Consecrated Religious Life
“Beauty on the outside never gets into the soul, but beauty of the soul reflects itself on the face.”
–Bishop Fulton Sheen
Consecrated life (often called religious life) is a permanent state of life recognized by the Church. It is a vocation born from both scripture and tradition, following the guidance of Our Lord:
I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.
(1 Corinthians 7: 32-34, New American Bible, Revised Edition)
To live "without distraction" requires a structural difference in the way one's life is ordered. Over the centuries, religious communities have provided the body of Christ many beautiful examples of this structural difference, ordering life around God's perfect love rather than the world's material demands. This structure is patterned after Jesus' life, and we refer to it as the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.
As there are three great hindrances to the higher life, so also the counsels are three, one to oppose each. The love of riches is opposed by the counsel of poverty; the pleasures of the flesh, even the lawful pleasures of holy matrimony, are excluded by the counsel of chastity; while the desire for worldly power and honour is met by the counsel of holy obedience.
(Arthur Barnes, The Catholic Encyclopedia)
To consecrate something means to set it aside or devote it to a holy purpose. Members of religious communities enter freely in response to Jesus’ call to live for God alone. When a man or woman decides to accept Christ’s invitation to leave everything and follow Him in a more radical way, they make vows to live like Jesus, in poverty, chastity, and obedience. They participate in a ceremony in which they make this commitment, much like a married couple exchanges their vows on their wedding day. They promise Christ that they will live the rest of their lives dedicated exclusively to Him. These vows help them to live simply, to be more fully given to God, and to depend totally on Him.
Incidentally, we will all be living the evangelical counsels in heaven, so why wait?
Consecrated life is a witness to holiness. Religious priests, brothers, and sisters show — by their lives of prayer and service — that it is possible to live life entirely devoted to Christian charity. They witness to the joy and peace that come with self-giving.
Vocation Story: Sr. Maria Regina Immaculata, Sisters of Life
There are many types of consecrated life. Each Religious Institute receives a special charism from God. That specific charism enables the community to serve the common good and build up the Church.
Some communities are dedicated to action and service, and their members perform the corporal or spiritual works of mercy. Religious communities run schools, universities, hospitals, hospices, orphanages, personal-care homes, and other charitable institutions.
Other communities are dedicated mostly to contemplation and prayer. These communities usually keep some degree of separation from secular society. Members often live in monasteries, convents, or other types of enclosure.
People often associate religious life with giving up everything. While it is true that sacrifices are involved in any life of permanent commitment, Jesus assures us that foregoing a worldly life is in fact a benefit to us (see Bible excerpt above). For one profile of a religious
Sometimes people think religious life is mostly about giving things up.
But there is much to be gained when your true vocation
is to be a sister, brother, or priest.
"Will what God wills and your joy no man shall take from you."
-Bishop Fulton Sheen
“The habit is an icon of a radical commitment to a generation that thinks visually
and needs visual icons.”
-Sr. Patricia Wittberg, Sisters of Charity