Thursday, 7 May 2015

Evangelical Counsels: An Introduction and Reflection

The following is a brief introduction to the Evangelical Counsels, with the definition drawn from an excerpt of 'The Catholic Encyclopedia'. The definitions of each of the counsels -poverty, chastity and obedience- are drawn from St. John Paul II's document Vita Consecrata, followed with a variety of relevant excerpts drawn from various sources. The reflection questions following each 'counsel' or 'vow' are mainly relevant for consecrated individuals, but they are also relevant for every believer.

 “Christ in the Gospels laid down certain rules of life and conduct which must be practiced by every one of His followers as the necessary condition for attaining to everlasting life. These precepts of the Gospel practically consist of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, of the Old Law, interpreted in the sense of the New. Besides these precepts which must be observed by all under pain of eternal damnation, He also taught certain principles which He expressly stated were not to be considered as binding upon all, or as necessary conditions without which heaven could not be attained, but rather as counsels for those who desired to do more than the minimum and to aim at Christian perfection, so far as that can be obtained here upon earth. Thus (Matthew 19:16 sq.) when the young man asked Him what he should do to obtain eternal life, Christ bade him to "keep the commandments". That was all that was necessary in the strict sense of the word, and by thus keeping the commands which God had given eternal life could be obtained. But when the young man pressed further, Christ told him: "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor". So again, in the same chapter, He speaks of "eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven", and added, "He that can receive it, let him receive it".”[1]

See the following for more information on the Consecrated Life (CCC 1973-1974, 914-916) along with its various forms of expression (CCC 917 ff.).


Allegory of Poverty, Giotto di Bondone, 1330.

Poverty proclaims that God is man's only real treasure. When poverty is lived according to the example of Christ who, "though he was rich ... became poor" (2 Cor 8:9), it becomes an expression of that total gift of self which the three Divine Persons make to one another. (VC, 21).

“If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.” (Ps 62:10b).

"Poverty is the way to salvation, the nurse of humility, and the root of perfection. Its fruits are hidden, but they multiply themselves infinite ways." (St. Francis of Assisi)

Simplicity and modesty in all things.

St. Faustina concerning the rules of a convent our Lord wanted her to found: I desire that even a poor man would not envy us if he came into our convent or into our cells. (DM).

“Their cell is so filled with the fragrance of poverty, not of garments, and they have no worry that thieves might come to rob them or that rust or moths will spoil their clothes. If something is given to them they would not think of storing it up but share it freely with their fellow religious, never worrying about tomorrow but taking what they need from the present day…”[2]

Reflection: Do I possess more than I need? Am I attached to material goods or comforts? Am I attached to spiritual consolations, to the gifts of God more than to God Himself? What do I need to give up and ‘sell’ in order to respond to the Lord’s call to ‘be perfect’?


Allegory of Chastity, Giotto di Bondone, 1330.

The chastity of celibates and virgins, as a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34), is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity (VC, 21).

“Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34).

“God demands great purity of certain souls, and so He gives them a deeper knowledge of their own misery. Illuminated by light from on high, the soul can better know what pleases God and what does not.” (St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul, 112).

“We must be pure. I do not speak merely of the purity of the senses. We must observe great purity in our will, in our intentions, in all our actions.” (St. Peter Julian Eymard).

“Never talk of impure things or events, not even to deplore them. Look, it's a subject that sticks more than tar. Change the conversation, or if that's not possible, continue, but speaking of the need and beauty of holy purity--a virtue of the men who know what their souls are worth." (St. Josemaria Escriva).

“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.” (Evangelical counsels in their positive form).

Reflection: Am I impure in my words, thoughts or deeds? Do I gaze lustfully at others? Are the intentions of my heart muddled or am I trying to serve two masters –the world and God, myself and God, or creatures and God? Am I attached to certain people in such a way that my heart is divided? Is intimate union with God the sole desire of my heart?


Allegory of Obedience, Giotto di Bondone, 1330.

Obedience, practiced in imitation of Christ, whose food was to do the Father's will (cf. Jn 4:34), shows the liberating beauty of a dependence which is not servile but filial, marked by a deep sense of responsibility and animated by mutual trust, which is a reflection in history of the loving harmony between the three Divine Persons. (VC, 21).

“Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb 13:17).

“But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” (Luke 11:28).

“Obedience is an attitude of a son or daughter. It is that particular kind of listening that only a son or daughter can do in listening to his or her parent, because it is enlightened [i.e. knowledge through faith] by the certainty that the parent has only good things to say and give to him or her. This is a listening, full of the trust, that makes a son or daughter accept the parent’s will, sure that it will be for his or her own good.”[3]

“How ought those walk who would enter into perfect special obedience? By the light of most holy faith, for by this light they will know that they must slay their selfish will…they ought to acquire and preserve in themselves this perfection: to take up generously and readily the order’s key of obedience, the key that unlocks the smaller door in heaven’s gate…they have gone beyond the big key of ordinary obedience that unlock’s heaven’s gate, and have taken up a slender key to pass through the lower narrower door.”[4]

Reflection: Do I sincerely listen to others or do I merely half listen or simply wait until it is my turn to speak? If we fail to listen, we fail in obedience. Do I really seek God’s Will above my own will? Or when I don’t get my own way do I become angry or frustrated? Do I let others triumph in petty disputes, or when I am accused either wrongly or correctly? Or do I defend my ego through argument?

[1] Barnes, Arthur, “Evangelical Counsels,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908, 17 Apr. 2015,
[2] Catherine of Sienna, The Dialogue, 159.
[3] Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, The Service of Authority and Obedience, 5, p.9.
[4] Catherine of Sienna, The Dialogue, 159.

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