So far this semester my Wednesday ICN and my Thursday morning class have both been focused primarily on the vows. The last couple of weeks the particular focus has been on chastity, or what many of the books we have read are calling "consecrated celibacy." Like most parts of this process I had a basic understanding of the vows as I began formation a little over three years ago. As I continue, however, that understanding continues to expand. Each author, presenter, director, novice that speaks to the vow adds more questions with his or her insights:
What would I title the vow traditionally named chastity? Why?
Is chastity/consecrated celibacy a gift or something that comes with the rest of the package we call religious life?
What do I think of the statement, "I am celibate because Jesus was celibate?"
Men and women in religious traditions outside of Catholicism choose a celibate lifestyle for religious purposes. What does that say about celibacy?
(With Sandra Schneider's books, Ronald Rolheiser's presentation, some very articulate novice friends, and all of community that readily shares, one might imagine the myriad of other questions that could be inserted here...)
From the time I first began looking at religious life until the time I made the decision to join, I worked on articulating the reasons why I would choose religious life as opposed to marriage or some other vocation. I can't say that chastity, obedience, and poverty were explicitly spelled out in my short list. As I look at those reasons, however, I can say that each of the reasons would fall under one or more of the vows.
I don't even know that I could articulate a "short list" today. The reasons I give for wanting to be a Sister of St. Joseph are slightly different every time I share; each reason taking the prime focus at one time or another. Right now I am more mindful of the lavishness of the gifts I have been given than the impossibly unanswerable questions. Not a bad place to be. But, keep asking the questions, I say.