14, the promise of charity and obedience “bind” the promisor, but the promise of poverty only causes (or indicates) an esteem for the Beatitude of Poverty.  Why is the promise to live by the Spirit of Evangelical Poverty not “binding” upon the promisor?

 

Please note that the promise of chastity binds to specific acts, or rather chastity binds to the avoidance of certain acts, and obedience binds to the performance of certain acts, but all of them “bind” to a particular disposition of soul, that is to say, not to particular deeds or their avoidance, but to the “spirit” behind each one.  In the case of the first and third, a Lay person can really be chaste and be obedient, but in the case of second, lay people cannot be “poor” in the sense that Religious are poor.  So in that case, the best they can do is have “esteem” for the poverty that is proper to Religious.

 

2.   What is the “poverty” proper to Religious?

 

Religious who take the solemn vow of poverty relinquish the radical capacity to be “owners” of property, of things that have monetary value.  Religious who take a simple, but permanent vow of poverty do not lose the radical capacity to own things, that is, they may have title to them, but they do relinquish the capacity to “exercise” the rights of ownership.  Since the Religious state and the Lay State are mutually exclusive, it follows that the laity, as laity, do have the right both to own things and to exercise the rights of ownership.

 

3.  Now, that you mention it, since by the vow of poverty a Religious renounced ownership, a natural right, what natural rights are relinquished by Religious by the vows of chastity (permanent celibacy) and obedience?

 

By the vow of perfect chastity, the Religious relinquishes the natural right to marry, and by the vow of obedience, the Religious relinquishes the right to be the final arbiter as to how to dispose of, use, or apply (in a lawful way) his/her talents, time, resources and abilities; that is to say, a Religious is obliged to use and apply them according to the will of another human being, or rather, another human will.

 

4.  Why do you speak of “use in a lawful way” and “according to a human will”?

 

Because the right to marry, the right to own, and the right to be final arbiter in the use and disposition of time and capabilities always is subject to the divine Will.  There is tremendous latitude for lawful personal exercise of marital rights, rights of ownership and rights to be final arbiter of how ones disposes of time, talents and abilities within the limits prescribed by the divine Will.  For a Religious there is no latitude at all in any of these because they have all been relinquished by the vows.

 

5.  When you say that a Religious relinquishes the right to choose (be final arbiter) among a vast number of possibilities that are lawful for the laity, is that the same as saying that one has relinquishes his or her personal freedom?  It seems to me that nothing can ever stop us from being free as human beings?

 

The word free and freedom are tricky words.  All human beings are and always remain free in regard to the choice between good or evil.  That is to say, we can always choose one or the other.  But when we speak of “freedom of choice” when all the possible options are good (we have no options when it comes to evil), the laity are truly free.  But Religious do not have that same kind of freedom.  All they have left is to choose between good and evil.  That is:  they must choose either to be true to their vows or to violate their vows, they have no other choices.

 

6.  That sounds utterly unbearable.  How is it possible to be human or to develop one’s talents if one does not have the freedom to choose one of several good options?

 

You are right in a sense, but you must also remember that, in regard to the administration and use of personal effects and in the use of one’s time, abilities, physical and spiritual resources, the superior, the one whose “human will” the Religious are bound to obey in all things lawful, almost always “commands” a subject to exercise a certain amount of autonomy in the manner of carrying out specific activities.  That is because no one of us is identical.  For example:  I have been given a certain job to do or rather, to produce certain results or effects.  But the superior always leaves it to me to produce them in the manner I deem it best, or at least, in a way that is uniquely mine, according to my capabilities and personal characteristics.  The important thing is that I receive the superior’s “permission” to act in a way that leaves me free to choose among several good, possible, mutually exclusive options.

 

Pretty much the same thing is true in our relationship with God.  When God created us all “free”, He made Himself helpless in regard to giving us “divine” life in addition to the mere human life we are born with.  But we can give back to Him the “freedom” to carry out His designs for us, to give us all the divine and supernatural gifts He would like to give us.  When religious take vows of poverty and obedience, they give their freedom to choose from among good options up to the lawful human superior.  Then the superior always gives back some of those freedoms.  Even if he gives back all of them in regard to the use and administration of assets and in the exercise of our “ministry”, the fact that a religious is willing by taking or making the vow, to risk getting no “freedom” back to “be himself”, that is what pleases God so much.

 

7.  How would you describe or define the effect of a man or woman making the vows of perfect chastity, poverty and obedience, and what is the purpose of making them?

 

Let’s take one at a time. The effect of the making of the vows causes one to become sacred.  What we mean by sacred, is that a thing is set-aside for God, and cannot be used for profane purposes.  However, to be “sacred” in a juridical sense is not the same as being “holy”.  We speak of sacred vessels (or used to), which only priests and deacons could touch, but they cannot possibly be “holy” because to be holy means to possess the fullness of charity, and that means only persons, people who have an intellect and a will can be holy.  I think that in a previous conference we stated that the vows establish a Religious in the state of “juridical perfection”, and I believe we said at that time, too, that the state of juridical perfection (or legal perfection or canonical perfection) is not identical with holiness.

 

Therefore, to answer the second part of the question, “What is the effect of the three vows of the Religious State?”  The effect is to make it easier to attain perfect charity, that is, the obstacles are not as difficult to overcome.  But here again, although the path to holiness (perfect union with God) has fewer obstacles and is straighter and smoother for a Religious than it is for a lay person, that is no guarantee that the Religious will actually walk that path.  That is why it is the “spirit” of the evangelical counsels that are as important for a religious as for a Lay person.  So to answer the question in another way, the professing of the vows of Evangelical poverty, chastity and obedience makes it easier to “acquire” the “spirit” of the evangelical counsels.

 

8.  In what ways do the vows make it easier to acquire the “spirit” of the counsels?

 

In the case of perfect chastity, the vow excludes the good option of giving one’s heart to another human being in the state of matrimony where the two become one.  Thus, the religious is free to give his or her heart entirely to God.  As St. Paul says a married person is obliged by God to be concerned about his or her spouse and so a married person’s heart is divided.  The unmarried persons need only be concerned about how to please God.

 

In the case of the vow of evangelical poverty, the spirit of counsel is to be utterly and totally dependent upon God, that is, to expect everything from Him.  If a person is unable to own property, then such a person has no natural means of obtaining what he/she needs, and so is obliged (or rather, forced by circumstances) to look only to God for everything.

 

In the case of the vow of evangelical obedience, since a Religious has relinquished the right, in the first instance, to exercise freedom of choice among several good options, then he/she has to turn to God as the One who makes the choice in his or her stead.  The reason I say “in the first instance” is because the lawful superior is God’s representative, so that even when a religious is “given back” the freedom to be final arbiter in many areas of good human activity, the permission of the superior makes that “God’s will” for the Religious rather than his or her own.  As we all know, it is union with God’s will that constitutes holiness.  Jesus, who is incarnate holiness itself said:  I always do the Will of Him who sent me”.

 

9.  How does a lay Carmelite go about acquiring the “spirit” of the Evangelical Counsels, that is, how does he/she live by the spirit of the counsels and Beatitudes?

 

St. Paul says in one of his epistles “live in this world as if you were not living in this world”.  Since we live in this world by the exercise of the “natural rights” we spoke of earlier, I believe that means:  to the extent possible, do not exercise those rights.

 

10.  But how is it possible not to exercise those natural rights if one is married, owns property, and is responsible for the welfare of others, as well as for oneself?

 

I think the answer lies in the word “druthers” or preferences.  Because we are uniquely ourselves, we all have favorite ways of doing things, favorite or preferred ways of using free time, etc. we have to find ways of trying to discover what God’s preference for us is in that regard, or at least to relinquish our own in favor of the ones we live with.  (I think we have said something about “druthers” in one of the conferences on the Beatitudes.)  A married person can always abide by the preference of the spouse or of the family members (when that is lawful and good for the others).  This includes, of course, use of resources, monetary and personal.  In a word, obedience to another human that can truly be said to represent God in some way is the way to live in this world as if one were not living in it.  However, I refer you again to the conference on the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor of spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  But also, the next sentence gives us a hint.  It reads:  They should love it (poverty) as Christ loved it.

 

11.  How did Jesus show His love for poverty, or better, how did He love poverty?

 

The answer is simple, by choosing poverty for Himself.  He chose to be born into our world in circumstances of dire poverty.  To be really poor means to be totally unable to “call the shots”.  That is to say, anyone who is “in charge” is not poor, because “to be in charge” always means the ability to get things done in the way one wishes, that is, according to one’s “druthers”.  Jesus’ parents certainly were unable to “call the shots” in find a place wherein He could be born.  Growing up in Nazareth, He was part of a “poor” family.  Joseph was unable to “call the shots” in finding ways to support the Holy Family.  He had to take whatever work He could get and when Jesus was engaged in His public ministry He stated to one who offered to be His follower:  the foxes have dens, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His Head.”

 

But in addition to that, Jesus allowed Himself to be without spiritual, psychological needs and comforts during His public life and particularly in His Passion.  We all need to have a good name before the public; Jesus relinquished that in being condemned as criminal.  We all need loyal, faithful friends; Jesus was abandoned by the apostles, denied three times by Peter, and betrayed by Judas.  We all need the conviction that at least God loves us and cares for us.  Jesus had to endure the terrible helplessness and emptiness of feeling abandoned by His own Father.

 

But, to get back to the idea of “calling the shots”, often, to actually “call the shots” a person has to use violence either physical or emotional.  Jesus was utterly non-violent.  He said:  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other; if forced to go one mile, go two; if someone demands your cloak, give him your tunic as well, etc.

 

Also, Jesus as God does no violence to His human creatures by leaving us totally free.  So to leave others free is “to be poor”, because unable to “call the shots” and since it is LOVE to leave others totally free, we see that to LOVE is to be poor.

 

So we know how Jesus loved poverty when we think about all the ways that He has proven how much He loves each and every one of us.

 

12.  A logical sequel to the question “how” is “why” did Jesus love poverty?

 

I think the answer is given in the next sentence of Article 13:  “In their daily effort to live the Gospel, they (Secular Carmelites) should try to realize what a wealth of generosity, self-denial, and above all hope and interior liberty poverty makes available to them”.

 

13.  What is the relationship between poverty and generosity?  It seems that people who have nothing have no means to be generous, since the notion of generosity has to do with giving to others.

 

You are right, but this sentence is speaking of Lay Carmelites who do not take a vow of poverty, so the text really should have said the “spirit” of evangelical poverty or the Beatitude of poverty of spirit.  That is what truly helps a person to be generous.  A person who is truly poor in spirit knows that material assets in and of themselves cannot make us happy, also that they tend to be an impediment to our utter trust in God for everything; such a person realizes also that he/she is only a steward or trustee of all that God has given, to be used for the good of others, so that that person has no problem being generous with surplus goods, once his or her personal needs (basic ones) and those of the family have been met.

 

14.  How does the “spirit of poverty” help a person to practice self-denial?

 

Most probably in the sense that a person who is poor in that he has nothing, isn’t able to indulge his whims and fancies, or even some of the comforts that are considered ordinary and necessary in our affluent society.  A person who is truly poor in spirit is able to think of himself “as though” he had nothing because, being generous, he prefers to denote his surplus goods to help the needy or to support good causes, and so he is not likely to indulge the natural craving we have for creature comforts.

 

15.  And what about the connection between poverty of spirit and hope, and between poverty of spirit and interior liberty?

 

Hope is the virtue, a supernatural one, which enables us to rely on “invisible” means of support rather than visible ones.  That is, we rely upon God’s promises to make us happy, and we rely upon His loving Providence to help us provide for our own basic needs and those of our families.  To rely on material wealth and all that it can buy to bring us happiness is the antithesis of hope.  The two are incompatible.  Thus, as one grows in poverty of spirit, the supernatural virtue of hope grows, and vice versa.  Whatever increases our hope increases also our “poverty of spirit”. 

 

16.  Everything you have said about the connection between poverty of spirit and those four qualities seem to be more reasons why Lay Carmelites (all Christians really) should love poverty of spirit, than reasons why Jesus should love poverty and poverty of spirit.  What is it about poverty that Jesus loved?

 

We said above that to love is to be poor.  Jesus is the Dine beggar.  Although the whole of the material universe belongs to Him, there is something that He does not and cannot have unless we give it to Him and that is our love.  He, (and He is the perfect image of His Father in this regard) yearns for our hearts.  It is true poverty that best symbolizes that need of God, that desire of God for the hearts of His human creatures.  Thus, in His humanity Jesus chose to be truly poor, having nothing, so that when others gave Him what would supply His basic human needs, they were also giving them a little bit of their heart.

 

17.  Are there any other reasons why a Lay Carmelite should love the spirit of poverty?

 

The final sentence of Article 13 gives us one of the most important reasons:  “In poverty they will find the way to union with Him who, “though He was rich, yet for our sake became poor” (2 Cor. 8,9) out of love for us, and Who “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2,7) to be at the service of His brethren”.  If we really want to be united to Jesus, we will want to know and to share all His experiences while He was on earth.  By being poor in spirit we can get to know what it is like to put all we have and are at the disposal of others, particularly for their spiritual welfare, keeping nothing for ourselves as Jesus did in becoming man and dying to give us life.  It helps us, like Jesus, to know what it is like to be a beggar for love and to be denied love, that is, to experience the pain of ingratitude, want of acknowledgement, in a word unrequited love.  The fact that one is united so intimately to Jesus that one shares the very same emotions and feelings that Jesus did in His humanity, must surely bring about a joy and a peace that cannot be produced by anything else this world affords.

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