Religious make vows which help them to be free to follow Christ with an undivided heart
Just as Jesus remained celibate, open to loving all whom he encountered, religious do not get married or have sexual or exclusive relationships. This helps them to be available to others and to grow in freedom of heart. It also witnesses to the all-sustaining love of God; Pope Benedict XVI describes how celibacy cannot mean “remaining empty in love, but rather must mean allowing oneself to be overcome by a passion for God.”
By their vow of poverty religious promise to share their time, talents and resources, both within their community, and with those who are in need. Like the early Christians who “placed all things in common” (Acts 2:44), any money earned or gift given to a religious belongs to their religious community, which provides them with all that they need to live a simple and modest life-style.
The Gospels frequently describe Jesus seeking solitude to be alone with his heavenly Father. In prayer he received knowledge of the Father’s will and the strength to follow it. By their vow of obedience religious imitate Jesus’ obedience to his Father, believing that God’s will is manifested through their religious superiors. This includes decisions about what ministry or service they will be entrusted with. However, religious obedience is not a one-way relationship of submission but one where each one is called to pray about decisions that need to be made and to share the fruit of this prayer with those who will make the final decisions. Religious obedience requires availability and detachment from purely personal desires.
While all forms of religious life are marked by the public profession of vows which will include poverty, celibacy and obedience (which are named differently in some monastic congregations), some religious also take other vows. These include stability, to remain in the same monastery and vows which mark the particular charism of the religious congregation, such as the Jesuit vow to undertake any mission the Pope requests of them.
The process of entering religious life
In most religious congregations ‘temporary’ vows will be taken at the end of the noviciate (a time of training in religious life). A religious can be in temporary vows for between three and nine years before final or solemn vows are made for life. The long process before life-long vows are made guarantees that both the person making this solemn commitment and the religious congregation receiving them have thoroughly discerned if it is truly God’s will.