The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience can bring liberation rather than servitude.

CNS PHOTO | RICK MUSACCHIO

The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience can bring liberation rather than servitude.

June 29, 2015
BONNIE KIRK
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

In proclaiming the Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis has invited us to stop, pray, reflect, encourage and support.

Before I share my reflections, I invite you to pause and think of all the persons, groups and life experiences that you associate with the term consecrated life.

You may have thought of that wonderful sister who taught you in Grade 2 and helped you prepare for First Communion, the teaching brothers, the cloistered nuns who dedicate their lives to prayer, or missionary orders of men and women who bravely leave home to share the Gospel in foreign lands.

You might think of the White Fathers and locally the Oblate Fathers, the Carmelite Nuns and Sisters of Providence. Did you think of apostolic associations and secular institutes, or of consecrated virgins?

These are not religious communities, but persons who are called to live a life consecrated to Gospel values, to serving the community and to fully cooperating with the grace of their Baptism.

Yes, consecrated life includes the focus of traditional religious communities but embraces more. Each has its unique charism and identity and responds in different ways to the call of Christ: "Come, follow me."

Yet, they all share the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience – gifts given by the Spirit to the Church and through the Church to individuals called through Baptism to enflesh the Gospel.

Until recently, I would look at these vows as the action of the individual, their sacrifice, their offering to God.

Today, my focus has been redirected. Just like the sacraments, the evangelical counsels are first of all God's initiative, a gift of grace, a gift of deep freedom.

Let's unwrap this gift a little.

The first piece we see is chastity, a most misunderstood piece. So often, chastity is equated with celibacy. Yes, chastity embraces celibacy but it is so much more.

It is not simply forgoing marriage (and the resulting family). Rather, it is the grace that opens us to love wherever we find it, wherever it finds us.

Real chastity expects nothing in return from anyone. It is love poured out, pressed down and overflowing. Passionate it is; clinging it isn't as Joan Chittister says in A Call To Love.

Chastity is a gift we receive, not so much one we offer. It becomes the pathway to true intimacy as it makes room for another, a pathway that leads to true freedom.

The second piece of this gift is poverty. Looking at it from all angles, we do not see destitution, doing without or a simple renunciation of all goods.

Rather, we see it as a call to responsible stewardship, a lifestyle that grows out of a spirit of gratitude, a lifestyle that holds with open hands, ever ready to share, to help meet any need of which one becomes aware.

SIMPLE LIFESTYLE

Poverty is a recognition that we are blessed in order to bless others. It embraces a simple lifestyle that frees one from the rat race, and to share time, talent and treasure.

The final piece of this gift is obedience. Like poverty and chastity, obedience is not passive, not a freeing from responsibility, not simple conformity.

Obedience is a free response to love that is only possible when one is responsible. It involves critical thinking and listening to one's conscience – assuming one has made the effort through prayer, study and reflection to form one's conscience.

Obedience in love means saying yes. It presumes honesty and the trust to present one's point of view if it differs from what one is being asked to do. Sometimes, obedience will involve dying to self. But it is freely chosen in love.

GIFTS OF LOVE

The evangelical counsels are wonderful gifts offered to those called to live a consecrated life, gifts of love equipping their "yes," and that support each daily step in one's journey of love and grace.

My God stands before me with outstretched hands, offering me this gift. Gently whispering "chastity, poverty and obedience," my heart can only answer "Yes, please!"