Poverty as Vulnerability
“Go sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me” (Matthew 19:21). There have been many who have heard these words from the Lord and, unlike the Rich Young Man to whom these words were first addressed, have responded in love and trustful surrender. Through the vow of poverty the consecrated religious prophetically proclaims that, “God is man’s only real treasure” (Vita Consecrata #21).
Our Founder, John Cardinal O’Connor, spoke of how the Sisters of Life would live the vow of poverty. “Poverty is in powerlessness. Poverty is in vulnerability. Poverty is not simply in being without money, without a home. Poverty is not in owning little. Poverty is in vulnerability. The vow of poverty, therefore, in my view is the expression of willingness to become powerless, to become vulnerable for the sake of the Body of Christ, and most particularly, those suffering most deeply in that body, those most scarred, those most helpless, those most vulnerable… No one is more vulnerable than an infant in its mother’s womb…” (July 3, 1994). In living the vow of poverty as vulnerability, a Sister is united to the powerlessness of the Crucified Christ. Jesus saved the world when he was helpless, vulnerable, and nailed to the cross. Through the vow of poverty a Sister shares in the redemptive power of the cross, drawing down grace for those who are most vulnerable in society.
As Sisters of Life, the charism of life animates the living of each of the vows. In #34 of the Constitutions of the community it says, “All of a Sister’s prayer and activity are offered to the Lord so that the life of every human person, especially the most vulnerable, will be protected and prized as an icon of the living God. Each Sister offers herself to God as a holocaust in reparation for wanton attacks against human life.” She literally lays down her life so that others may live. As Jesus was stripped physically on the cross, Cardinal O’Connor would say that the Sisters must be prepared to spiritually become vulnerable in order to be united to the holiness of Christ. The more a Sister yields to living this way of poverty, the spirit of peace and joy spring forth from within her heart. She becomes truly free to live in trustful surrender to the will of God. This is the poverty that each Sister of Life aims to live. A poverty that becomes riches when united to Jesus, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “For you know the gracious act of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).