(Just a brief introduction to myself for new readers. My name is Abigail B. I'm in my second year of a 3 year temporary promise to live out a life of "poverty, chastity, and obedience" as a Discalced Carmelite)
Poverty is something that is so beautiful to the Franciscan and the Carmelites. Our orders spring from a similar time of reform in the Middle Ages --the meaning of which is "to beg." It's still arresting to see the Franciscan monks with their bare legs in the freezing January cold during the March for Life. When I see a rough habit of the monks and the nuns, my heart leaps.
I am a married woman. My husband is a fellow Carmelite. We have five children in our home. (May God bless us with more.) Our desire to live out a life of poverty in our home looks different from the Carmelite Nuns in a convent--but the desire is the same.
Two things that I've started to embrace--after a long internal struggle--is this idea of supernatural prudence and the avoidance of financial paralysis.
I come from a childhood of wounded trust. I didn't get financial planning skills from nurture. I totally lack them inside my inherent nature. To compensate for my deep shame--I globbed on to this notion that "I'll make myself a sound financial planner with my brain." There was one car trip that I listened to 15 hours of straight tapes by Suze Ormond on the back roads of Wisconsin because "by golly, I was not going to make my parents same mistakes." I was reactionary in my zealousness for knowledge. There was a "right way" and a "wrong way" to handle money. I was firmly going to be in the "smart cookie camp" thank you very much.
The problem with this approach was it was very much motivated by self-love. I hated people thinking that I was a screw-up--so I had to be extra competent in everything. My supposedly savvy ideas came from "outside myself" and were motivated by vanity. This lead me to be very brittle and very self-righteous.
So what does God do with a girl who already knows everything at age 25--He makes her fall in love! And get married! And become Catholic. And have babies, and more babies, and a long painful bout of secondary infertility where there are no babies.
Though it all, God is constantly rebuilding her heart--heart surgery of the most serious kind--and he's constantly saying "I AM THE PLAN."
That work is so hidden and so gradual that I didn't realize exactly what is going on until I got stuck in Wal-Mart--alway from my entire family and ten weeks old baby--during a freak Tornado last summer. The guy next to me said "I bet you didn't think you'd be facing a Tornado at 10 PM when you woke up this morning, did you?" I looked at him with this speechless look thinking "Man, I'm a Carmelite and today is the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. I never know what is gong to happen when I get my feet out of bed in the morning, but no, the task of praying the rosary through a Tornado is not unforseeable in my line of work."
(Get that connection dear readers? God is the PLAN. In June, my plan was to make a quick trip to Walmart to grab diapers at 10 PM at night, but God's plan was for me to practice trusting in him while I was all alone during a once in every 100 year freak thunderstorm called The Derecho.)
So financial planning is a part of the virtue of prudence. (Temperance, also I think. I lack that one. My spiritual journey is all about reigning in my emotions and keep a cool head during times of stress.) Prudence is good. Prudence is important.
Yet there is a virtue higher than natural prudence--supernatural prudence.
We can see that very clearly in response of a Religious Sister's call to her vocation. For example, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was a sunny girl who had extreme talent as a pianist. She joined the Discalsed Carmelite Order in mid-nineteenth century France. Her convent was so poor, it didn't have a piano. When Elizabeth joined the Order, she gave up playing the piano for the rest of her life. There were so many good Catholics around her that said "this is totally stupid woman! Join a less restrictive Order. Why are you throwing away such God given talent?" But Elizabeth knew that her heart belonged at Carmel--that is where she could best access Jesus. Because of her sacrifice, we Catholics have one of the most beautiful descriptions of Interior Silence written in one of her letters. It took a talented musician to "hear" the beauty of pure silence.
When a young woman enters Religious Life, that sacrifice of "poverty" makes sense to us. She can choose not to pursue money in her life. She's single. She's got free heath insurance, and free clothes and free food for life. She is exhibiting "supernatural prudence" in her poverty. She is living for heaven, while still on this earth.
So our Carmelite Sisters are our example! God bless them for being such a holy and good example to us.
However, it's easy for people to dismiss the Carmelite Sisters as being "pie in the sky idealists." Well, that's great for you to talk about the virtue of poverty Sister--you don't have to buy shoes for your children, or prom dresses. You don't have life insurance bills, and car insurance bills. You don't live "in the real world."
That's where the gift of my husband and my vocation as Third Order Carmelite come in. We're a real family in 21 Century America just like our neighbors. We're not perfect. We're not special financial geniuses. We don't have some mystical messages regarding which stocks to invest in, or how to best trim the fat off our budget.
In fact, we're most likely more stupid than you, dear reader. More selfish. More emotionally immature, and less equipted to deal confidently in the challenging world of marriage, parenthood, work, and community.
My gift as a Carmelite wife and mother--is that I have these cheerleaders. These three Doctors of the Church--St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux--they are a trinity of love and guidance. In front of them is the great prophet Elijah and always, my dear Mother of the Heart, Our Lady of Mount Carmel--Mary, the Mother of God, herself.
Each of these five, real, holy people were NOT financial genius. In fact, it would be sort of comedic to have an imaginary interview with these Saints and Suze Ormond. But these Saints are my friends. Out of all of them, only Mary the Mother of God, had a vocation similar to me. Somehow the challenge is to live out a life FOR MARY and OF MARY in the middle of present day America.
My husband likes to say constantly, "We are not Amish." In other words, We are not living in the past. We're not trying to live out a Medieval Ideal of Carmel from the 1200s--like a historical reenactment play. We're trying to bring a zeal for the virtue of poverty into the present.
What does that look like? I dunno. I'm still working on it. All I know is that part of the financial plan is for this specific family to live in a Little House, on a short street, in a West Virginian town and struggle to better heat their home without spending much money in the middle of winter. For me, living out the virtue of Poverty in real time is sort of mundane, often embarrassing, yet sometimes spiritually useful.
It's an honor to put on my Marian Apron in the form of a Brown Scapular each day. It's an honor to struggle. It's an honor to serve. It's an honor discover what hidden splendor He gives me each day. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jon.
St Joseph, Lover of Poverty, pray for us!