"Chastity is the determining commitment, the vow in which I set my heart on God."
I will allure her into the desert. When I chose readings for my second Mass of First Profession of Religious Vows, I decided to wait to choose this passage from the prophet Hosea until my Solemn Vows, "until death". I will espouse her to me forever. Twice I have said aloud "for three years", but countless times my heart has said "for all my life."
I am going to start at the beginning. I always loved Church. My Jesuit parish growing up had a practice of having the children come up to hold hands around the altar during the Our Father. I was the child who would wedge my way between the concelebrating priests to hold both their hands. I was also the one who when there was only one priest would insert myself next to him, even if another child was there before me. I wanted to be a priest. I accepted that this was not possible, but I entertained no interest whatsoever in becoming a religious sister. That vocation was almost entirely unknown to me. Besides I wanted to be married someday like most little girls. Many years later that dream began to seem impossible as well. I felt ready to be married, but there was no one to marry. Again I refused the idea of becoming a religious sister. From books and secular culture, I had formed the impression that many entered religious life because there was no viable option for marriage, but instinctively my faith told me that God could not be a backup plan.
Then I was invited to a priestly ordination. Six men prostrated themselves before the altar of the Lord and offered their lives to Christ. At last my heart understood: I desired to do what they were doing, to belong entirely to God, but in the way that God had planned for me, as a woman. Not long after this, driving home from work, it occurred to me that giving my life to God as a religious sister was not a back up plan at all. To belong entirely to God is my heart's desire.
As I prepared to enter religious life, I found myself with an unexpected difficulty. My relationship with God had always been a father-daughter relationship. The sisters spoke of being a bride of Christ. I did not know how to enter into this. The solution came through reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for the first time. There was something about the love of Jane for her master, Mr. Rochester, and his love for her that opened me to the possibility of a spousal relationship with my Divine Master.
July 28, 2012 will always be among the happiest, most blessed days of my life. That day, along with eighteen other young woman, I publicly pronounced my first religious vows: " To the honor of Almighty God, and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of our Holy Father Saint Dominic, I make to God in your hands Reverend Sister, the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for three years (I longed already for the day that I would be allowed to say 'for all my life') according to the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Constitutions of this Congregation."
I became a bride of Christ. I cried for love, for joy and for gratitude throughout the Mass of First Profession. During the three years that followed, I had many challenges. Temptations against the vow of chastity were rarely among them. I had found my precious pearl for which I was happy to sell everything else. I had a loving community that I loved dearly and an ever-deepening prayer life to support me in my commitment.
Here are excepts from a reflection I wrote after studying the vow of chastity during the novice year before taking first vows:
I did not really know what chastity was, so I had never been overly concerned with it before...The first day we talked about chastity in vow class, I nearly cried; it struck me as so beautiful...I want to be totally the Lord's, able to give my undivided love. Sometimes when I'm looking at the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance, it makes me think of an image of all my love being directed through that little circle and then as it passes through, it is diffused out to be big enough for all his people. I think of the line in the psalm, "He has given me a marvelous love for all his faithful". The only way to do it, though, is through him. I must be undivided in loving Him; then I can love his faithful and be effective in saving souls. And the reason I want to save them is because they are His...I really just want to love Jesus more (and the Father and Holy Spirit too). Dec 4, 2011
Part II: How my understanding of chastity has both broadened and deepened since my first vows.