Do nuns take a vow of poverty? (What It Means for a Nun to Take a Vow of Poverty?)

Since my days in theology school, I have always wanted to learn how nuns operate their lives. I discovered that most of them take vows which govern their way of living. I visited a Catholic church and had one-on-one discussions with several nuns to learn more about these vows. I was mostly interested in the vow of poverty; I wanted to know if they take it and what it means for a nun to take one. I recently introduced the topic of nuns’ vows on my online Christian forum. As expected, most members were confused with the vow of poverty and wanted to know why nuns took it. Since I had all the answers at my fingertips, it was pretty easy to explain to them what it is and whether nuns take it. So, do nuns take a vow of poverty?

Yes, nuns take a vow of poverty. This vow bars nuns from taking ownership or benefiting from personal property. It requires them to live communally and serve the community without attachment to material things. Therefore, whether it is clothes, books, or even vehicles, nuns are supposed to give up the right to benefit or control such material things.

So, join me as I discuss what it means for a nun to vow of poverty. I will also cover interesting aspects like what happens to retired nuns that took a vow of poverty or whether one can be allowed to renounce the vow of poverty. Keep reading to learn more.

What does it mean for a nun to take a vow of poverty?

The poverty vow for any sister or nun means that once you make it, you give up the right to be a beneficiary of or control your personal property. This vow is based on Proverbs 19:17, which says that anyone kind to those who are poor lends to the Lord, and God will reward them for that.

Many people do not understand what it means when a nun takes this vow. In simple terms, it means that you live communally, only keep what you use, but do not own any possession. Therefore, you will get most nuns donating their salary to the community and church and even grow food in their gardens that they distribute amongst community members.

What does the vow of poverty entail for a nun or sister?

What It Means for a Nun to Take a Vow of Poverty?
What does the vow of poverty entail for a nun or sister? Image source: Pixabay

As mentioned above, the vow of poverty requires every sister or nun not to be a beneficiary of personal property. Therefore, by taking this vow, they commit to interdependently living within a community. The church believes that this vow is a reflection of Jesus, who, for our sake, became poor despite all his earthly and heavenly riches. This vow applies to every single thing, including vehicles, clothing, books, and even furniture.

For example, nuns do not write names on books. They believe that if you write your name on a book, it means it’s yours and, therefore, should be returned to you by anyone who borrows it. Therefore, by not writing names on books, nuns give away books as borrowed gifts and do not expect anything back.

Why do nuns take a vow of poverty?

The key reason why nuns take a vow of poverty is to ensure they are not attached to any material things so that they can better serve others for free. They believe that simplicity and separation through the vow of poverty enable them to develop humility and concern for the people. This vow enables nuns not to be attached to any material stuff and thus dedicate their time and effort to serving God and the community. Going against this vow is like a sin of theft because you will be stealing property or wealth that would instead serve the community and the less fortunate.

Which Catholic orders take a vow of poverty?

Jesuits are known to take this vow. Each Jesuit, whether a brother or a priest, is called to honor the vow of poverty. They choose not to possess any property or maintain personal monetary accounts, they ensure they do not accumulate excess wealth to remain focused on their mission, and this enables them to channel their efforts toward serving others and making an impact on people’s lives. Through the vow of poverty, they feel rejuvenated to carry out their apostolic work.

Is there a Roman Catholic Order that doesn’t take vows of poverty?

Yes, the diocesan priest does not take the vow of poverty. They make no vows. Instead, they make promises to their bishop, which include respect and obedience to the bishop and his successor, to live a prayerful life, and to pray for the people. Celibacy is also part of the promises they do make for the sake of the kingdom.

They are allowed to be in possession of cars but for the ministry. However, clothing and medicine are not provided to them by the church community but by themselves. In as much as they do not take a vow of poverty, they are expected to live as per the promises they made. A simple life, practice chastity, be obedient, and lead a prayerful life.

Can you decide to take back your vow of poverty?

No, the vow of poverty among the nuns is solemn. By solemn, this means that this vow is perpetual, and there is no going back. Therefore, once the individuals have declared to let their possessions to the community for the well-being of others, they are not allowed to take them back. Although they will be allowed to have materials that they only need, they do not own them. It is key to note that for sisters, their vows are simple and can either be temporary or perpetual, meaning they can renounce the vows.

Are Catholic nuns exempt from paying taxes on their income because of their vow of poverty?

Do nuns take a vow of poverty? 
Are Catholic nuns exempt from paying taxes? Image source: Pixabay

Well, there is no solid answer to this question, as different countries have different rules about their way of taxing their citizens. However, in countries such as the United States, nuns are exempt from paying taxes because they are granted a modest living allowance. And therefore, the State grants them the benefit of not paying taxes due to their vow of poverty and giving services to the community. This allows the nuns to effectively serve and contribute towards community projects with their salary.

What happens to retired nuns who took a vow of poverty?

When a nun takes a vow of poverty, she has to endure it until death. Just like any other person, it reaches a point where the nuns also step down after fruitful and successful years of the younger version of themselves of service to mankind. Most of the time, the retired nuns leave with the younger nuns in designated places around the church. However, sometimes the elderly nuns are not fully attended to because the youthful nuns have other responsibilities and duties to attend to during the day and also do not have enough funds.

The catholic churches have set aside specific places around the church where the aging nuns can reside; here, the church takes full charge of everything. Some of them will continue to serve through prayers where they are possible. However, when funds do not allow it, some retired nuns struggle to even afford prescription drugs.

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