1. severe in manner or appearance; strict; forbidding.
2. rigorously self-disciplined and severely moral; ascetic; abstinent.
3. without excess, luxury, or ease: an austere life.
4. without ornament or adornment; severely simple: austere writing.
5. lacking softness.
The priests last week on retreat mentioned the virtue of austerity quite a bit. When looking at the above definitions, I would say that they were referring to the third definition - without excess, luxury, or ease.
We spent a lot of time meditating on what it means to live a life of austerity. Sometimes scrupulosity gets the better of me and one day during this topic it did. I started to scrutinize every thing that I had bought recently and wondered if I had started heading down the wrong path - the one away from God instead of towards it. For someone without scrupulosity, you might laugh and think I've lost my marbles. For someone who knows how this can rear its ugly head, you understand the turmoil I was in.
I talked to one of the priests about it and he brought me back into perspective. Living the virtue of austerity is a matter of balance. He gave me two examples which I think are beneficial for keeping things in perspective.
The first was someone who needs to purchase a new car. They have the money to buy a Mercedes, but do they really NEED to buy a new Mercedes. Mind you, there's nothing sinful about buying one because they legitimately have the money to do it, but for someone who is trying to live a life of austerity, could they buy a much less expensive, but still fully functional, car - say maybe a new Honda or something of the sort. Either car would get them where they needed to go, so it comes down to a matter of whether or not they need to spend the money on a more expensive, comfortable car.
As the priest pointed out, if the person made the decision to buy the less expensive car, then another way to live this out even fuller would be to donate the difference between what they spent and what they could have spent. This is truly living this virtue.
He also gave me another example. On flying a discount airline from Chicago to Detroit, the cost of the ticket is about $30. For that price you get a seat but virtually no leg room. As you board the plane, they inform you that you could upgrade your seat to one with more leg room for an additional $20. Assuming the person is in no great NEED of additional leg room (they have no impediments or what-not), do they really need to spend the additional money for more leg room for that short flight, or could they save the money and use it for a better purpose?
The person trying to live austerity would, of course, deal with the lack of leg room and use the money elsewhere. Again, there is no sin in spending the extra money to be more comfortable - none at all. The question comes down to whether or not you really NEED to.
The point of all of this during our retreat was for us to really look into ourselves and decide whether or not we were giving all we had to God or were we using our material goods in ways that could be improved upon. Can we give it all to God to use as He wants us to use it? That would be living austerity. Or do we tend to use our material goods for the way we want to; for our own comfort, entertainment, fun, ease? Again, not in ways that are sinful, but in ways that maybe we could let go of.
God has given us all that we have, are we giving it back to Him and allowing Him to use it for His purposes in our lives?