Contemplations on The Economics of Religious Life

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” -Karl Marx

“Let us preserve a common life and willingly share among ourselves whatever we receive as individuals.” –The Constitutions of the Capuchins Friars Minor

I start with these quotes because they describe an aspect of my current life. I doubt the Capuchins used Das Kapital in the formation of the Constitutions - any more than I think Marx used the 4th chapter of Acts in constructing his economic theory. Yet the uses of these two quotes provide two great axioms as how we as friars look at money, goods, and the sharing of our funds.

My present dilemma surrounds a ColdGear™ mock t-neck made by Under-Armor®. To prepare for the winter months, I want/need to buy something to wear under my habit. Sweaters are too bulky, shirts don’t always get the jobs done, nor do I own a single brown shirt. (I often can be seen wearing a yellow or blue shirt under my habit.) Under-Armour® provides a great solution for that problem…at the cost of $49.99.

Disclaimer: Product currently displayed may not reflect how it looks on you. "Washboard stomachs" are not a feature.

Before entering the Order, the process of buying this shirt would be simple: I want, I can afford, I buy. Even families who live on a budget have a sense of freedom with purchases, with needs and wants partially determined by what is left over after the bills are paid.

As I ponder over the purchase of this shirt, many questions have to be answered in my mind before I feel comfortable purchasing the shirt…as well as determining which funds to use:

1. Functionality – Will I wear this shirt enough to validate its cost, or will it sit in the closet? Am I going to use it strictly for an undershirt while wearing the habit, or will I wear it when working out as well? Will it last longer than 6 months? Does this shirt suit the purpose I need it for?

2. Aesthetics – Am I purchasing this because it looks nice? If so, how much of that fits into the decision? Would I be just as happy if it had an Adidas® or Nike® emblem on it? Should I even be concerned by those things? Is it made of a material that I can wear, or will it feel awkward?

3. Buying Ethics – By paying $50 for the shirt, do I feel confident that I will not have to replace the shirt within the year? Do I feel that Under-Armour® is diligent in its buying ethics from third party distributors?

Obviously not all my spending has this same dilemma. My dentist appointment and following wisdom teeth extraction requires little discernment. I have tooth pain, they need to be removed. Very little room for discussion.

However with the Under-Armour® shirt, I try to quantify my need versus my want, and compare that to what the intention of the donor had in mind for my use of the money. Perhaps other guys would have less concern buying a shirt like this. For some, they would see it as a necessity and the question would be finished. Others would see it as an affront to poverty, and choose either to save up for it or find a cheaper way to solve the problem.

After living a life in poverty and then achieving a sense of wealth, questions like these present interesting moments of thought. Knowing what it’s like to live without many “necessities” that others had (car, color TV, cable, dishwasher, laundry facilities, etc.) my definition of need is somewhat skewed. Even sitting here, in a Novitiate setting where we are to live a life without much distraction from the outside world, I type on a computer and prepare to load it onto my blog via the internet. Is that truly a necessity, or does need refer to the 4 staples: food, clothing, shelter, and love (human contact)?

Again, the purpose of this post is not to challenge current standards nor preach about poverty, fiscal responsibility, or how we should all be willing to share our goods to help others. I put forth only the new way I live life and how I make my purchases…a stark contrast from the days of selling cars or dealing poker.

This stuff is giving me a headache. I need a Monster®

(Under Armor and Monster are trademarked items. Their use here is not an endorsement by the me, the Capuchin Franciscans, or the Youth for International Socialism.)

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