The Constitution and Directory that describe our way of life as Sisters of Charity of New York contain much wisdom. These documents remind us: “As we seek to grow in freedom and love through the vows, we recognize that our vision and our ideals are always in tension with our human frailty. With the gifts and limitations of our human condition, we entrust ourselves to God, relying on the faithfulness of the One who calls us.” (SC Directory, “Our Vowed Life”, p. 7)
Around December 8 each year, in these or similar words, each professed Sister of Charity recalls the meaning of the vows she made:
I renew my vow of poverty, seeking to live simply,
to be satisfied with what is enough,
recognizing that all I have is gift,
sharing responsibility for the resources of the Congregation,
in a spirit of interdependence.
I renew my vow of celibate chastity,
seeking to deepen my capacity to love freely and widely,
to give and receive reverently in a relationship of mutuality,
to foster community and communion
for the sake of the mission.
I renew my vow of obedience, seeking to listen attentively
to God’s revelation in each person and event of life,
to attend to those entrusted with authority,
to discern the truth in responsible dialogue
and to respond in fidelity to the Spirit.
I renew these vows, desiring with all my heart
to embody Charity with perseverance and passion.
Our Associates also renew their commitment:
I renew my commitment as an Associate in mission
with the Sisters of Charity of New York.
I share in the ongoing mission of Jesus.
I commit myself to service
with and for all in need, especially those who live in poverty.
What do the vows mean to today’s Sisters? Following are two reflections:
I was 21 years old when I first pronounced the vows of poverty, celibate chastity and obedience. And didn’t I think I was something special! Now, having lived as a vowed Sister of Charity for fifty years — as well as a woman, a Catholic Christian, a citizen of the world and a part of the community of Earth — I know I’ve come to a deeper, fuller, and wider understanding of the meaning of the vows.
Life keeps teaching me to make peace with my limits. There’s so much that I wish I could do or be or accomplish, but can’t. That certainly wasn’t my perspective as a starry-eyed 21-year-old, but now I understand that it’s one of the lessons of being human — and my vows help me to embrace it.
The vows of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience keep me focused on the mystery of being human, and the mystery of a God who alone is enough.
Poverty: There are so many people, so many worthy causes, so many injustices and imbalances, so many needs that cry out for attention, so many broken people and places that beg for mending and tending. There’s no shame in saying, “I can’t, but You can.” When I accept the poverty of my limits, I acknowledge that only God is God, who will give me all I need.
Celibate chastity: I’m constantly called to love more deeply, freely, with no strings attached — to love not just those I’m drawn to, but those I find more prickly. Above all I’m called to love those shunned by the rest of society. My ability to love, like my talents, is a gift from the One who loves me beyond imagining, the One who impels me to share that overflowing love with all.
Obedience: Life (especially life with my Sisters in community) keeps teaching me that my way, my will, isn’t the center of the universe. Neither is any other human being or institution. In the great give-and-take adventure of living, none of us ever sees the whole picture. Obedience moves me to place my trust in God, whose sole will and desire is for life to the full, for me and for all that exists. When I renew my vows this year, I pray to recall that, as the great theologian Karl Rahner once said, here in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished. I pray that I may keep discovering the unique grace of what is not-yet-finished, the unique beauty of what is still in process — even if that’s me, even if that’s others, even if that’s our aching world. The vows remind all of us: “The best is yet to come!”
–Sr. Regina Bechtle
To be quite honest, I do not consciously think of the vows very often. They are somewhat like a GPS (Global Positioning System) in a car, always running silently in the background, there to provide direction and guidance when I need reassurance that I am still heading in the right direction. When I discover that I or things around me have changed or the environment becomes unfamiliar, they are there to “reroute” me. It is at these times that I pay attention to the new meaning of poverty, chastity and obedience in my life.
–Sr. Donna Dodge
Thanks, Regina and Donna for sharing.