Adaptation and renewal of Religious Life: Embracing the vow of obedience Print
Reflections on Religious Life
Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Reflections on Religious Life column by Abbot Marcel Rooney

Editor’s note: During the Year of Consecrated Life which ends on February 2, this is the last 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 (original = Perfectae Caritatis), we have been reflecting on how the Council Fathers envisioned a deep renewal of what the Church calls “the Consecrated Life.”

Number 14 of the decree speaks of one of the evangelical counsels, obedience. It is one of the most important ones, and gives a particular color to the entirety of Religious Life.


Jesus is the model

In surrendering their own wills to God, through the movement of the Holy Spirit and the direction of the Church as represented by their legitimate superiors, Religious have a special share in the life and passion of Jesus.

Jesus alone is the model for the Religious who wants to live the vow of obedience. As He said, “Doing the will of Him Who sent Me and bringing His work to completion is my food” (John 4:34). The Letter to the Hebrews also describes the mind of Christ this way: “I said, ‘As is written of Me in the book, I have come to do your will, O God’” (Hebr 10:7).

To the Philippians, St. Paul writes about the mind of Christ in this regard, “Your attitude must be that of Christ: Though He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that He humbled Himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8)!

Embracing this vow

In order to embrace this vow, the Religious must have a deep spirit of faith. The Church is so obviously full of weaknesses — a simple glance at the leadership in a given period of history shows it — and yet, God uses those weak and even sinful individuals to direct the vowed Religious person on the path that God wishes that person to follow.

To see past the humanity of superiors and recognize Christ calling one to a life of dedicated service, prayer and love — such seeing demands a special grace of faith. That is why this vow is so central for the witness of the Religious Life: it sums up well the kind of faith which alone sustains one in obeying God’s call to the Life.

Building up the Body of Christ

By means of obedience, vowed Religious have the opportunity to build up the Body of Christ in a unique way. All of us who are vowed Religious can testify that answering the call of obedience led us to do things in our lives which we never would have dreamed of by ourselves.

The vow helps to focus our intellects and wills in a way that makes them more open to God’s grace and love, guiding us into what God’s will is opening up to us.

In the end, this vow helps the Religious to literally lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters: “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest, and whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. Such is the case with the Son of Man who has come, not to be served by others, but to serve, and to give his own life as a ransom for the many” (Matt 20:26-28).

Obedience is the beautiful vow and grace which moves the Religious to such service of all, whether in the Church or in the world. And in the process, it makes the Religious take on more and more of the mind and heart of Christ. Such a witness is at the very heart of what Religious Life is intended to do.


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.