Adaptation and renewal of Religious Life: Chastity and charity linked Print
Reflections on Religious Life
Thursday, Nov. 05, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Reflections on Religious Life column by Abbot Marcel Rooney

Editor’s note: During this Year of Consecrated Life, this is the eighth in a series based on the Second Vatican Council’s document, Perfectae Caritatis (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life) written by Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, former abbot primate of the Benedictine order who now resides in Madison.

In this commentary on the Decree of the Second Vatican Council, On the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis), we have been reflecting on how the council fathers envisioned a deep renewal of what the Church calls "the Consecrated Life."

Number 12 of the decree speaks of one of the evangelical counsels, chastity, as at the core of that life.

But before we comment on just how this great virtue and counsel fits into Religious Life, it might be good to back up a little to see it in a broader theological context.

Chastity and love

St. Paul called it a "fruit of the Holy Spirit" -- chastity is included in the list of nine "fruits" of the Holy Spirit that he mentions in Galatians 5:22-23.

The first and greatest fruit of the Spirit is charity, love. But chastity definitely has a place in this list also. For at its heart is Christian love.

We should be aware that all baptized Christians are called to chastity. There are different forms of this virtue.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing a document of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (1975), says, "People should cultivate chastity in the way that is suited to their state in life" (CC 2349).

The Catechism then goes on to mention three kinds of chastity:

1) "Married people are called to live conjugal chastity . . ."

2) Others practice chastity in continence.

3) But what is important to our discussion is the third kind: "Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner."

Love of God, neighbor

This latter point in the Catechism is a development of the doctrine presented nearly 30 years earlier in the council's teaching on Religious Life. Number 12 of Perfectae Caritatis summarizes the Church's thinking thus:

"(Chastity) . . . frees the heart . . . in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men."

This two-fold love is the fulfillment of the command of the Hebrew covenant (Deut 6:4ff; Lev 19:18), which Jesus gave approval to when speaking with the learned scribe about the most important commandments of the law (cf. Mark 12:29ff).

Chastity is thus intimately tied to charity -- as St. Paul stated so succinctly (cf. Galatians, above). For a Religious, it will demand faith in God, if it has to really help develop charity in the heart of the vowed person.

It will be merely a sterile exercise of bachelorhood/ spinsterhood if it does not transform the heart of the Religious into a flame of authentic self-sacrificing love: for God, from the outset, but then for the neighbor, in a variety of possible outreach and expression.

Counter-cultural

This focus for the Religious is more important than ever today, since we live in a world that is blatantly God-less, blatantly centered on the self and its pleasures and fancies.

To vow oneself to the Religious Life, then, is truly to profess oneself counter-cultural. But when a Religious allows the joy -- which also is a great fruit of the Holy Spirit’s life -- to shine through his/her words and actions, then we really witness the life of Jesus in a profound and very meaningful way.

Given our culture, and the constant propagation of that culture in all the media, formation for chastity is more demanding than ever. It is one of the biggest requirements for Religious houses and seminaries.

It demands living "in the Spirit," and not merely drifting along through life. That way, as St. Paul urged the Galatians, "Since we live by the Spirit . . . we follow the Spirit's lead . . ."

This is what makes Religious Life such a powerful sign of God's Kingdom being built on earth.


Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art. The institute is dedicated to the renewal of the sacred liturgy in our churches and other Catholic institutions. If its work would be helpful in your parish, call 608-203-6735.