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Looking beyond the vows

18 Dec 2017, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Augustinians

Both the male and female religious in the Catholic Church are known to live a vowed life; they vow to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. A vow, by its very nature, binds us to something, and in the case of the religious, the binding force of a vow is embraced freely without compulsion. The religious make this personal decision to embrace this extraordinary act of worship which is also open to the lay faithful. But it is unfortunate that sometimes, both the religious and the lay faithful fail to look beyond the vows.

The binding force of the religious vows is not negative; it does not tie the religious down but liberates him or her for God’s service. If we don’t look beyond the vows to talk more of the evangelical counsels, then the very vows we make to liberate us for the service of God may tie us down.

We hardly talk about the evangelical counsels today but the vows. You may be wondering, are they different? What is the difference between the religious vows and the evangelical counsels? They are actually not different, yet they are not the same. We try to live the evangelical counsels through the vows, for the vows are not ends in themselves, but a means to an end.

In Genesis 28:20-22, Jacob made a vow to God, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. Of all that thou givest me, I will give the tenth to thee.

When you look at this vow Jacob made and many other vows made in the scriptures, you will discover that the vows are not the main thing; those who made the vows looked beyond the vows they made. All Jacob wanted was the assurance of God’s protection as he traveled, and he sorts that assurance by vow. He looked beyond the vow to seek divine assurance and protection. When the mother of Prophet Samuel vowed to dedicate her child to God if God blesses her with a child, she was not looking for a vow but a child; she looked beyond the vow to look forward to a child. In the same way, the religious look beyond the vows to the practice of the evangelical counsels.

Often we believe that there are just three evangelical counsels: the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but are they just three? By the way, what do we mean by evangelical counsels?

The words evangelical, evangelist, evangelism, evangelize, and evangelistic are all of the same family; it’s just English. They all have to do with the attempt to convince and convert sinners to Christ. Counsel, on the other hand, is advice. So, evangelical counsels are pieces of advice given to evangelists. If this is true, then the evangelical counsels cannot just be three because Jesus gave so many counsels in the bible. This point is not to disregard the three traditional evangelical counsels but to draw attention to their embracing nature.

As Christians and religious, we are called to look beyond the vows to focus on evangelical counsels.