Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Evangelical Counsels in their Positive Form

 We are finite creatures with finite minds. We are only capable of understanding things in a human way until our minds have been transformed to possess and think with the Mind of Christ. Indeed this transformation is ongoing, and St. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Ephesians: “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:23). Even the evangelical counsels accommodate themselves to our human mode of thinking; for the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, are spoken of in the negative sense, because otherwise we would be likely to misinterpret what they truly mean. 

Allegory of Poverty (detail) by Giotto di Bondone

What then is the vow of poverty? It involves detachment from all goods, both interior and exterior, spiritual and temporal; and it consists of a lowly disposition that is empty of self and thus rightly ‘poor in spirit’. He who makes this vow renounces the ordinary means of obtaining and sustaining a livelihood, and relies on Divine Providence. But understood in the positive sense, what is the vow of poverty? It is the vow of celestial luxury and wealth; for what are we really forsaking when we let go of our attachment and possession of temporal and spiritual goods? We are letting go of nothingness. But what is it that we are embracing through the vow of poverty? God Himself, He who like the Levites of old, is our inheritance. So it is that by making the vow of poverty, we are really making the vow of celestial luxury and wealth; for though poor we are rich –filthy rich- in Christ.

Allegory of chastity by Hans Memling

What then is the vow of chastity? It involves abstaining from a sexual relationship as enjoyed by those in the marital state; and involves living a life solely dedicated to the service of God and ones neighbour in accordance with the active or contemplative state. Yet in its positive form, what is the vow of chastity? It is the vow of pure intimacy, since in making and living out the vow of chastity one is free to pursue a most profoundly intimate relationship with God by being His spouse. Such freedom of intimacy with God enables one to be chastely intimate with all the members of Christ’s Body, since in Spirit one is called to be a mother, a brother, a father, a sister and friend to all: both in active ministry and in prayer. Thus although one forgoes the opportunity to be a spouse, and to be a father or a mother of many children in the flesh; through the vow of chastity –the vow of pure intimacy- one becomes a spouse to the Beloved, and a beloved to the Spouse; whilst becoming a spiritual father and mother to the souls of countless individuals, whom one’s prayers and counsels -by the power of the Holy Spirit- have birthed, nourished and instructed. So what does one loose by making such a vow? Nothingness in comparison to that which one gains, a gain perceived only through faith.

Allegory of Obedience by Giotto di Bondone

What then is the vow obedience? It involves the surrender of one’s will and the freedom to do as one pleases, so as to follow the Will of God as manifested in and through the Church, one’s superior, one’s rule of life, one’s community, and one’s charism. Yet what is the vow of obedience in its positive form? It is the vow of freedom, total and complete freedom, for through living out this vow one perpetually enacts the greatest act of freedom: that of laying down one’s life due to one’s happy and willing consent, due to one’s ‘fiat’. This is exactly what Christ Himself did, for “he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8) and this He did with total freedom, a freedom beyond our comprehension. For as our Lord said concerning the laying down of His life, and words which those who take the vow of obedience make their own: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (Jn 10:18). But how can one be free when they cannot do what they want? But that is the key; for although the one who makes the vow of obedience may desire on one level to do something they’re unable to, their deepest and firmest desire –a desire which endures- is to do and abide in the Will of God; for this is the desire of he who truly takes the vow of obedience from his heart. Thus in paraphrasing the words of Augustine, such a man does what he pleases whilst fulfilling the Will of God: that Will which is Love and Mercy itself. Indeed how glad it makes the soul to know she is doing the Will of God, and this joy is guaranteed so long as she remains faithful to her vow of obedience. It is true that all of those who would be saved, must pass through the narrow door of obedience; yet those who make the vow of obedience pass through an even narrower door; and this is pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, for this is the way He took, and is the way of the Holy Family. So what is it that one loses through making this vow? One loses the false-freedom of following the whim of one’s own will in selfishness, and gains the true-freedom that comes from following the whim of one’s own will in loving God and the Divine Will.

So what lives ought we to be living if we are living the evangelical counsels? Lives of poverty, chastity and obedience, this is true. But this is spiritually to say the same thing as living lives of luxury, pure intimacy and freedom. Let us be faithful then to our vows, and let us keep in mind their true and hidden meaning: their positive and eternal meaning.

© Little Eucharistic Brothers of Divine Will, 2015. Permission granted to use, copy and distribute in any format for non-commercial, educational and spiritual use.

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