What is the Religious Life?
The Second Vatican Council teaches that “from the very beginning of the Church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating Him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in his or her own way leading a life dedicated to God. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, lived as hermits or founded religious families, which the Church gladly welcomed and approved by her authority. So it is that in accordance with the Divine Plan a wonderful variety of religious communities has grown up which has made it easier for the Church not only to be equipped for every good work (cf. 2 Tim 3:17) and ready for the work of the ministry-the building up of the Body of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:12)-but also to appear adorned with the various gifts of her children like a spouse adorned for her husband (cf. Apoc. 21:2) and for the manifold Wisdom of God to be revealed through her (cf. Eph. 3:10)” (Perfectae Caritatis, 1).
Religious men and women live their lives as a witness to a different way of life. A life that both allows them to serve the people of God in an amazing way and to draw others closer to Christ. The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are the signs by which these men and women live their witness and build up the Body of Christ.
Religious Vows – The Evangelical Counsels
When one is consecrated to the religious life, she or he takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows shape the character of the Brother or Sister’s life and allows for the fulfillment of the call that God put on his or her heart.
Religious men and women seek to conform their lives to Christ by renouncing the complexities that come with a materially driven life. They strive for a simple lifestyle to show the world that it is Christ that truly fulfills our lives. This means that Brothers and Sisters do not own anything that is only theirs. Religious are free to share their resources with their community, with the Church, and with those in need. This does not mean that members of Religious Orders are constantly hungry or begging, but rather that they care for each other as a community, and work to support and provide for each other. The resources gained by a member in ministry are shared among the members of the community.
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Matthew 19:21
Celibate chastity is a central part of the religious identity. By choosing not to seek the unique relationship of married life, the Religious are free to dedicate their lives to divine service and works of their ministry. Brothers and Sisters are free to love the Church at large, and can devote themselves fully to whoever is in need. The celibate state also points to our future in the fulfillment of time, when we “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:35). So this “celibacy for the kingdom,” is a powerful way Religious build up the Body of Christ.
“Some… have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” – Matthew 19:12
By the vow of obedience, Religious place themselves at the service of their community. Obedience comes from the Latin ob-“to” + audire-“listen, hear”. To vow obedience means to listen to one’s superiors, who must in turn listen to the needs of the community who has entrusted itself to their leadership. Those who vow obedience do not suffer a loss of dignity, rather they can entrust their wills to the will of the Holy Spirit who moves the life of their community. The vow of obedience then opens their heart to go where needed, and thus serve the Church generously and freely.
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” – I Samuel 3:9
Charisms – The Gifts of a Religious Community
Each community is endowed with special gifts – or charisms – that drive their ministry and enrich the Church. The Holy Spirit guides these charisms so that every need may be met in the Body of Christ. Communities are called to teach, to care for the poor, to care for a certain minority group, to preach, to inspire lapsed Christians, to visit those in prison, to comfort and care for the sick, to work in the medical, legal, business, or political spheres, and to offer a countless number of other particular gifts for the life of the world and the Glory of God.
When you are discerning religious life, it is important to inquire as to the charism of different communities. God has given you particular gifts, and seeing which community charism resonates with your personal charism will illuminate your journey of discernment.
Qualities of a Candidate for the Religious Life
- A love for the Catholic faith
- A personal relationship with God
- A generous desire to help other people
- A desire to be a sign of faith, hope, and love to the world
- A healthy sense of self
- A genuine respect for and ability to work in collaboration with other people and the ability to live and grow in community
- Openness to meeting the needs of God’s people where they are in life
- The courage to take risks
- The desire to stand for the truth and to stand up for the voiceless in a loving way