Vow and Virtue of Poverty - Vocationist Fathers and Brothers

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Easter 2007

To All Vocationist Fathers and Brothers

Object: Vow and Virtue of Poverty

My Dear Confrere,
It is not in our Vocationist tradition to write a pastoral letter for Easter. Fr Justin says that Easter always presupposes death and we do not want to presuppose death. For a time now I feel tormented to reawaken myself and you. I do not see in me, and, unfortunately, not even in you the holy fervour, heroic zeal, and the dedication to the service of holy vocations and the higher ambitions for divine union. I was asking  myself: What message can I give to myself and to each and everyone of my confrere this Easter? What can really help me and my confreres to become complete and suitable images of the Trinity? How can this new message carry on the argument on our Vocationist culture and really experience a sure and certain resurrection? The answer-inspiration arrived in this message from a confrere:

“I would also like to thank you for the beautiful pastoral letter for Lent (the missing line was lost in the beauty of the others) and say thank you as well for the Code of Ethics. Finally, we needed something so clear.

Thank you for these gifts that you have given us. But Father, we need to do more, more and more for our religious family and for our confreres. There is still a need of something that will form our consciences, re-evaluate our vows, in particular, the vow of poverty.

The decline of religious life begins always with the decline of poverty. But the renewal and the recovery always begins with a radical choice for poverty. I am asking myself these days: could it be that the origin of all our problems and troubles in the congregation are caused by the fact that we do not live our poverty anymore? What else is lacking? What is it that we do not do to have everything? Our houses are decaying while our rooms are becoming more equipped, cellular phone of the latest models, not to talk about all the comforts in our cars with all the mania of Hi-technology (Hi-tech.) that has invaded us and for the rest, everything is personal. Where are the things of the community?

Father, excuse me for this unburdening of my feelings. But you have to help us more, help us to be courageous in our choices not to have fears in living our chastity, our poverty and our obedience. Help us! Help us!

Mons. Scopelliti, Bishop of Ambatondrazaka in Madagascar, who, for a time now, has been asking for a Vocationist community in his diocese, tells me always that in Madagascar, there is a need of religious for their witnessing of poverty and of communion.

Also in the meeting with all our Local Administrators, there was a request/invitation to go back to a more evangelical  poverty.

I  have tried to live a life of real and effective poverty. I have renounced everything that I could to be able to live more in simplicity and poverty. I have never been selective when it comes to food, clothes, and places. And this has made it possible for me to live peacefully and to give more to our beloved Congregation. Today, I feel the need  to ask forgiveness publicly for the bad example that I have given you by driving a car that is not mine, and  sincerely I have never liked. I have justified to my own self the use of this car because I did not want to spend other money buying another one, money that could have been used to help our Vocationist vocations and missions. I made a mistake in accepting it and I have created more damage driving it. As soon as it is possible I will get rid of it and substitute it with one that is more economic.

The Lord makes me understand why it is “not possible to serve God and mammon” (see Lk. 16:13), why “the Son of man has no place to lay his head,” why do we need to renounce any and every good to be able to be perfect, why the detachment of the heart and why the insistence on self denial: poverty in spirit is necessary in order to possess and enjoy espousal love! Blessed are the poor is spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5:3)

It is time to ask myself why was it that for the election of  the first elders it was necessary to               select, among the people, upright men who feared God, honest men who hated corruption? (Ex. 18,21) When the Lord says,  “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of the flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord,”  (Jer. 17:5)  he really says, cursed is the man who puts his trust and his happiness in created things that are not God.

To avoid disappointment, so as not deprive ourselves of the merit  of our good works or of our ministry, and to be really poor in spirit, let us make ours Fr. Justin’s advice: Instead of expecting and asking how much, we think, is due to us for works done, for damages incurred, or for our ministries, the nobler way and also the most practical way that we can adopt is to totally forget whatever it is due us, even just a title; but with the spirit of total humility, it is advisable to entrust ourselves only to the charity of others, for which, without many reflections, if a lot or only a little is offered, if offered before or after, we accept always with heartfelt gratitude, that which others have the pleasure of offering us.

In other words, also in the financial retribution of the clergy, ask nothing, but do not  refuse anything, because we are always ready to accept something and because they are not obliged to give us anything.

But Blessed be God because this system is always that which makes us, in some many ways, draw from the treasures of providence. (Op. VII, p. 107)

“Provide yourselves with no gold or silver, not even with a few coppers in your purses, with no haversack for the journey or spare tunic or footwear or a staff, for the workman deserves his keep” (Mt. 10:9). Still,  “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”(Mt. 8:20). It looks like the Lord wants us to understand that we cannot be his disciples and apostles without living in poverty. The Lord does not ask us to give up that which we have extra but to give up that which is necessary for us. The acceptable offering to God, the precious sacrifice in his eyes is only that of the poor widow who “gave everything she possessed, all she had to live on.” (Mk. 12:44)

Like Peter, we can also say, “We have left everything and  followed you.” And the Lord will answer, “You will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.” (Mt. 19: 27-29). Because you have left everything, “don’t worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it.” (Lk. 12: 22-23) “There is no need to be afraid,  little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it an no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Lk. 12: 32-34)

How many times I think of Anania and Zeffira! They had not made the vow of poverty and instead of being thanked for their generosity, they were even punished for having kept for themselves a part of what was theirs (see Acts 5: 1-11) If the Lord would use this same criteria on us, how many of us would still be alive right now?  Fr. Ugo Fraraccio repeated often what was written on a tomb stone,  “Addizionò e moltiplicò. I suoi sottrassero e divisero!” (He added and multiplied, his heirs subtracted and divided.) I ask, what dit ever happened to the goods accumulated cunningly and greedily by our confreres L.Q., E.D., S.V., R.M., J.R, I.V., G.L.,G.S. and many others? Years back I read in the Progresso Italo-Americano (Italian-American newspaper): “Fr. N.N. of the Vocationists, a notably disturbed personality, ran to the bank of his town every Monday morning with his black bag to make his deposits.” From that time I followed and follow the lonely sort of this poor confrere.

Only to facilitate the remembrance and observance, here below if a formulary of the examination of conscience which can be found in the Devotional, pages 589-591. As always, Fr. Justin is clear, straight and direct to the point:

 Eliminate every luxury from all religious and personal environment.
 Be content with the lowest class  treatment of oneself.
 Work as if everything should be procured only by one’s activity.
 Do not escape but embrace the privation of what is necessary.
 In the personal use of things, reduce everything to the necessary
 In this, prefer almost always, for oneself and not for others,
 the less comfortable and the less expensive.
 Always ask permission to use the same necessary things.

Neither sell nor buy anything, neither receive nor give, neither lend
nor borrow in one’s name and by one’s own free will.
Neither procure nor conserve  money with oneself, nor deposit it with others
Economy in the use and  wisdom in the conservation of things.
Leave to the community that which is left and not keep it to oneself.
Never keep  for oneself foods, drinks or anything in secret from the superiors
Make diligent registration of all that passes through one’s hands, for inspection
Live a perfect community life without anything outside of the ordinary like food, clothes, books, medicines, etc.

 All these: “For the reparation of and preservation from any fault.
 For the lessening of temptations.
 For the detachment of the heart from all created things.
 For the exercise of trust in divine providence.
 For the imitation of and union with  the Holy Family.
 For the enrichment of one’s  work and the increase of one’s apostolic zeal
 For the greater possession and enjoyment of the Lord

Only because my actual condition of lack of necessary things to help my confreres is mortifying and humiliating, and for my consolation, I quote again Fr. Justin:  Now, it would be enough even a superficial knowledge of man in general and of the priest in particular to understand how it is useless, inappropriate, imprudent and inconvenient may heaven free us) to arrive at the point of asking financial help from priests who are around us.
At least in our time today, to wait for and ask from superiors is really vain. Since they are so grieved by so many activities and all of them so draining from them all that they have in “re et in spe”, (actual and future goods) to force them to be the first ones to extend their hands in asking. (Op. VII, 106-107)

I find myself in a state of anxiety and distress thinking of the economic situation of the Congregation. I cannot sleep anymore thinking about the €1,500,00.00 (one million five hundred thousand euros) that we owe for the renovation of the Vocationary in Pianura. I am consoled only by knowing that I share the same pain with Fr. Justin who, many times and for the same Vocationary in Pianura, found himself in the same situation as I am. On January 12, 1926, in his spiritual diary, Fr. Justin wrote, You have to tell the students the great distress of poverty to pay for the Vocationary. I believe that once in a while, it is good to do so, so that they will remain humble and grateful to Providence and to their benefactors, ministers of this Providence and work hard in their obligations to study and to pray, and enhance their trust in the Lord, the detachment from the world, the abandonment to charity, the understanding of those who suffer. Even though there are inconveniences, there are also advantages.

Again, on January 31, 1926 he wrote, Begins the last Pentecost of our ascetical year. Let it be the Pentecost of exterior and interior, affective and effective  poverty. It is needed and, may it please the Lord that, more than St. Francis of Assisi, we may become lovers of lady poverty to become  more like earthly angels of Jesus. O my Lord, I ask that in the S.D. V. there may be a great love for poverty and let this poverty blossom for humility, for laboriousity and for charity in the likeness of Christ.

I make mine Fr. Justin’s plea of February 21 of the same year, Father, our Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, free us from all our debts. The first time with creditors and under the crushing weight of our debts. They are images of our spiritual debts. I accept to live all my life filled with anxiety and preoccupation and obligation for your work. O my God and my all! Oremus. Amen.

A superficial look at the financial reports of the different communities and the contributions of various confreres to their local communities gives clear evidence of infidelity and abuse, both individually and community wise in terms of poverty and sharing. How many of our reverend and venerable confreres contribute nothing to the expenses of their community! And how many insult their and our dignity, giving to the community only the crumbs that fall from their table. The superiors have to be vigilant, they have to exhort… but they do not have to be like the police.

Some weeks ago, a confrere in Pianura said, Father, don’t worry too much. The debts of the Congregation could easily be extinguished.  Let every confrere give half of what he has in his own personal account. But I honestly believe that it is an exaggeration to think of these unsubstantiated personal funds. But it is possible that some might really have them (of someone, I am sure!). Let us get rid of them for our own happiness and freedom. Let us go back to our original fervour, making God our own sole treasure and give back that efficiency to our ministry. Let this getting rid of accumulated funds be a true race of generosity and the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Congregation. If you do not have any hidden bank account that you can free yourself of, begin by  depositing directly to the bank account of the community your stipend  and your pension. Make this true heroic act and you will not be sorry and at the moment of death, you will be happy to have done it.  

The disposal  of these accumulated goods, or better, the prevention of future accumulations, will surely not solve the financial problems of the Congregation, but it will solve the problem of our incoherence in following the Lord. It will give us the true freedom of the sons of God, the dignity as religious and the joy of our consecration. I beg you, my brother, do something; put a new pole in your practice of poverty. Do today what you would do tomorrow for tomorrow might never come. Let this be my Easter and yours!

I hope to present you Volume IX  (volume VIII is already out) of the writings of Fr. Justin where you can find the teaching of our Father founder on the vow and virtue of  holy poverty. But you may begin reading and assimilating it in the Direttori di Spiritualità of Fr. Justin. O how far are we from the way we should really be, from how Fr. Justin wanted and wants us to be!

Let us take as addressed to ourselves what Fr. Justin said to himself on February 15, 1926: “Consider all these debts as signs of the greater ones that we have with the Divine Justice. This should give you greater preoccupation to extinguish them.” Christ’s warning: “Convert yourselves and believe in the Gospel.” is also addressed to us.

Let us resurrect with Christ to new life in the freedom and in the joy that come from a free spirit that enables us to see and love Christ our sole and true treasure. Happy Easter and Ascension!  

Yours in Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Fr. Louis Caputo, SDV  

St. Michael's Church Newark NJ
St. Nicholas Church Newark NJ
St. Gerard Majella Church Paterson NJ
Our Lady of Solace Shrine Church Brooklyn NY
Parish of the Visitation New Brunswick NJ
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Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church New Heaven VT
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