Life of Consecration
Consecration, being set apart for God, is the basis of religious life. Religious consecration is built upon baptismal consecration and expresses it with greater fullness. A religious professes by public vow the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, through the Vow of Poverty, a religious offers to God external goods (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 186, A.7). Through the Vow of Chastity, a religious offers to God her own body. Through the Vow of Obedience, a religious offers to God the good of her soul, namely, her own will by which she makes use of all the faculties of her soul. By profession of the evangelical counsels, a religious frees herself from foreseeable obstacles to Christian perfection. Religious consecration is “a covenant of mutual love and fidelity, of communion and mission, established for God’s glory, the joy of the person consecrated, and the salvation of the world” (Essential Elements of Religious Life, 5)
Vow of Poverty
Through the Vow of Poverty, the Sister shares in the poverty of the crucified Christ, who emptied Himself through His passion and death. Poverty entails a life that is poor in material reality as well as in spirit, subject to work and led in frugality and detachment from material possessions. It involves dependence and limitation in the use and disposition of goods, including the goods of one’s own personal gifts. In embracing poverty, the Sister welcomes the Lord to be her treasure and provider, allowing Him the space to manifest His power in her weakness, frailties, poverty.
The Vow of Poverty consists in total renunciation and detachment from everything but God. This renunciation is made for love of Him…the more the heart is withdrawn from earthly things, the easier it finds access to God. This life of simplicity and unhindered trust in “Jesus, who had not whereon to lay His Head is the patrimony Jesus bequeathed His faithful followers” (Mother Catherine McAuley).
Vow of Chastity
Through the Vow of Chastity, the Sister is wedded to Christ, whom she loves above all. “Chastity liberates the human heart in a remarkable manner, so that it burns with a love for God and for all people” (Perfectae Caritatis, 12). It leads the Sister to become a spiritual mother and compels her to care and serve “the wounded members of His Body, the Church” (Constitutions of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, 12). Both the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary act as models for the Sister, teaching her how to be a Virgin, Spouse, and Mother.
A Sister’s Vow of Chastity is guarded and enriched by her prayer life and the flourishing of true sisterly love in the common life of the community. Through these avenues, she joyfully responds to the Lord’s commands to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).
Vow of Obedience
The deepest meaning of the Vow of Obedience is expressed in the fullness of the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ “became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Philippians 2:8). The Vow of Obedience is a right to each Sister, as it promises that God’s Will is revealed to her through the voice of her superior. Obedience is active and responsible; it is not a collapse into passivity. Obedience is an act of faith; however, honesty, humility and care for the common good, foster loving obedience. The Sister recognizes each obedience as a channel for Mercy, and as an antidote to self-absorption, enabling the Sister to be more fully united with God’s Will and disposed to perfect love. In this offering, the Sister more fully embraces the Will of God, sacrificing her own will—which is dearer to mankind more than anything else. As our Venerable Foundress prayed: “His Holy Will be done in all things. May He never leave the choice to us” (Mother Catherine McAuley).
Vow of Service of the Poor, Sick and Ignorant
In addition to profession by public vows of the three evangelical counsels, religious institutes may also have a fourth vow, which is directly related to their charism. As Religious Sisters of Mercy, we have a fourth vow of Service of the Poor, Sick, and Ignorant. In professing Service as a public vow, “the object...is renunciation of self-defined generosity in order to show forth the mercy of the Father within the charism of the Institute” (Customs and Guide, p. 40). The exercise of this vow is rooted in the charism of Union and Charity; Service is lived, in the first place, within the community. Then, the effect of merciful love extends outward toward others served in the apostolate. Venerable Catherine McAuley instructed that, as Sisters of Mercy, “we should labor unceasingly to fit ourselves for the discharge of the duties it imposes” (Familiar Instructions, 15). In this light, each Sister in our Institute receives a particular obedience to engage in formal studies so that she may be more available to serve the Church in a professional capacity.