I’ve always admired people who become priests and nuns. I’d think to myself, “Woah – they dedicated their lives to God. I could never do that!” I always assumed that the religious were operating on a whole new level of holiness – awesome, but not really applicable to “normal” people like us.
But yesterday’s session with Pre-Novice Fiona Yeo totally challenged that assumption for me.
I first knew Fiona from catechism class when we were kids. So when I found out that she was discerning the religious life, I was floored: It’s just so cool that more and more young people today are considering joining the religious.
Fiona works with the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (also known as the Good Shepherd Sisters), whose mission is the healing and reconciliation of marginalized women and children, such as survivors of domestic violence and exploitation, single mothers, and children in disadvantaged houses
We talked about her discernment journey, her challenges, and her joyful experience of serving God. She also delved deeper into her lived experience of the 3 religious vows: obedience, chastity and poverty (there’s also a fourth vow “zeal” which the Good Shepherd Sisters take but I didn’t cover in this post – maybe another time!).
But it was interesting because even though these vows are mainly taken by the religious, they’re applicable to each and every one of us! Let me explain:
A Vow of Obedience
At first glance, obedience seems like a very traditional – almost militant – vow. It doesn’t sit well with us millennials (yes, most of us in Seven Graces are still considered “millennials”), who are used to questioning, arguing and challenging the status quo.
I remember in the Army, “obedience” meant eating the food that was available, sleeping when they told me to, and dressing in the uniform they gave me. How does that apply in our everyday lives?
First, let’s remember that while we answer to many authority figures, our ultimate “Boss” is Our Father in Heaven! Being a Christian isn’t easy – we may be called to do things that are uncomfortable or even painful for the glory of His name.
For example, are we prepared to give up our dreams of a carefree life to take care of a family member? We we prepared to sacrifice our “freedom” to join the religious? Are we prepared to humble ourselves to give a voice to those who don’t have one?
These decisions are tough especially in a society that is so focused on the individual. But when we give up all our selfish notions, trust in God and submit to His will, we can experience what Archbishop William Goh calls “true freedom”.
Fiona shared how she used to be very restless. She could never have imagined staying in one place for an extended period of time – let alone a convent! But when she submitted her will to God, she felt happy, centred and totally at peace.
Because she obeyed the Lord, she experienced the true freedom of being happy wherever the Lord leads her, without the need to run around all the time.
A Vow of Chastity
Chastity seems like it would be something irrelevant to many of us – doesn’t it just mean “no sex”? And surely it’ll be much easier if you’re in an environment with no temptations!
But no, chastity applies to ALL of us. For example, couples in committed relationships are called to be faithful to each other. Singles are also called make vows to a certain state of life – for example, a vow of faithfulness to God, to nonviolence, or to celibacy.
In religious life, the vow of chastity is really a vow to live without an exclusive or sexual love relationship with another being. The religious take this vow so that no relationship would distract from the strongest possible love of God and their neighbour. As 1 Cor 7:34-35 says:
An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
In this context, the Good Shepherd Sisters vow to have an expansive love: It means not excluding anyone from their love. For example, the sisters are called to love not only the people they minister to, but also members of their community, their staff, and the world at large.
A Vow of Poverty
Finally, all of us are called to a vow of poverty. But does that mean selling off all our possessions to live in a cardboard box?
No, not necessarily! Poverty in today’s context refers to a detachment from material things.
Living in a society which focuses on status, wealth and power, it’s easy to fall into the Trap of More: More money, more fame, and more “stuff”.
But as Christians, we are called to be detached from these superficial treasures a so that we can focus on the mission that God calls us to: To minister to His people.
And it’s not just about being detached from material goods – it’s also about being generous with our time and energy. When we get home from an exhausting day at work, all we want to do is collapse onto the couch, watch some TV, and have some “me” time.
But when your kid pines for your attention, when your community member wants to share her day with you, when your mother calls to check in with you, will you give them your energy? Will you give them your love?
Pray for More Vocations!
All in all, it was a beautiful and insightful session. It taught me that the religious are not superhumans who do extraordinary things, but ordinary people who are living lives according to principles that ALL of us can emulate.
More young people are realising this and considering the religious life, so let’s pray the more will answer God’s call and build His kingdom!
Image credit: Here