Sunday, June 29, 2008


The brothers have returned from the retreat, spiritually rejuvenated and physically rested. It was quite an experience, and every year it is an adjustment, to take some time -- roughly 6 days -- to isolate oneself from then hustle and bustle of the city. As religious, we are called to be separate from the world, yet, with all things, the world does come in and is a distraction to the daily living of the religious life. We, yearly, take some days to draw closer to God and return to the fundamentals of what it means to be a religious friar.

This year our Retreat Master was a Jesuit Father--Fr. Patrick T. Brannen, SJ. His talk was preeminently on the Evangelical Counsels -- Chastity, Poverty, Obedience. Uniquely, though, his conferences dealt with the "Dangers of the Vows"--yes, that is right... the 'DANGERS' of the vows. When I first heard that I though, WHAT??!?!!??!?! The vows are dangerous; what can be so detrimental to the Vows: vows which have been professed by countless religious and saints in the history of the Church. They're dangerous? 'no, Father', i thought. But as the conferences progressed over the course of the retreat and, after Fr. Brannen had given us an article written by a fellow Jesuit--Fr. J. Courtney Murray, SJ--the 'danger' of the vows became quite clear.

The vows are solemn promises made to God to be drawn closer to Him in a radical living out of the eschaton in the present age. Our lives, as religious, by our vows, are to be incarnations of the heavenly life, while hear on earth. We are to give witness to the faithful of their end, aim, purpose -- happiness with God in the BEatific Vision. What noble thoughts? What a brilliant and humbling mission. You may ask, 'brother, this is all nice.... but how can the vows be dangerous?'.

The Church, in Her wisdom, calls for those who are in religious formation to be of a certain age before making profession of vows. Some would see this as simply a practical and civil matter of legality. But then we may also, perhaps, read that the Church calls for a certain maturity, a certain state of intellectual growth to be already present before one progresses further in the state of religion. Despite a certain level of maturity to be expected upon religious profession, the living of those vows--chastity, poverty, obedience--demands maturity. Take the vow of poverty...

Poverty is a renunciation of personal ownership and the right of disposition of material for the sake of the kingdom of God. Some religious who profess consecrated poverty lack the mautiry necessary to grow in responsible use of goods. Poverty demands a dependence upon the Divine Providence of God and the community. This dependence can then lead one to become childish in the ways of material goods -- irresponsible, clingy, needy, immature.

The article goes through each of the vows. Unfortunately, Murray did not finish the article and did not give solutions to the problems. In fact, he never wanted the paper published; it was done so posthumously. Perhaps, though, we can think of solutions to these problems, these dangers of the vows.

Many, I think, take an overly external approach to the Evangelical Counsels and neglect the internal aspect that is necessary in the faithful living out of the vows. Then, again, others emphasize the interiorization of the vow to the detriment of the vow-as-sign to the world. In this latter case, we see the evidence of religious exercising 'poverty' by living in their own apartments, driving the newest car, wearing the newest fashions -- all to be "with" the people. The key, the balance, is to have both -- interior and exterior. Though, the interiorization of the vow is first, since we cannot authentically live the vow unless we first have the spirit.
In Domino
A Mercedarian Friar

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