Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! As I wrote on some of the Christmas cards I sent this year, I hope that the abundant Love that flows from the Incarnation fills your life with great goodness and strength to build the reign of God.
As cheese-y as such a blessing may sound, I really mean it. And I really believe it.
This holiday season there’s been two things on my mind a lot: poverty and celibacy. Besides being a basic Jesus Freak, I’m a novice with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA). As a 27 year old in the U.S.A. in 2008, I’m pretty strange or at least unique. I don’t mind. Christian life is supposed to be counter-cultural.
Being a novice means I am preparing for my vows. In addition to the two vows of celibacy and poverty, I’ll be vowing obedience as well. I am sure the Spirit will catch me up on obedience by the time vow-day approaches, but lately I just can’t stop thinking about poverty and celibacy.
I could say much about my reasons for choosing to be a sister and make each of the vows. Today I’ll limit myself to less than 2009 words.
Celibacy! It’s a prophetic choice, I’ve been told. The energy of the vow is all about love. It’s prophetic because it’s not necessary, but serves as a response to the unhealthy understandings of sexuality that are so prevalent in our society. In a time when sexuality is too often about power, control, genitalia and possession, we love without having power or control, non-possessively and without genital expression in order to witness to the world that it is possible. Personally, I am energized by the possibility that I can respond to oppressive sex and porn industries by simply living a life of saying “No, thanks, I don’t need it. Love is bigger than that.”
Also, as it explains in scripture and in the Franciscan Rule, some folks are called to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom. My personal understanding of the value of the vow of consecrated celibacy is complimented by the explanation provided in the FSPA Constitution. As the constitution states: “By our vow of consecrated of celibacy, we remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom and live the virtue of charity without reservation, expressing in a unique way our baptismal commitment and responding to Christ’s call to relate to others in a celibate and loving way. We consecrate ourselves wholly to God, making the love of the Triune God our own and extending it to all people. The love of God which makes special demands on us enables us to love others in a way that is free and inclusive. We strive to love all persons with kindness and compassion, leading them to know and love Christ as well as to live the chastity proper to their way of life.” (Unity in Diversity, #8).
My choice to make a vow of consecrated celibacy is/will be a choice to give the world a message and dancing intimately with my creator as I move through the world freely, inclusively, kindly, and compassionately telling the Good News of Love. So far it’s been a sweet time, and I have faith that it will continue to be.
And then there’s poverty. Oh sweet poverty! I learn a lot about poverty from the nativity, and the great humility of God expressed in the incarnation. Holy Christmas, Christ was poor, and we are called to be poor as we follow him.
The spirit of religious poverty is about our stance as pilgrims in this world. Personally, this makes sense practically and spiritually. If I am an itinerant disciple of Christ I never know when God will call me to a new place. If I am clinging to or am weighed down by any possession, place, ministry position, idea, or person I can’t be mobile. To know that I am free of property ownership and financial worries is a blessing that allows me to be free and ready to follow and live for Christ. The joy of “seeking first the Kingdom of God,” is a joy that is worth sacrificing for. It is gospel living: we sell all for the pearl of great price.
The FSPA Constitution once again affirms my personal understanding of the vow. It also contributes to its expansion. As it states: “By our vow of poverty we freely renounce the independent use, disposal, and administration of personal goods holding them in common for the sake of God’s Kingdom… In our poverty we strive for that self-emptying which was exemplified totally in Christ and was intrinsic to the form of religious life to which Francis was called. It is this poverty which calls us to acknowledge and witness to our total dependence on God’s loving care for us…Satisfied with a minimum of material goods, we share what we have and live in interdependence. As followers of Francis we journey in the spirit of the beatitudes, living simply, gratefully aware of the riches that are ours in Christ Jesus.” (Unity in Diversity, #7)
It’s pretty great stuff, right? Indeed all of these gospel lessons flow from the power of that timeless nativity centuries ago. There’s a ton of love and power in that Jesus. Gotta Love him. God is so good! Thanks be to God!
p.s. Sorry for the long-windedness. It’s less than 2009 words I swear.