I’m really an oddity. I dress differently. I live in community not with a wife. I’m celibate. I obey. I have nothing that is mine. Yet, I’m one of the happiest people I know.
How can this contradiction be true? This is the mystery of religious life. I’ve been a religious for a decade and I’ve loved every minute. There have been tremendous struggles – you can read about my community’s struggles all over the place – but they have never taken my peace.
If we want to promote religious vocations, we need to see how religious live them out personally. Today I’m going to blog on what being a religious means to me and my experience as a religious. I already blogged on the importance of this personal aspect in religious life and I plan to blog on what it means to be a priest. This is 2 of a series. You can read part one, Vocations Come from Love.
Religious life is not an institution, it is a love story. I would describe my experience as a man falling madly in love; almost against my will. I have wonderful parents and wanted to have a family just like them – in fact I chose engineering over philosophy as my college major since it could support a family better. I knew God was important. I spoke with him in prayer, and slowly he led me. Finally at one moment, he said “I want you to be my priest.” “But that means giving up my dream of a big family in the suburbs!” His voice was soft and calm, it was the voice of a lover not a general or bureaucrat. Slowly this love has grown. I don’t think I love any more than I did when I entered in 2001; that love has never wavered but it has matured.
Obviously, that love took form within a certain “institution” called the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, but that is not the key.
As a religious, I love God and through loving him, I love everyone else. I don’t feel like my love has been restricted in any way but I feel like I’m able to love more because it is not focused on a family but is open to all.
The vows make me even more open to others. They are so often seen as negations; to a certain extent they are no’s but to free me for the big YES and as a result of it. Poverty frees my heart from things – I’m not getting attached to junk like the computer I’m typing on. Chastity frees my heart from people – I’m clearly interested in your soul, nothing else. Obedience frees me from myself – I accept what role is given me.
Then there is community life. It gives me a sense of belonging, a sense of mutual help. I’ve spent most of my ministry getting our apostolates going in new cities where we don’t yet have a community but it is a great value to come back regularly and be with your brothers. It is a family with a mission. Being around those who love God and souls in the same way helps me to love more.
All of these things open us more for loving and helping others. I have one married sister who is a social worker. She has a more gentle and loving personality than I do. She always has. She studied specifically to help people in trouble. Yet in many ways, the openness to love that religious life gives me lets me be open to many people in ways she can’t be.
There are a lot of little experiences but it’s hard to include too many of them in a single blog post. I blogged weekly for about 2 years on Regnum Christi Live giving “Life in the Seminary” and these posts bring this love I’ve spoke of in general terms into specifics.
In the end, religious life is not about saying no to love but saying yes to all love rather than just a small slice of it. That has been my experience.
I hope my poor explanation of the beauty and love I’ve experienced as a religious help you in offering this to others in your ministry.