Vows - I feel like Jephtha


#1

OK, so when I was 18 and a new Christian, and fed up with not getting any attention from girls. I remember coming home drunk one night and praying that if I hadn’t at least been kissed by a girl in 2 weeks (it was my first week at University) I’d take a vow of celebacy. The sin of tempting God.

Well, two weeks came and went, I did get a date, but it didn’t end in a kiss.

I didn’t then get down on my knees and take that vow. I did do some brief exploring of monastic life back then, but didn’t feel called to it.

I stayed single for the next 5 years.

In 2005-6 I began exploring a calling to monastic life with the Anglican Franciscans (I was not yet a Catholic). I realised conclusively that I am not called to religious life.

Shortly after this realisation, I met my fiancee, the love of my life, and I am certain as certain can be that I am called to spend my life with her. I know she feels the same way. We also led eachother into the Catholic faith.

But… I still prayed what I prayed. I have already broken that, because I haven’t lived chastely within the bounds appropriate to an unmarried person. I feel the only way I’ll ever be able to cope with my sexual identity appropriately is within a loving marriage with my fiancee.

When I spoke about this with my spiritual director when I was an Anglican, he assured me that such a promise doesn’t amount to a vow, and that as I’d repented of it, I had nothing to worry about. All the same, the Anglicans are known for being on the liberal side.

While I know I was wrong to have prayed this way, in the same way Jephtha was wrong when he promised to offer to God the first thing that greeted him. Just because he knew he was wrong and repented didn’t excuse him from the burden of sacrificing his daughter though, even though the act itself could be viewed as a sin, because God specifically forbids human sacrifice.

What I’m asking is:

  1. Does what I did count as a vow, even though it was done without the full consent of the will (drunkenly) and while outside of obedience to the Church?
  2. If it is a vow, is there a way of being dispensed from it?
  3. While I realise that this vow ruins two people’s lives, because it binds both me and my fiancee to a form of life that is not our calling or vocation, should I still fulfil the vow, i.e. take a full vow of chastity, leave my fiancee, ruin both of our lives, and live in a way that is not the way God wanted to call me to? Would that be the correct penance, is there some other way of commuting that penance without risking mortal sin in disobeying my vows to God?

#2

You were young and drunk and frustrated. Why on earth would it count? It was pretty stupid and rash of you, yes, but I can’t think of any reason for it to be binding. Besides, if things like that counted, I’m pretty sure I would’ve been struck by lightning a few times by now :wink:

There is enough pain in this world already. You aren’t called to add to it.


#3

The only way to get the best answer will be to talk with your Pastor or another priest. From what you said, you didn’t make a vow, you just said that you would. To me that means that you didn’t make the vow. But I’m no expert so take my words for what they a worth.


#4

Thanks very much for those words - I have tried to pray about it, and I find myself coming back to those words “Father, not my will but Yours be done”. At the end of the day, my rash vow was my will (in fact, it wasn’t even that), while His will was to call me to married life.

I can’t throw His will back at Him and say I’m doing my duty, but then I also can’t take my feelings and my fiancees feelings as being the same as God’s will. What I do know is that Jephtha did what was holy by offering his daughter, even though he regretted it. Maybe, unknown to me, by being a witness to constancy of will by fulfilling this awful promise I made, God will somehow use me for the good.

I will talk to a priest. Would still appreciate any references anyone could give me to where the CCC talks about what does or does not count as a vow or binding promise. Does the Catholic Church teach that we should always keep our promises, no matter how dire and potentially unholy the consequences?


#5

Here you go :slight_smile:

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving). (Link)

You cannot do evil to do good; in this case, you would be doing evil – by ignoring your vocation and hurting yourself and your fiancee – with the end of the dubious ‘good’ of keeping a promise you made while thoroughly impaired.

And on that particular bit:

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors. (Link)


#6

A Catholic priest would have the authority to release you from any vow that you think you might have made - I’d recommend making an appointment with a priest who is sympathetic to you.


#7

Does that mean Jephtha himself sinned by offering up his daughter, because murder is an intrinsically evil act, and cannot be rendered good by the intention of giving a thanksgiving offering to God?

I have meditated a lot on that passage of the book of Judges, and tend to be of the view that Jephtha sinned twice, once in making such a rash vow, and secondly in fulfilling it. Sometimes we tend to assume that all the kings, prophets and judges in the Old Testament always act correctly and sinlessly. I think that’s a big mistake, but that’s private judgment, and I don’t know if that interpretation of that particular scripture is heretical.

Having said that, this is assuming that “we love eachother” and “we would be unhappy if we weren’t together” and “we support eachother in the faith” amounts to the certain discernment of a vocation to marriage. All of these are subjective concerns, which could be trumped by an objective concern such as “one of us is already bound to a vow not to marry”. Barring a hand reaching down from heaven with a little note, none of us knows our vocation for certain. Though everything that would make either of us happy lies in my fiancee and me getting married, that does not in itself mean that we have a vocation to it. If it was only the things that “felt right” that were vocations, there would be nobody called to holy martyrdom.


#8

Jephtha’s main problem was that he had no one with faculties to release him from his rash vow.

In your case, you never even made the vow. You had promised God, while drunk, and also while you were still uncatechized, that you would make such a vow. But you didn’t make the vow.

I don’t think God can hold you to a vow that you never actually made. Nor will He hold you to a promise that you made while not in full command of your faculties.

Heck, getting married while drunk is grounds for a Declaration of Nullity - I’d say making a rash promise while drunk doesn’t count, either.


#9

In my view, yes. Of course, I am also horrified that Abraham was perfectly willing to sacrifice Isaac, test or no test – so take it for what it’s worth.

I have meditated a lot on that passage of the book of Judges, and tend to be of the view that Jephtha sinned twice, once in making such a rash vow, and secondly in fulfilling it. Sometimes we tend to assume that all the kings, prophets and judges in the Old Testament always act correctly and sinlessly. I think that’s a big mistake, but that’s private judgment, and I don’t know if that interpretation of that particular scripture is heretical.

They were just as human as we. Of all the major Old Testament characters, the only one I cannot recall hearing anything bad about is Daniel.

Having said that, this is assuming that “we love eachother” and “we would be unhappy if we weren’t together” and “we support eachother in the faith” amounts to the certain discernment of a vocation to marriage. All of these are subjective concerns, which could be trumped by an objective concern such as “one of us is already bound to a vow not to marry”. Barring a hand reaching down from heaven with a little note, none of us knows our vocation for certain. Though everything that would make either of us happy lies in my fiancee and me getting married, that does not in itself mean that we have a vocation to it. If it was only the things that “felt right” that were vocations, there would be nobody called to holy martyrdom.

Honestly, ignoring a vocation is pretty small potatoes next to the damage you could be doing to the two of you. That’s problem #1 – if you are sinning against her and yourself to keep this promise, you’re doing evil toward a doubtfully-good end.

Anyway, though, I’ll get behind the recommendations to see a priest – and I’m glad you’re working on that :slight_smile: If it turns out to be a valid promise (something I highly doubt, given the circumstances of its making), remember that whole binding-loosing thing :wink:

If I may ask, though, how did you end up with a fiancee with this in the back of your mind?


#10

Thanks, that makes sense.

Clearly, where someone vows to do something that is intrinsically evil, e.g. the Jews in the book of Acts who vow not to eat until they have killed Paul, they are not bound to fulfil that vow. Neither starving yourself to death nor killing would be an appropriate penance for having made such a rash vow.

But still, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Being celebate, even without a calling to priesthood or religious life, would not be bad in itself. Being lonely for the few (maybe 50-60, few in eternal terms) remaining years of my earthly life would be a price worth paying to avoid guilt before the Lord.

Being a witness to the fact that God means business, and that you don’t open your mouth in His presence unless you’re really sure what He wants of you might in fact be my calling in life.

All the same, I’ll find a priest and talk to them.

Just out of interest, if I talk to one priest and he refuses to dispense me, can I go to another one and ask him instead, and another and another until I find the answer I’m looking for? It’s just that I have a hard streak, and am probably going to look up the most ultra-conservative, hard-line Traditionalist priest I know. He’s the one I approached about starting RCIA, and it’s only because I want to be really put through my paces, so to speak. If his decision is final and binding though, I might look for someone else instead.


#11

If I’m honest, when we got engaged, I was still an Anglican in the very early stages of converting to Catholicism, and still had complete confidence in the advice of my Anglican spiritual director/confessor that I had nothing to worry about in this department.

Just because he wasn’t a valid priest doesn’t mean he didn’t give valid advice though, and it seems like I don’t have anything much to worry about here.


#12

They had a completely different view of life and death than we do.

Both Jephtha’s daughter and Isaac would have believed that they were going directly to God; they would not have feared annihliation. Human sacrifice was very common, and it was actually considered an honour to be chosen as the person to be sacrificed, since it was an indication of high status and high value - after all, you do not give your second-best to God.


#13

It sounded pretty solid to me. I don’t think you’re doomed to a lonely life :slight_smile:

[quote=jmcrae]They had a completely different view of life and death than we do.

Both Jephtha’s daughter and Isaac would have believed that they were going directly to God; they would not have feared annihliation. Human sacrifice was very common, and it was actually considered an honour to be chosen as the person to be sacrificed, since it was an indication of high status and high value - after all, you do not give your second-best to God.
[/quote]

Erk. And here I’ve been hearing how horrible the Canaanites were for doing the exact same thing! Maybe we should take this tangent over here?


#14

No. Go with the decision you get from the priest you go to first - but choose carefully which priest you go to first. (My worry is not that he would be too conservative and not dispense you, but that he would be too liberal, and not take you seriously.)

It’s just that I have a hard streak, and am probably going to look up the most ultra-conservative, hard-line Traditionalist priest I know. He’s the one I approached about starting RCIA, and it’s only because I want to be really put through my paces, so to speak.

Yep, he sounds like the right guy to go to. :slight_smile:


closed #15

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