Of Monastic Vows

23Aug04

The Benedictine Sisters of Yankton

Obedience – a promise to listen attentively and to respond eagerly to the will of God as revealed in Scripture, the Rule of Benedict, the prioress, the community, the events of human history, the call of the Church, the cry of the oppressed, and in herself.

Stability – a promise to be faithful to one’s search for God together; a promise to seek God in the monastery of one’s profession until death and to witness to the unchanging faithfulness of God.

Fidelity to the monastic way of life – a promise to seek God by embracing the pattern of cenobitic living inspired by the Rule of Benedict; a commitment to the ongoing conversion essential to the Christian way of life as it unfolds according to the charism of Sacred Heart Monastery.

Abbey of St. Walburga

We make three vows: obedience, stability, and fidelity to the monastic way of life.

By the vow of obedience, we commit ourselves to strive to live the obedience of Jesus, who, says the Letter to the Philippians, remained obedient even unto death, death on the cross (see Philippians 2:5-11). Obedience is surrender ot the self to God in love, but its concrete expression is obedience to the abbess, to those who are senior to us in community, and to the community as a whole. St. Benedict teaches us to obey promptly, cheerfully and wholeheartedly, without grumbling, lest self-protection rather than self-surrender consume the creative energy God has given us to become mature, free, responsible persons.

By the vow of stability, we commit ourselves to remain in the monastery of our profession until death. Normally, we expect to live and die in the community of our profession, though there might be occasional exceptions, such as nuns being sent out to found a new house under the auspices of their home monastery. We also expect to spend most of our time within the enclosure of the monastery. The purpose of this stability is to refuse all escapes from the rigorous work of conversion we have undertaken.

By the vow of fidelity to the monastic way of life, or conversatio morum, to use the original, untranslatable Latin phrase of the Rule of St. Benedict, we commit ourselves to a lifelong pilgrimage toward that perfect love of God and neighbor which Christ urges on us in the gospel. We undertake to grow and change as God shapes us through all the dimensions of our way of life. All Christians accept this commitment to conversion in baptism; Benedictines choose to live out that commitment within the specific framework of monasticism. Fidelity to the monastic life includes poverty, interpreted in the Rule as frugality and the renunciation of any form of private ownership of goods, and celibate chastity.

St. Andrew’s Abbey Vayermo

THE ABBOT: What do you seek?

THE CANDIDATES: The mercy of God, and membership in your community.

THE ABBOT: May God grant you fellowship with us and with His saints. Amen. In the name of the Lord, arise.

(The Petition, from the Rite of Reception Into the Novitiate)

Taize

Brother, remembering that it is Christ who calls you and that it is to him that you are now going to respond.

Will you, for love of Christ, consecrate yourself to him with all your being?

I will.

Will you henceforth fulfil your service of God within our community, in communion with your brothers?

I will.

——————————-

The above quotes and copy-n-pastes are from various monasteries and communities. So, without taking sufficient time for background (refer to this post below), I want to offer some thoughts….

I see a need for a Core of people within VC who respond to the call of God on their life and enter into a covenant relationship with the God and the community. This would be something of an Order – similar to Religious Orders of Monastics. In some sense it is like The Order of Mission @ St Thomas’ Church, Sheffield, though this would be local. It certainly be misisonal, communal, and small.

But how to create such a thing? Is this an unhealthy retreat from ________? Does this form an exclusive club that is anti-Kingdom? Is this a matter of control and boundaries for safety? What should characterize such an Order? Who is this for? What does it do? What vows should one take? Why should there be vows? Isn’t this just like church membership?

Hum…. lots of questions. I do not intend to answer all (or maybe any) at this point…. but some thoughts to that end.

One of the consistencies in the communities I looked at were three (3) vows:

Obedience

Stability

Fidelity

These are important me thinks. We should not overlook these. What could these mean in our context?

Obedience – to the person of Christ first and foremost. What is God calling the person too? But this is not an individualized obedience. It is follower-ship of Christ in the context of the community – because this is the only place follower-ship can happen – in a community of faith. And because one makes vows to this particular community then any life-altering decisions get processed with the community. This is essentially accountability from brothers and sisters for the sake of the Kingdom. So, in that way it is (or may look like) obedience to the community. Not because you give up your individual responsibility or identity, but becasue you admit that “I can’t be a disciple on my own – I need you (community) to help me”. In this way it is mutual submission to one another under the Lordship of Christ for the sake of Missio Dei (God’s mission).

Stability – there is sacredness to place and space. Perhaps a better word for our time would be “Simplicity”. Either way this is important in our world of bigger, better, higher, faster. The still small voice comes in stillness and smallness – as silly as that sounds, I believe it has been missed by American Christians. We would committ to intentional structure our lives – individually, as families, and as a community – to dance to a life-giving rhythm of the Spirit. So, while for many this will mean planting and growing deep roots in a neighborhood for a lifetime, for others it may mean seasons in different places. These “seasons-changes” are not arbitrary or birthed out of a desire for “the next new thing” or “keeping up with the Joneses” – but rather a response to the Spirit’s movement as discerned by both the person, their family, and the Order. In all cases, the person seeks to live a simple life – free from the illusions of money, “success”, and power.

Fidelity – faithfulness to Christ, family, community, neighbor, and the stranger. It seems that some reduce the Gospel to personal relationship with Jesus (period, end of story). We would vow that this is not an option. Our Chrisitan discipleship permeates all of life, nothing is out of bounds. So our faithfulness to the Triune God bleeds over (and fills up) our faithfulness to our family, the Order, and those in need. We do not isolate ourselves. We acknowledge the pain and brokenness in ourselves, one another, and the world and we respond in Grace. We take on the position of Solidarity and Communion – our very lives become Sacramental as we are instruments of God’s Grace breaking in.

Hum… this needs more work, but hopefully it helps nudge us forward a fraction.

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