"Better is one day in Thy courts than thousands elsewhere!"
"Simple and modest, poor and at the same time becoming" this phrase from our Constitutions describing our religious habit, describes with equal veracity the ideal of the conventual dwelling. The simplicity of our lodging must bear witness to our communal living of poverty. It is only right that the space be designed in such a manner as to be conducive to our way of life; for flourishing religious life, it must be of religious character and proper conventual form.
Authentic poverty and suitability of space work together. We are physical as well as spiritual beings and the space lived in shapes the religious spirit as well as the personal and communal practices of the vow and virtue of poverty. The life of St. Dominic, whose feast we celebrated at the beginning of this month, gives notable witness to the importance of appropriate lodgings in his consistent concern that the conventual space in each of his foundations was suitable for the way of life, out of the conviction of the necessity of common external observances and surroundings for supporting and molding the interior convictions.
For poverty is at its root an interior attitude of love, a conviction of the 'givenness' of all things, receiving and perceiving all things (and even the lack thereof) as gifts from a loving God. As an expression of this interior conviction, our conventual space is to be free from all that smacks of the world or that is unnecessary to the way of life. For this reason, our cells are to be simple, free from superfluous items - even a superfluity of religious items can become a distraction to authentic prayer and encounter. This deliberate clearing away the clutter of the world and worldly things gives the religious Sister breathing space to encounter Christ, her Crucified Spouse. It is for this purpose, union with God, that the vow of poverty is taken, and it is for this purpose that it be expressed in the simplicity of our lodgings - that they may be a place of encounter with the living, loving God.