Before I write, I want to make sure you know that our vow ceremony will be live-streamed this Saturday. Even if you can’t be present physically, you can watch online from wherever you are! Just go to http://srcharitycinti.org/ at 4:00pm EST. The live-stream should be right there on the homepage.
What a special time this is! I can hardly believe that I’ll be professing my first vows in three days! Of course I’m filled with all kinds of emotions, but deep in my heart, I know: I’m ready. Andrea I and have spent the last year in prayer, reflection, and conversation about the vows that we are soon to make. It’s time!
You’ve probably heard the vows named: poverty, celibacy, and obedience. But what do these vows mean, especially in today’s world? If you’re at all like I was early on in my discernment process, you might wonder why anyone would want to make these vows! My perception of the vows was a sort of black and white list of No’s. You know the sign, “No shirt, no shoes, no service”? I imagined a sign on the convent door: “No money, no sex, no freedom.” Debbie Downer, right?!
Obviously, there is much more to the vows than loss and sacrifice, if women and men have joyfully built their lives upon them through the ages! The theology of the vows has evolved with the time, but a whole-hearted commitment to God has always been at the center. And that loving God to Whom we vow has always been there, calling and accompanying and loving, giving women religious all they need to live out their vocation.
Let me share with you a bit of my understanding of the vows. It is, of course, far from complete, but it will give you some idea of what is in my heart when I say "yes" this weekend.
The vow of poverty expresses itself externally in that we sisters share all things in common with our congregation. We don’t own property or have personal bank accounts at our disposal. Any salaries earned go directly to central checking, and each local house community makes a budget for what they need from the “common purse.” However, this vow is about much more than money. Through our vow, we try to create a community in which everyone has what they need. We attempt to model a system based on collaboration, sharing, and generosity instead of the prevalent culture of consumerism, greed, and getting ahead.
Beyond our community, we vow to work for the common good of all and to align our worldview with those people living in economic poverty. We try to “live simply in a complex world,” interiorly and exteriorly. Perhaps even more profoundly, this vow calls us to single-heartedness with God as our focus and purpose. We vow to recognize our own poverty and weakness and our need for dependence on God and one another. We vow to be deeply grateful for all that God has blessed us with, knowing that all is truly gift.
The vow of celibacy, of course, involves that we choose not to live life with a romantic partner but instead in community with our sisters and associates. I rejoiced when doing reading about this vow through the year that the word “love” was mentioned so often! Rather than being a vow that cuts us off from love, it calls us to love widely, embracing the whole human family and all of creation! The vow of celibacy frees me to respond to the needs of the world. The vow of celibacy means that we sisters aim to be in healthy, loving relationship in community, ministry, and personal lives. We treasure friendship! We treasure being members of our religious congregation and the whole world community of women religious!
The vow of celibacy says that our hearts are oriented to God above all else and to the whole human family and Earth through God. Because my primary focus is not on a spouse or family, I vow to focus my energy in a unique way to be an instrument of justice and peace in society. Although not sexually active, celibate people are called to give life and love in many ways! Sisters are some of the most creative and generative people I know, channeling their sexuality into building the kingdom of God and giving of themselves generously. In the words of Simone Campbell, I vow “radical availability” when I vow celibacy.
And last but not least, we vow obedience. Our dear sisters gone before lived a very different model of obedience than that which has emerged since the Second Vatican Council. Obedience in the past meant following the orders of the “higher-ups.” Sisters would receive what was called a mission slip telling them where they would be going to do ministry (sometimes to do something they absolutely did not want to do) and when they would leave to go (sometimes the very next day!). The way we live it has changed, but at the heart, obedience is still about vowing to do God’s will, personally and communally. It is a commitment to listen deeply to God’s voice, in our hearts, in our sisters, and in the whole world! Personally, when discerning ministry, it is now a much more mutual process. Instead of being told what to do, a Sister discerns God’s call with the help of peers, mentors, and a membership of the Leadership Council.
The vow of obedience, however, goes far beyond individual ministry decisions. As a congregation of women who vow obedience, we promise to listen together as best we can to make decisions, choose our direction, and be a presence of Love. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the central mandate of our lives. We vow to follow Christ and try to do as he would do in the current times. We vow a life of faithful discernment and of saying “yes!”
I am humbled and proud when I think about the women who have made these vows through the years. What courage, what commitment, what love they have brought to the world! These vows are indeed the way I want to give my heart and my life. I am grateful for your prayers as I profess them on Saturday.
If you have any more questions, please feel free to let me know! And if you’d like to read more of my and Andrea’s thoughts on the vows (some of these same thoughts fleshed out in different ways), check out these 3 articles: