Have you ever wondered what we friars do all day? What makes our life tick? What motivates us? What gives our life value? Why grown mature men willingly promise to live together and to be at certain places at certain times everyday? Why, you may wonder, do we not marry? To not even be allowed to buy the car we may want or to go on the vacation we would really want to go on? The answer is the vows we profess. These are like pegs or pillars to give form to our lives and the lives of all religious. They are Chastity, Poverty and Obedience.
First of all, Chasitity. Some men hear us mention the vows and their first reaction is, “poverty and obedience I can handle, but chastity, no way!” One married man with a number of kids said, “Well, I got two out of three…” If done for the right reasons, however, and in the right way, chastity becomes an aid to authentic human and spiritual maturity. We do not give up a wife and family because we do not like women or do not want to have to deal with children. Quite the opposite; these are beautiful things, very beautiful. We friars, and indeed all those who take the vow of chastity, give up having our own family to embrace a much larger family. We give up having a partner in life to partner with God in bringing new life to the world, spiritual life, life lived unto eternity. Only with the gift of the vow of chastity is that possible.
As for Poverty, fundamentally, this means that we as individuals own nothing of our own. This may seem like a copout to owning collectively all kinds of things, from yachts to sports cars, but poverty also means we strive to live poverty in spirit and poverty in fact. Poverty of fact requires us to live a simple life without anything extra, or superfluous. Poverty of spirit, however, means being detached from the things we have. Our real lasting possession is Christ, and in possessing him we possess all things. This means that if He asks us to do without something, say that nap we were looking forward to, or the recognition we seek, then we can strive to do it with peace, and without complaint or bitterness in our hearts. The more we empty ourselves of ‘things’ the more we can be filled with what is absolutely priceless, the joy of following Christ.
Finally, Obedience. This one is considered the toughest vow, though, as Mother Angelica says, it is also the most freeing. One good way to explain obedience is to imagine taking your boss or perhaps your spouse and voluntarily subjecting yourself to them in all things, not just at work, not just for certain things at home, but for all things: what you work on, when you eat, when you wake up, when you relax. As you can imagine, that would be pretty tough (perhaps you feel like you live like that anyway) but essentially that is what obedience is. You promise to obey your superior at all times no matter who he might be. It is not a servile or abusive obedience, nor is it a kind of childish shirking of responsibility. Now, why would someone voluntarily put their life into the hands of another? Ultimately, the will of our superior’s becomes God’s Will for us. We are all called to do God’s Will, but for those who take this vow, God’s Will becomes quite concrete everyday. Christ was obedient to His Father unto death, death on a cross, so we are called to be obedient unto death, death to our egos and, as a result, fully free to do God’s Will alone.
Quite frankly, living the vows is impossible, but God calls the weak and makes them strong. Pope John Paul II said that religious, “make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called.” (Emphasis my own) The three vows are tough, not so much “navy seals tough” but a kind of spiritual toughness. And yet there are thousands of young men and women answering the call, answering the challenge of Christ to love beyond measure, sacrifice without restraint. Through the consecrated, vowed life, we strive then to live a fruitful life, a life not given into comfort and ease; nor a contraceptive life given over to endless video games and other superficial distractions so prevalent in our culture, rather, a life lived for others, a life lived for God and, ultimately, a life of greatness.
By a MFVA Friar