With a Vow that Frees Men to Trust in God’s Providential Action: Ignatian Vow of Poverty
The Ignatian intends to dedicate himself entirely to the honor of God and the salvation of souls. He makes the same deal with God as did St. John Bosco: “Give me souls and take away all else!”
And so, in his desire to be utterly unconstrained and free of all that could weigh him down in his enterprises, journeys and battles for Christ, he makes a vow of poverty. By it he trusts himself daringly, boldly, and adventurously to God’s providential presence and action. To paraphrase Virgil, Providence sides with him who dares.
God, in answer to our trust, is not outdone in generosity, as the history of the saints shows us. “We must have a holy boldness” said St.Teresa of Avila, “for God helps the strong.” “If we were to endeavor” says the Imitation of Christ, “like men of courage, to stand in the battle, surely we would feel the favorable assistance of God from Heaven. For he who gives us occasion to fight in order that we may triumph, is ready to come to the side of those who fight manfully and trust in his grace.”
A role model of such trust in God’s providence is that model of priests, St. John Vianney. Six years after arriving to Ars, he thought about buying a house that could function as an orphanage. However he became anxious about his ability to raise the necessary money for its upkeep. Nevertheless he overcame his worries because:
“Where poverty reigns there is no obstacle between men and God’s gifts”. Fr. Vianney dwelt on this thought insistently. One day God breathed in his ear a word to which there could be no reply, a word which reassured him once and for all as to the future of the house: “What has been lacking to you until now?” “As a matter of fact,” the curé added, “I have always had enough to go on with. I have observed that those who have an income are always complaining; there is always something that they lack. But those who have nothing, have nothing even to lack . . . . It is trust that God wants, more than anything. When He alone is made responsible for all our concerns, it touches His justice and His goodness to aid us.” (HENRI GHÉON, The Secret of the Curé d’Ars)
When you develop that trust in God’s providential action, then you come to realize the truth of Romans 8:28, “All things conspire together for the good of those who love God.” This is the attitude of priests like the Bishop in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo: he has no hesitation about giving away gold and silver for the sake of a soul’s salvation.
Ignatians will seek to live Christlike poverty following in the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Loyola. While owning nothing themselves, they will however seek to give all that is noble and beautiful for the worship of God and the salvation of souls. True to the Ignatian charism, all Ignatians will live the same lifestyle. No distinctions. The Superior General will have no more and no less than the last seminarian to cross the threshold. There will be no inner-circles, elites, privileged members of the Society with rights that every rank-and-file member does not have. We are all soldiers for Christ, all rank-and-file, merely with different responsibilities within the same mission. Our lives will be lived with that austerity characteristic of the Master, our Lord and Savior.
For the Basque saint, the description of his order as a compañía, a term recalling his own military experience, meant that he intended it to be a battalion of light infantry. The vows are what what this a reality. By the Ignatian vow of poverty, our equipment is lightweight; by our obedience our willingness is global, ever ready to go anywhere the Kingdom’s combat requires; and by our vow of chastity our hearts are ready to be spiritual fathers to all men and women.
“My Lord, I have nothing to do in this world, but to seek and serve thee; I have nothing to do with a heart and its affections, but to breathe after thee; I have nothing to do with my tongue and pen, but to speak to thee, and for thee, and to publish thy glory and thy will. Amen. (RICHARD BAXTER, 1615-1691)