Saturday, 12 May 2012

Poverty, Chastity and Obedience

At last week's Catechism discussion group at St Mary Magdalen's Church we discussed the consecrated life in the Church.

In particular, we were discussing the three vows of religious life - poverty, chastity and obedience. It was a very thought provoking discussion.

Strangely, though, it got me thinking about non-Catholics that I know living in hostels around Brighton.  One friend lives at St Patrick's hostel in Hove. Aside from the fact that many of those living in the hostels of Brighton have 'issues' like we all have 'issues' - ranging from mental health to alcohol and drug abuse - the life of a hostel dweller is quite monastic in its basic format.

First, you really only get into these hostels if you are on benefits - so you live on a minimum allocated amount each week with which to buy your food, top up your rent, buy your necessaries. Of course, if you find it hard to budget, or have a particular addiction or habit that causes you to lose a great deal of your money quickly then you are dependent on the charity of others. Unitentionally, you have fulfilled one of the chief criteria of religious life - Poverty.

Of course, if you live in St Patrick's hostel, you aren't actually allowed visitors to stay overnight. So, you can forget about taking home a lady or having any sexual relationships if you live there. Unwittingly, you have fulfilled or are fulfilling another vow of religous life - Chastity.

Then, because you live under the roof of the hostel owners, you have to live under those ground rules mentioned above. You don't actually have anything to do during the day so you just walk around town all day begging. However, if you overstep some 'marker' or are found to be guilty of some form of 'anti-social behaviour' then you know that you will be evicted with no notice whatsoever. Therefore, you have to be obedient and on good behaviour towards your superiors - the staff of the hostel. Unwittingly, you have fulfilled the third aspect of the religious life - Obedience.

Of course, the great difference between this person and the religious is that one has been placed in this situation by the Council. The other has chosen it as his vocation. One involves having no choice at all - save for the street - the person in question has actually slept in bushes for a prolongued period of time - the other has chosen freely to live under these conditions in order to dedicate himself more solely to following Christ and loving the Lord. And, of course, while the hostel dweller has not chosen to live in community with others who have not chosen to be there either, the religous has chosen to live in community with others who have chosen to be there.

The issue of choice, of prayer, of expressed human will are central to those who go into consecrated life. The two situations are, of course, entirely different for those reasons - yet those who choose it discover that it is liberating. Those who do not choose it, but are coerced into a similar setting do not find it liberating but imprisoning. I was struck by how even though these two situations are entirely disimilar, they are strangely the same. There is one similarity however. A lot of people in hostels detest each other. Sadly, the same is true of some religious houses.

Finally, of course, unemployment and begging brings to hostel dwellers the derision of the World - those who are marked by addictions - even former addictions - are considered to be 'scum' by many. Therefore they are humbled and take the lowest place in society - and humility is, of course, what all religious are seeking.

1 comment:

epsilon said...

Funny you should say all this, Lawrence! Only last night I happened to be listening to Fulton Sheen talking about Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven" and how it had been found in his pocket when he was on his last legs in Covent Garden. At the time this brought to mind a common thought of mine: that in there among the high-rise slums, anywhere, there are probably artists, poets, composers whose work will never see acclaim until they have left their earthly domain. People whom others look down on with disdain for their apparent lack of achievement.

Maybe the poor and the religious have a lot more in common after all, like a God who loves them whether they want to know or not, or as Fulton Sheen calls it a divine invasion!

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