October 8, 2017
Consistently with the ‘grace alone, not works’ slogan, Martin Luther and the rest of the Reformers denied any value to vows. To them, vows were no more than attempts to win favor with God or to buy him off for some reason or other—and God was just not in that market!Thus, religious vows and marital vows alike became irrelevant to a good Protestant’s spirituality. Stubborn as always, however, Catholicism and catholic spirituality held on to both kinds of vows as of major importance for those who want a spirituality that includes real life.
We mentioned, last time, the monastic vows of stability, conversion and obedience. They have exactly the same effect as do the marital vows:the keep you in place, no matter how much you have to change, and regaardless of what you might prefer to do left to your own devices. The difference between a monk and a married person is only the size of the community joined and created by the taking of vows.
This brings us to the topic, critical in all Catholic spirituality, of vocation — of God’s decision about where and how he will meet the individual Christian who seeks a closer and deeper encounter with him.
Vocation, of course, is not a lightning bolt out of the blue.Our gifts, our needs, our willingness to be led, all, will bring us, almost willy nilly to decide on our ‘state in life’. But this decision is raised to a new level of importance when it also includes the decider’s relationship with God (the horizon, the absolute behind the contingent, etc.). Here, as in the issue of morality, the conscious attention to God’s presence and activity will force the deciders to consider the impact of their relationship together on their relationship with God and the impact of God on their relationship. In a monastic setting, this decision is arrived at after a long period of probation and ‘novitiate’; in the case of marriage, after a time of courtship and engagement.
Some writer or other once ventured that only a fool would make a vow — would limit his freedom to act in advance of the necessity of his acting. In an age in which the romantic fallacy — lover conquers all — has made the wisdom of arranged marriages seem stupid, people anguish over whether they are making the right choice. When that choice includes God, it must
necessarily be right. When it does not include God it will only be wise or foolish, self-gratifying or suicidal.
Vows should be made, then, only in the context of one’s spirituality.Life decisions that demand fidelity, sacrifice and trust, had better include the all-faithful, generous and reliable God; they cannot be lived apart from the Absolute who makes all my stabs at absolutes effective.
Some people will decide — like me — before God that they will live celibate lives — lives without mutually committed partners. It is wrong to think that celibacy is only about sex or children. There are children with only one functioning parent and married folk who have no children. The real vocational question is about whether and what kind of community one will live in.
Really and truly and celibately yours,