Some Christians feel that they have been called to dedicate their entire lives to God and that they should follow the Gospel by adapting to a religious life by becoming a member of a religious community. The two types of orders are contemplative and apostolic and they both involve prayer and work, but are done in different ways.
Members of a contemplative order are enclosed and stay within their community they have joined. Members of an apostolic order work closely with the public through care, education and advice. Members of both religious orders are consecrated by God by three vows, known as the evangelical counsels.
They are vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.People first began to join religious communities during the first three centuries, when Christians were being persecuted by the Romans. They needed to have some faith that God existed and that he would save them from the Romans, but to become a faithful Christian meant being willing to become a martyr and this required a high level of dedication to the Gospel. When Christianity came into favour and the persecutions stopped, many Christians wanted to restore the same level of dedication, so they went and lived in the desert as hermits. They then joined together in communities and this marked the beginning of the monastic life.The first evangelical counsel is the vow of poverty. Christians respond to Jesus’ advice contained in the Gospels and give up their earthly possessions in order to have treasure in heaven. They do this to show complete trust in God and it enables them to live their lives in the service of others, just as Jesus did.
Being poor themselves helps them to understand the Poor’s needs, in a way the rich will never appreciate. In Mark 10: 17-22, a rich man comes up and kneels in front of Jesus and asks him what he must do to achieve eternal life.He claims he has kept the 10 commandments since he was born but wonders what else he must do. Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, as he will have treasures in heaven.
His face falls at these words and he goes away looking rather sad. From this story we see that, ‘Poverty isn’t about having no money. It is to increase our faith and therefore dependence of Christ.’ Sister Judith. The rich man is clearly not ready to do this and therefore cannot get close to Christ because he has other things, such as his money to worry about.The second evangelical counsel is the vow of chastity. Christians give up sexual relations in order to follow Jesus and give complete dedication to the Gospel; mainly nuns and priests do this. ‘It is a way of saying to God that I give the whole of myself, and I’ll try to respond to whatever you ask me to do.
..I’m free to do that, whereas if I was attached to one person, I wouldn’t have the same freedom to respond to God’s calling.’ Sister Julie.
When you are committed to God, you can’t have distractions such as relationships and money because this side tracks you away from God and towards unnecessary distractions. You must be clear that your entire life is to God and his teachings and not to anyone or anything else.The third evangelical counsel is the vow of obedience. Christians believe that Jesus died because it was in perfect obedience of God’s will. His death and resurrection is our source of salvation. It would not have been necessary but for human disobedience of God which is sin.
Obedience to God includes obedience to human authority because all authority comes from God. Only dedicated Christians manage to submit to their pride, while others find this very difficult because of their pride. Within a religious group, the vow of obedience allows the community to be united in service of God and other people.
‘Obedience comes from a Latin word meaning to listen. To listen you have to be obedient to circumstances as well as people. And God comes to you in circumstances and people, so in doing that you are listening to God too.’ Sister Judith. ‘I see obedience as being about listening and being open to God and to your community and being prepared to be responsive to what you hear.’ Sister Rachael.
When you are being obedient in circumstances as well as people, it helps you to be united as a community and more importantly to God.Each of the three vows transforms us to increase our dependence of Christ.