Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

Life As a Married Monk

June 8, 2018 by

Tradition has it that the “religious,” or those who make consecrated vows, are men and women who commit themselves to poverty, chastity, and obedience. Monks, nuns, priests and the like make special vows so they can devote themselves entirely to God and to his work. They “renounce” the world for the sake of a higher calling. They own nothing, give up marriage, and surrender their autonomy in service to the church. For most of us, such a life is not just counter-cultural but borderline drastic.

young couple laughing togetherPhotograph by Darius Clement

I am neither “religious” nor a Catholic. I’m married, have a family, live in relative comfort, and look like an average Joe. Yet these three vows form the very basis of the community to which I belong. In a sort of way, I live life as a married monk.

Hold on. How can I, a married man, live a normal life while vowing to live in poverty, to not have sex, and to let others make decisions that affect my life and my family’s?

The answer to that question depends on what we mean by poverty, chastity, and obedience. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, in a recent piece, argues that these traditional vows are not what they appear to be.

Rolheiser explains that poverty isn’t primarily about living without good things or living with cheaper things, but living in such a way that we see material things as gifts – not our possessions. It’s about living in such a way that no one’s needs are more important than another’s and to ensure that God’s creation can be enjoyed by all and with all. “It’s a vow against consumerism and tribalism, and it brings its own wonderful riches in terms of meaning and in the happiness and joy of a shared life."

Similarly, chastity isn’t just about not having sex or being unmarried, but it’s about transcending one’s sexual desires and devoting one’s creative energies to build joyful fellowship with others. “The very real joys that are found in community, friendship, and service of other are not a second-rate substitute for sex. True chastity is committing oneself to helping others out of their aloneness."

Finally, true obedience is not about surrendering our freedom. “It’s rather a radical submitting of one’s human ego (with all its wounds, desires, lusts, private ambitions, and envies) to something and Someone higher than oneself.” Obedience is actually the freedom to fulfill God’s ultimate will to love. It is for this freedom Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1, 13–14). Obedience is the power to give oneself to the needs of others. This sounds a lot like how Jesus lived.

These vows have little to do with sacrificing anything but everything to do with living a full, fulfilling, and free life in Christ.

If Rolheiser is right about the three traditional religious vows, then I am unashamedly a married monk. For I can testify, along with many others with whom I live in community, that it is possible live free of possessions, free of having to indulge my flesh, and free of having to act as if I control my life.

More than this, I can testify that in Christ, it is possible to enjoy not owning anything and sharing everything. It is possible to embrace my sexuality and yet form pure, honest, genuine relationships with everyone, male and female, single and married. And it is possible to want to defer to the wisdom and insight of others while having a peace that God’s will is far more important than my own. In short, a vowed life with others is not only possible but also life-giving.

Am I a saint? No! Have I arrived at some higher state of being? Not in the least! I only suggest that when you surrender unconditionally your entire self to Christ, a radically new kind of life with others becomes possible.

The “religious life?” For you? Vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience? For everyone? In my mind, these vows simply add deeds to a faith that gladly gives everything to Christ. They have little to do with sacrificing anything but everything to do with living a full, fulfilling, and free life in Christ.

Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke. 9:25). Jesus came not to bring cheap substitutes but to bring life and to give it abundantly. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are neither cheap nor substitutes. They bring life.

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About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore resides with his wife and daughter in Esopus, New York where he teaches Bible and Christian Thought at The...

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  • I was looking through some old cards and found one from you and Leslie. You seem joyful in your choices and chosen life. Laura Hemingway Zeron

    Laura