The Vows According to Saint Thomas Aquinas

1. Explain just what the vow of poverty is about.  Just limiting possessions or more?

Religious poverty is poverty in spirit and in fact.  Striving to free oneself from undue concern for external goods in order to devote oneself more fully to contemplation and more fervent works directed by the active life is the purpose of poverty.  Jesus counseled poverty as a means to perfection as following him.  It is not a rejection of the goodness of creation, but is directed towards a right relationship with God first and neighbor.

Religious give up the right of possession, not use.  Use, however is determined according to the way of life professed and the permission of the superior.  They are to make use of nothing without permission and accountability.  Religious men and women still need what is necessary for virtue in this life (food for the support of bodily life) and for certain works which are implied by the apostolate.  Since contemplatives need fewer goods than active life requires, it is higher.  Those who vow poverty dedicate themselves to certain works as a means to support themselves, to serve contemplation and to witness to the goodness of work, but not for the excessive accumulation of goods.

A simple, “sharing-sparing” lifestyle which is directed to the love of God is a sign of perfection.  External poverty without a supernatural motive can lead to incite the possessiveness and covetousness implied by the lust of the eyes.  It strives to use goods for the greater glory of God by recognition that all things come from Him.

2. Explain the objects of the vow of chastity.  Just what is given up.

Also, does one give up all forms of love in this vow?

The vow of chastity is a surpassing gift of grace which directs one entirely to God with all one’s powers.  Those who profess this vow renew their commitment to avoid whatever is against the sixth and ninth commandments, and also certain things concerned with the physiological, emotional and physical aspects of sexuality.  While recognizing the body, the conjugal act, feelings, passions and sexual feelings as good and created by God for a definite good, the person who professes the vow orders oneself to God.  He or she does not give up spiritual paternity or maternity, only physical.  The desire to love and be love is not rejected, only that exclusive love and signs of affection which derive from marriage.  Reason directs the emotions according to divine purposes.

Spousal love is not given up, but directed to God.  Man gives the total gift of himself in love to God and in imitation of Christ who loves the Church as bridegroom.  Spiritual friendship and fraternal communion based on spiritual values are great aids to chastity.  In order to commit oneself with an undivided heart to pleasing the Lord, chastity conquers the lust of the flesh with its desire to dominate and manipulate others.  It gives interior freedom from the pleasures of the flesh which have a unique ability to deprive one of reason and the ability to enter more deeply into the contemplative life.  In the active life it gives one that freedom consequent upon the external freedom to do God’s will since one does not have the obligation of taking care of wife and children.  It expresses a more universal love for God and humanity.

3. Explain briefly true and false obedience and why the vow of obedience is the most important vow.

Obedience is the most important vow because the poverty and chastity are implicit in the profession of it, and because of its relation to those acts which pertain to religion.  It recognizes that God is the ruler of all and that He usually works through secondary causes to accomplish His will.  For that reason, the subject looks for Christ in the superior who directs him according to the common good as expressed in the constitutions.  Since Christ gave the Church governance and holiness to direct all men to perfection, the approval of the constitutions by the Church is recognition that a specific rule of life is a sure and safe means to salvation.

One should not take the vow of obedience (or act in obedience) because one is incapable of making decisions, wants to abdicate responsibility, gain selfish praise or to shame others, or because one simply admires the superior and finds what is asked reasonable, expedient or pleasing.  Obedience is more than simply doing what one is commanded.  The vows properly lived are means to an end: union with God.  One freely and deliberately submits one’s will in practical matters (of which the virtue of religion is concerned) to another’s will in accord the rule which one professes for the sake of the love of God.  This is all for the sake of uniting oneself more firmly to God through the serving of the common good and to combat the pride of life.  One makes the common good of the community equal or superior to one’s own private good provided what is asked is good.

Br. Paschal Mary