18. Our Lord desires that we profess vows
Think of God’s mercy and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.
In order to accomplish in a more effective and enduring manner the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission, the members of the Congregation take vows of stability, chastity, poverty, and obedience according to the Constitutions and Statutes.
It was not easy to introduce vows into the Congregation. They became a reality in the Company through Saint Vincent’s experience and his conviction about their spiritual and apostolic value and through his tenacity in defending the idea. After a long discernment process, Saint Vincent had concluded that God wished the Congregation to profess vows of stability, poverty, chastity, and obedience.
1. Those Who Take Vows Give All to God
Traditional theological doctrine has always taught that the profession of vows is, in a certain sense, a new baptism, a living martyrdom, a sacrifice. Saint Vincent transmitted this same doctrine to his missonaries:
Vows are a new baptism. They have the same effect on us as baptism. For by baptism we were withdrawn from slavery to Satan, made children of God with a right to share in Paradise. This is exactly what vows do. And so some persons who wish to be perfect are not content with having been baptized, or having renounced the devil with all his works and pomps; rather they sell their goods and renounce honors and pleasures. Now we are, by the mercy of God, in this state. What a reason, then, for giving thanks to God! ‘But it is not sufficient’, says a holy Father, ‘to be in a state of perfection and not to tend to it.’ Some say that to have made vows and to fulfill them is a continual martyrdom … One who takes vows offers a holocaust of self to God in which the whole victim is consumed by fire … thus the one who practices poverty, chastity and obedience gives everything to God … and is a perfect holocaust1.
2. We Become Images of Jesus Christ
The Christological value of the vows was the primary motivating force that led to the introduction of vows in the Congregation of the Mission:
The state most pleasing to God is the state of perfection, a state which Jesus embraced while here on earth, a state which he made his apostles embrace, a state which consists in living poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. Therefore, all members of the Congregation embrace this state2.
Missionaries profess vows because 1. this action binds them more perfectly to God; 2. this action also commits the Company and its members to God; 3. it makes them more like Jesus and better able to carry out their function3.
3. Vows Are a Greater Guarantee of Our Fidelity to the Church
The ecclesial value of the vows has been clearly stated by Vatican Council II in the documents Lumen Gentium and Perfectae Caritas. Saint Vincent also considered this aspect when in a letter to the Archbishop of Paris, he wrote:
The Church confides the spiritual welfare of its people to men who by secular order are obliged to remain in the ecclesiastical state all their life. So, too, the Church hands over a woman to her husband through the sacrament of matrimony, and they, husband and wife, are obliged also to live in this state all their life. Thus, with few exceptions, congregations and communities have always believed it necessary to bind their members to vows … so that they (the members) might persevere in their vocation and in the observance of the rules4.
- Do I understand and appreciate the theological value of the vows?
- Do I experience the spiritual and apostolic value of the vows in my daily life?
- Do I renew my vows in my heart?
Lord, Holy Father, confirm the resolve of your servants. Grant that the grace of baptism, which we wish to strengthen with new bonds, may work its full effect in us, so that we may offer you our praise and spread Christ’s Kingdom with apostolic zeal. We pray in your name Lord Jesus, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen5.
- “On the Vows”, November 7, 1659, O.C., xi, 642.
- Letter to Etienne Blatiron, February 19, 1655, O.C., vi, 296.
- From the Assembly celebrated in San Lazar, 1651, O.C., x, 413.
- Approval by the Archbishop of Paris of Vows for the Congregation of the Mission, October 19, 1641, O.C., x, 347.
- Prayer from the Mass of Religious Profession.