Vocation & Vows – by the Rt. Revd. Dominic Walker
Bishop Dominic has contributed this very useful reflection on which his introduction to the network day was based: He writes: “I am always struck by the words of Jesus: ‘You did not choose me, I chose you’. Vocation has many different aspects and I sometimes wonder if we say ‘yes’ to God, or if we simply stop saying ‘no’. Everyone who has embraced the Single Consecrated Life will have had a spiritual journey which will have led them to the point when they feel that they are chosen by God to be vowed to him in consecrated celibacy and after a period of discovery and testing, the Church ratifies that call and state of life.
Some embrace the Single Consecrated Life as a single person; some after marriage. Some have been novices or members of traditional Religious Communities and other have not.
Each brings with them their own experience of being a dedicated Christian seeking to respond to God’s call in the world.
Some will choose to live a contemplative or even hermit way of life; others rejoice in an active apostolic ministry. For some, this way of life is a new adventure and involves a leap of faith; for others it is recognition of how they have lived their lives for many years.
The spiritual formation needed for the SCL draws upon the monastic tradition – the word monos means ‘alone’ because the touchstone of the monastic life is consecrated celibacy and the giving of oneself to God alone. In the West, monasticism is rooted in the Benedictine tradition and the balance of work, prayer and study centred on the Eucharist and the ‘hours’ or times of prayer.
Those within the SCL need to develop a pattern and discipline of life, and many find support by being affiliated to a traditional community and reading both the history of the Religious Life and its contemporary expression. Some choosing the SCL have been professed members of communities and reached a point in their spiritual journey when personal or community circumstances meant that they wish to be released from membership of their particular community but still felt called to continue to live a consecrated life.
The Advisory Council recognises that this can be part of a person’s continuing response to God’s call and that release from community obligations can be linked with profession in the SCL. It is possible to have a service at which a community releases a brother or sister who then makes the vow in the SCL and for any formal documents to be appropriately worded and for example, where a profession ring is worn, for it to be retained.
Whilst the move from one form of consecrated life to another is spiritually seamless, there is the release from the mutual obligations between a community and its professed members because the vows were made to be lived out in a particular way.
In the SCL, a vowed person has to be financially responsibly, and is not obedient to a Rule, Constitution or Chapter. The vow in the SCL is therefore that of consecrated celibacy although promises of poverty and obedience may also be expressed in such terms as ‘direction of life’, ‘simplicity’ or ‘stewardship’ and I have known people to also promise ‘hospitality’, ‘silence’, ‘friendship’ and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament or the Virgin Mary. The SCL has to be broad enough to embrace the wonderful variety of people whom God calls to live it.
In a remarkable paradox, the vow of consecrated celibacy both limits someone (monos) and also sets him or her free to respond to a personal call from God. Jesus tells us that we did not choose him, he chose us, and he chose us to go and bear fruit that will last.