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Community of St. John


Questions addressed to Father Philippe on Religious Vows...

What is the origin of religious vows ?
Since the end of the early persecutions under the Roman Empire, the Church has alluded to Jesus' response to the rich young man who questioned Him regarding the means of going as far as possible along the road to sanctity: " ...go, sell what you possess and give to the poor...and come, follow me " (Lk. 18:22).

Following Christ in the most perfect way requires a person to dispose of all his possessions: no one can simultaneously serve two masters, Jesus and money (cf. Mt. 6:24). It also requires a love that is constantly purified so that one may become deeply attached to the heart of Jesus alone. And in order to follow in Jesus' footsteps, we have to allow the messenger Christ has placed in our path to show us the way, to show us what we must do to be more and more faithful. Accordingly, the Church has defined vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

You often speak of the "spirit" of the vows...
Yes, because we need to emphasize the way in which these vows must be lived. The vow of chastity in its most perfect aspect consists in a spirit of virginity. Our hearts then experience that particular vulnerability that love gives and requires.

A spirit of virginity brings us very close to Jesus, so that we love what He loves, in His light and in the absolute limpidity of His heart.

How are we to understand religious vows in light of the Church's present-day renewal?
I think that today's Church asks us to live these vows in an ever- deeper interiority, with the Virgin Mary
to help us live what Jesus Himself lived. Jesus did not live by vows but by their spirit. Since He was perfect, He didn't need vows, which are merely a means of achieving union with Him more rapidly, thanks to the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. The spirit of poverty eliminates everything that might prevent closeness to Jesus. Thus it is the guardian of the spirit of virginity.

Finally, obedience enables us to go beyond our own will in order to fully satisfy, in the order of execution, our thirst for closeness to Jesus. The spirit of obedience enables us to pass from a deep union with the heart of Jesus to a union which takes our entire life. The love which binds us to Jesus thus takes possession of all our freedom, all our choices, all our preoccupations.

Thus it's a question of living the virginity of Christ, who lived it so intensely that He only looked at the Father and the Father's love. It means living His spirit of poverty, a poverty that was joyful in the crib and sorrowful at the cross : poverty marked His whole life. Jesus' words show how intensely He lived poverty in order to be more closely bound to the Father's will for Him. " Obedient unto death " (Phil. 2:8): through this absolute gift of Himself, He reveals to us that the will of the Father must come first for us and accomplishing His will must take hold of our entire life.

Do these vows take on a particular modality in the Congregation of St. John?
We would have to consider how St. John was divinely educated by the Holy Spirit and Mary
so that our sole concern may be to be the beloved disciple; that is, the disciple who wanted no separation between the most intimate desires of Christ and his own heart.

We would like to fully live the union of Christ's heart and John's heart. Not just to be content with carrying out a rule, but wanting to be one with the Lamb and His wounded heart - which explains the connection with Paray-le-Monial. This requires constant fervor from us: not a sensitive fervor, but the fervor of the will, of profound and divine love, which shuns half measures and forces a person to give as much as possible. The vows have meaning only in the sense that they enable us to do this.