Program in Christian Counseling: The Three Evangelical Vows
The perfection of the Christian Life has always been emphasized in Christ’s words to pick up one’s cross and to follow him. Following him entails releasing one’s own will and ignoring the noises of the world. Ultimately, one releases all of this world and gives oneself completely and totally to God. Few reach this intimacy with God in this world due to the secular and materialistic temptations of this world. However, the three evangelical vows aid greatly in the maturation of the spiritual life because it rids the soul of external distractions; distractions that pull the soul away from God.
These vows while purifying for the soul, still form a great challenge. This can be seen in the case of the rich man and Christ. When Christ told him that the final step to sanctity was to release his goods and to follow him, the man was troubled. This is the case with many people who love God but have a hard time severing themselves from the world. The fallen nature desires sex, wealth and freedom in a disproportionate fashion. I say disproporationate sex, material possessions and freedom are not evil things in themselves but only when misused for lust, greed and selfish pursuit. The evangelical vows are a higher calling that not only denies the flesh appropriate usage of sex, material things and freedom, but completely denies the flesh these things. In this, a soul becomes chaste, impoverished and obedient to Christ. Through this ultimate sacrifices, the soul can become closer to God and free from material distractions.
The most common people who take these vows are the religious. The religious totally consecrate their lives to Christ-making Christ their spiritual spouse, Christ their lone possession, and Christ their lone master. These standards are well documented throughout the history of Christianity when St. Anthony of the Desert first sought the solitude of the evangelical life. However, as orders rose, communal sharing of these vows were shared with various orders such as the Benedictines, Franscians, and Dominicans to name a few.
While it is true the calling of the three vows are a high calling, one still cannot turn one’s back to society. How can people existing in society still share in these vows or at least to some extent? One cannot dismiss the beauty of the vocation of marriage even though one does not practice the vow of chastity. The reality is Christ calls everyone to a special vocation and within that vocation, these three vows or ideals should be implemented as best appropriate.
So those who exist as priests, ministers, married couples, or devout singles should find value in these three vows by practicing the various virtue associated with the vow in their daily life. For example, a married person can still practice a form of chastity via mutual self denial for a period of time, perhaps during Lent. A single person can and should also practice chastity not only for spiritual betterment but because the commandments command so. In regards to poverty, those who are not religious can still accumulate wealth, but that wealth should be distributed to the poor or church. Materials and objects should be viewed as blessings but never the ultimate end. Frequent expenditure of time and energy should be given to the poor. Finally, obedience can be incorporated into one’s life by simply making Christ, one’s master. By obeying the commandments, submitting one’s will to God’s will and avoiding sin, one shows obedience to Christ.
During Christian Counseling Sessions, one should emphasize ways, the secular world can incorporate the three evangelical vows.
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Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C