Very often we hear people say, “That’s good for you guys, because you’re in vows; but the rest of us are not.” This comes from practicing Catholics. I believe that people who make such a comment do not understand the temporal purpose of the vowed life.
The vowed life is for the benefit of the person who makes the vows, but also for the benefit of the whole body, the Church. Married couples also make vows. Imagine what would happen if people of faith adopted the belief that the marriage vows are for the benefit and responsibility of the couple, but have no bearing on the rest of Christ’s Mystical Body. Marriage would make no sense.
A vowed life, whether one vows to observe chastity, poverty and obedience or one vows to be faithful to one’s spouse until death, in good times and in hard times, is not a private relationship between the person who makes the vow, the people in his life and God. God does not call people into private relationships with him to the exclusion of everyone else. Even hermits, such as the Carthusians, embrace the cross in silence and solitude for the benefit of the Church as well as their benefit.
The vows of consecrated life (chastity, poverty and obedience) have a transcendent quality to them. The individual making the vows renounces everything that the world has to offer in order to live more perfectly the vows made at Baptism. He or she does not promise to do something different from the rest of the baptized. He promises to do the same, but more perfectly or as close to perfection as is possible for him. In doing so he becomes a sign of life in the Kingdom of God.
This leads us into the temporal quality of the consecrated life. God chooses to place consecrated men and women in the middle of His people for the benefit of the Church. Through their life of prayer, sacrifice, service and love, God’s grace pours into the world. God is willing to do cartwheels to save us. He gives us the Scriptures. He gives us Himself through the Incarnation and the Eucharist. He shares His life with us through the sacraments. And he places many other sources of grace in the middle of the marketplace for the salvation of his people.
If one assumes that the life and works of the man or woman in vows or the married couple does not affect us or commit us in any way, then one is ignoring and possibly rejecting the grace that God wishes to share with us through these states in life.
We need not be married to learn to love without holding anything back. Everyone is called to love without restrictions on his love.
The married couple is God’s sign of such love. We can’t simply turn away and say, “Love without reservation is for you, because you’re married.”
We need not to vow chastity, poverty and obedience to learn how to think and act with a pure heart, how to let go of the many things, people and places that redirect our attention away from God and we don’t need to be in vows to be bound to obey God as he reveals His will to us through Sacred Scripture, Jesus Christ and the Church.
This last one is key, obedience. Obedience to what God asks of us at any given moment is not for a select few. Those bound by a vow of obedience are to be the models of submission to the will of God, not the only people bound to submit to God’s will.
Maybe one of the reasons why vocations to the consecrated life are down and the reason that some consecrated persons are lukewarm in the way they live out the vows, is because we have separated the vowed state in life from the secular man and woman. When we separate the Evangelical Counsels from the secular sphere, what counsels are left to guide the secular man and woman to fulfill his or her baptismal promises? Chastity, poverty and obedience are the yard-lines that lead to the final goal, the perfection of charity.
How does one know how close or how far he is from the goal without the yard-lines?
When the vows of chastity, poverty obedience and the
vows of marriage are lived as they should be lived, they become a torch that is a sign of God’s light in what sometimes seems like a dark and scary world.