Vows to lead you through your life
POVERTY - sharing one's life with others
Poverty is a difficult term for the Brothers in Germany to use: they are not forced to struggle with the adversities of life and live on the bare minimum, as refugees or single parents have to. They have the security of belonging to a strong community and being special members of the Church. Under such conditions, how can you honestly speak of leading a life of poverty?
Being poor can mean leading a simple life and being aware of one's responsibility towards others, making sure not to live at the others' expense. These 'others' may just as well be people in need, future generations, or the environment.
Being poor can mean that I share all I have, whatever that is - time, talent, knowledge.…
Being poor can mean embracing my own neediness, helplessness and failings, and accepting those of others too.
In principal, the same applies to the vow of poverty as to the vow of obedience: it rests on one's personal faith in God, the faith that he shall give to me all I need in life through my own hand's labour and through the hands of people.
But above all, it must be emphasised that poverty is not something that is lived for its own sake. The purpose of living in poverty is to lend me the capacity for loving relationships with God and with people by freeing me of the wrongful attachment to material values, to my own abilities and plans, sometimes even to my relationships with people, if these relationships are obstructive to love. However, great care must be taken with this vow: it is not God's will that people should starve, or be homeless, sick or lonely. Our vow of poverty is there to alleviate these unwanted manifestations of poverty.
OBEDIENCE - Obeying the Word of God
The German word for obedience is "Gehorsam". The word for listening is "hoeren" - words that are closely related in German. The biblical understanding of listening means listening carefully to God and to his Word, which I encounter in the Holy Scriptures, but also in people, in living conditions and everyday experiences. By no means does this mean unconditional obedience, nor does this obedience release me from my own personal responsibility. God's calling, after all, does not disengage the person or the person's mind, emotions or will - it engages them. And so I can face God openly and honestly, and this includes the possibility that I may have questions or even disagree. In the end, the courage it takes to obey God rests on my faith that he means well with me, even if God's plans for me oppose the ones I have myself.
This was what Abraham experienced. Relying on God's Word, he left his home country to settle down in the land that God would give to him and his descendants. This was also the hope of the people of Israel when they followed Moses and left Egypt to cross the desert and settle in the Promised Land. The full meaning of obedience in the Christian sense is ultimately visible in Jesus Christ. In his faith in God, he proclaimed the Good News and finally took death on the cross on himself for the sake of mankind.
CHASTITY for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven -
giving myself to God for love
The Chastity practised by members of ecclesiastic congregations is more than just living in a community of bachelors. The added words "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" indicate that this vow is another one that can only be understood by taking God into your perspective. More precisely: chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven is something you can only understand through Jesus and through having a relationship with him. It means opening up to the love of God like Jesus did, devoting myself to this love so fully that it will carry me through all my life. To follow this path, it is essential that I am called to do so by Jesus.
But what is the attitude of mind that chastity? The best way of describing this is perhaps the slightly old-fashioned term "chasteness". A person who is chaste will have respect and veneration for everything that is created. Being chaste is a way of living one's manhood or womanhood and being open to God's love at the same time, of becoming a truly loving person oneself. Because I experience what it feels like to be loved, I am prepared to open myself to others and give myself to them. Married and unmarried persons alike are called to this kind of chastity.
The purpose of living a life of chastity is to liberate myself from my self-focus so that God can act through me - which does not mean that I should limit my own feelings and senses. Nor does chasteness (or chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven) devalue the body or sexuality in any way. If it is lived in the proper way, it soon proves to be an essential part of every successful loving relationship among people.
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