The Vows of Poverty, Chastity & Obedience

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These are the vows, which render contrary acts illicit and invalid. Religious who take solemn or perpetual vows cannot marry nor are they permitted to own property.

Poverty is not just a sacrifice, as many always think, but an act of freedom to give and devote more time to the works of God. And yes, by means of using everything that God has given us.

Chastity is the moral virtue by which a person puts sexual impulses under control according to the dictates of right reason. This virtue excludes sinful indulgence arising from sexual impulses. Married and single persons are to be perfectly chaste, but the chastity of each respective state will be practiced differently. The grace and promise not to enter into the state of marriage are often referred to as the vow or promise of chastity. This is made by all who are ordained into diaconate then to the priesthood and by those who enter into religious communities. The vow may be solemn or simple; simple vows may be temporary or perpetual.

Obedience is the moral virtue by which an individual submits his will to lawful authority. We are bound to obey the laws of God, and disobedience to his laws results in sin. We also are bound to obey all lawful civil rules, authorities, etc. One of the three evangelical counsels, which Christ advocated as a means toward a more perfect life.

These counsels are not absolutely necessary for salvation but offer a greater reward and a safer means of attaining salvation. (Vita Consecrata, 21)

The deepest meaning of the evangelical counsels is revealed when they are viewed in relation to the Holy Trinity, the source of holiness. They are in fact an expression of the love of the Son for the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. By practicing the evangelical counsels, the consecrated person lives with particular intensity the Trinitarian and Christological dimension, which marks the whole of Christian life.

The chastity of celibates and virgins, as a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34), is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren. Poverty proclaims that God is man’s only real treasure.

When poverty is lived according to the example of Christ who, “though he was rich… became poor” (2 Cor 8:9), it becomes an expression of that total gift of self which the three Divine Persons make to one another. This gift overflows into creation and is fully revealed in the Incarnation of the Word and in his redemptive death.

Obedience, practiced in imitation of Christ, whose food was to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4:34), shows the liberating beauty of a dependence which is not servile but filial, marked by a deep sense of responsibility and animated by mutual trust, which is a reflection in history of the loving harmony between the three Divine Persons.

The consecrated life is thus called constantly to deepen the gift of the evangelical counsels with a love which grows ever more genuine and strong in the Trinitarian dimension: love for Christ, which leads to closeness with him; love for the Holy Spirit, who opens our hearts to his inspiration; love for the Father, the first origin and supreme goal of the consecrated life.

The consecrated life thus becomes a confession and a sign of the Trinity, whose mystery is held up to the Church as the model and source of every form of Christian life. Even fraternal life, whereby consecrated persons strive to live in Christ with “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32), is put forward as an eloquent witness to the Trinity. It proclaims the Father, who desires to make all of humanity one family. It proclaims the Incarnate Son, who gathers the redeemed into unity, pointing the way by his example, his prayer, his words and above all his death, which is the source of reconciliation for a divided and scattered humanity. It proclaims the Holy Spirit as the principle of unity in the Church, wherein he ceaselessly raises up spiritual families and fraternal communities.

The Book of Catholic Quotations: “I wish you to be the friend of the poor, but especially their imitator. The one is the grade of the beginner, the other of the perfect, for the friendship of the poor makes us friends of the kings, but the love of poverty makes us kings ourselves. The kingdom of God is the kingdom of the poor, and one of the marks of royal power is to do good to friends according to our will”. (St. Bernard: Letters / 12th century) “Let each one study his own powers, whether he can fulfill the precepts of virginal modesty. For of itself, chastity is charming and attractive to all. But one’s forces must be considered, that he who can, may take it. The Lord’s words are as it were an exhortation, stirring on His soldiers the prize of purity. He that can take it, let him take it: let him who can, fight, conquer and receive his reward”. (St. Jerome, Commentary of St. Matthew 19:12 / 5th century)

“Our Lord makes much of this submission, and with perfect justice; for it is by means of it that we make Him master of the free will He has given us. We practice it sometimes quickly and completely, thereby winning an immediate self-conquest; at other times it is only after a thousand struggles that we succeed, constantly thinking that the decisions made by superiors in our case are nothing but folly.

And finally, being drilled and practiced by this painful exercise, we conform to what is commanded – painfully or not, we do it. Upon this our Lord, having helped us all the time, now seeing that we submit our will and our reason for His sake, gives us the grace to become masters of both.” (St. Teresa of Jesus: Book of Foundations, 5 / 16th century)