Private Vows


#1

I’ve decided to take private vows with my spiritual director. I’ve been seeing him for spiritual direction for over 2 1/2 years and I think it’s time to take those vows with him. For a long time I sought the priesthood or the monkhood but decided against both after various retreats. I really just want to be consecrated to the church. I feel a calling to these vows but still am just not sure about a lot of things. I’m a pretty devout pray-er and I’ve always felt a call to the consecrated life to follow after the saints as my model or guide. What are private vows like? Has anyone taken them? Please share with me if you have I’d love to know what the process was like for you! Thanks!


#2

Private vows are not something to pronounce lightly and so it is good that you have a priest as a spiritual director and that you discern carefully. An important question is what you wish to achieve through the pronouncing of one or more private vows.

I am not sure what vow or vows you are thinking of making. The vows which most people associate with Religious Life are poverty, chastity and obedience. There are, however, other vows – Passionist Religious, for example, pronounce a vow to promote devotion to the Passion of Our Lord, which can be lived and realized in a great many ways.

Chastity is a straight forward private vow to live as a layperson in the world – but you would need to ponder with your spiritual director the nature of the vow and what specifically the vow intends. Some laity make a vow of chastity “according to their state of life” which would not preclude marriage whereas others make a vow of chastity committing themselves to living as a celibate.

You would also need to think of whether this – or any private vow – will be for a time (one year, three years – or some other definite period of time) or for life. In Religious Life, one would not pronounce a vow for life without a probationary period of temporary vows. This is why, in consecrated life, one spends time studying the nature and theology underlying vows before one proceeds to a profession of a vow.

Obedience is a vow difficult to realize as a single secular, honestly, in that obedience is a vow to obey someone. In Religious Life, it is a lawful superior that is, hopefully, well formed and well prepared to have the governance over the one who has pronounced the vow.

Given that you say you are not sure about a lot of things, making any lifetime vow really may not be prudent at the moment.

Perhaps you have simply not yet discovered where your vocation lays. Have you given thought, with your spiritual director, to your having some relationship with a religious family for living out the sort of dedicated life you are presently considering for yourself in the world?

For example, you mention having considered a monastic vocation. All Benedictine monasteries have secular oblates. It is a wonderful opportunity to be a sort of “extended member” of a monastic family, living in your home and working at your career but having a relationship and contact with a particular monastic community.

The formation is for a year and can involve you visiting the monastery for meetings, retreats, days of recollection but also having contact at a distance, as your circumstances dictate. The promise ultimately made involves following the Rule of Saint Benedict in so far as your state of life permits…and the member of the community who is the oblate director would help you to discern that. Although the promise is not a vow, it does not preclude one or more private vows; actually then there is a structure the vow can rest upon.

This would also give you the benefit of a definite program of life, practical helps to orient and structure your prayer life, and guidance in integrating and adapting the Rule into your life. You are guided by a member of the community who is well formed in the spirituality and patrimony of the Order and who serves as the monastery’s director of oblates.

In this way, you are not having to “do it on your own” or to “invent the wheel”. Plus you acquire the spiritual patrimony of the Order as your own and its spirituality should find a reflection and expression in daily life and who you are. You’re also associated with other persons living as you are who know and live that spirituality in their own lives and who are able to help you to inculcate the spirituality of that Order into your daily life. And, if ultimately you find you are drawn to marriage or religious life or the clerical state, there is no impediment but only the enrichment of what you have already been living as an oblate.

Many other religious families offer this opportunity for laity to be part of their communities: the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Carmelites (both observances), the Servites, the Norbertines, the Trinitarians, the Mercedarians among other religious communities. For these communities, the association is often called a third order or secular order. Other institutes of consecrated life, though, will have associate programs through which you can have a definite bond of association with the Religious and share in their life and mission.

It is certainly possible to devise a program of life for oneself living in the world. You might give thought, though, to the possibility of availing yourself of the opportunity to do it in conjunction with a Religious community to which you feel attracted and which offer the opportunity of affiliation to laity.

Also, have you read about and considered the possibility of a vocation in one of the various secular institutes as a means of living a form of consecrated life while living in the world and which is not entering a religious order or congregation? The permanent diaconate is another very viable option. I hope this helps. God bless you in your effort to serve Him and His Church.


#3

I have lived with private vows over 30 years now with spiritual direction. I have a rule of life approved by my director.
One comment I would make. Where the private vow of obedience is concerned, religious life defines it in a certain way as obedience to their religious superior. In private vows, one is free to define the private vow in one’s own terms.


#4

Hey both of you! Thanks for the reply. I’m very excited to take vows! I appreciate your good information provided!!

-James


#5

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