Marveling at the most precious gift and humility of Christ Jesus in the Eucharist, Saint Francis exhorted the brethren to “hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.” Professing the three vows is a gift and an imitation of the love of our divine Savior, who while we were still sinners was born, was crucified, died and rose for us. Christ loved the Church (that’s us!) and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25) so that we might become holy and receive the precious gift He desires for each of us in our vocation.
Saint Paul experienced this on the way to Damascus. Christ revealed Himself to Paul as merciful love and called Paul to a new, radical way of life. This consecration led Paul to say “Christ made me his own” (Phil 3:12), and, “God has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours but according to His own design” (1 Tim 1:9). Christ mercifully gave everything to and for each one of us.
God, by a special and free grace gives some the desire to give themselves to Him in a more complete way. A man, discovering in his soul the desire to give himself to God directly and totally, professes vows as a sign of God’s action in his soul and of man’s response in love. The meaning of his life becomes no longer based solely on his own aspirations, but on the burning desire to know Christ.
Chastity is an exalted gift. Christ gives this precious gift as a renewal of His love for the Church, as an intimate sign of love for the individual and for all humanity. By means of this vow, the fire of the Holy Spirit purifies the heart of the religious from the passing things of this world and sets their eyes on God alone. The chaste man becomes an empty vessel which God’s grace can fill—“blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Love espouses and drives the man to imitate the beloved; it inspires a desire for total union and self-giving. This vow also makes us witnesses and co-workers of Christ in the redemption of humanity.
In poverty we rely completely upon the Lord for everything that we need. We acknowledge with St. Paul that “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim 6:7) and we are to be content with infirmity and want. We work diligently knowing that it is from Christ that we will receive our reward. In poverty of Spirit we hold “nothing of ourselves for ourselves” and so we are generous with what the Lord has given us in the Present Moment. Much more, we become an instrument of God’s grace when people give to us for love of Him (cf. Mt 10:40-42).
Christ, who perfectly accomplished the Father’s will, “learned obedience through what He suffered” (Heb 5:8) and so became the source of our salvation. Saint Francis was obedient in imitation of Jesus and His holy mother, Mary. “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love” (Jn 15:10). What a promise! For the love of God we should be willing to do whatever it takes. Jesus chose to die rather to fail in obedience. In loving obedience we also “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). To our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, we own filial love, fervent prayer to God and obedience since he is the Vicar of Christ on earth.
In a preeminent way, Mary is the model for all religious. Without God’s grace and initiative no one can become holy. Yet, her purity was the foundation for her free and loving “yes” to God in all circumstances.
The vows are expressions of God’s desire to be united in spousal love with the soul and of the soul’s loving and life giving response to that love. God’s love is proclaimed in the consecrated life so that all men may be saved and come to knowledge of the truth. If “life is Christ, and death is gain” (Phil 1:21) that we have only to live and love His holy will. Do not be afraid if God is calling you to the consecrated life or to the priesthood. He will give you the grace to carry out His will in the present moment.
Br. Paschal Mary. MFVA