What is Religious Life?
Religious Life is a vocation in which members live in a community with a shared apostolate (or mission), charism (the particular expression of the community’s life, the community’s “culture”), and spirituality.
All religious profess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (called the evangelical counsels) according to the example and recommendation of Jesus. These vows help the religious to dedicate themselves in love to God alone, and to free themselves for service to the Church. The apostolic exhortation of Pope Saint John Paul explains the purpose of each of the evangelical counsels:
“The chastity of celibates and virgins, as a manifestation of dedication to God with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34), is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons in the mysterious depths of the life of the Trinity, the love to which the Incarnate Word bears witness even to the point of giving his life, the love ‘poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 5:5), which evokes a response of total love for God and the brethren.
Poverty proclaims that God is man’s only real treasure. When poverty is lived according to the example of Christ who, ‘though he was rich … became poor’ (2 Cor 8:9), it becomes an expression of that total gift of self which the three Divine Persons make to one another. This gift overflows into creation and is fully revealed in the Incarnation of the Word and in his redemptive death.
Obedience, practiced in imitation of Christ, whose food was to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4:34), shows the liberating beauty of a dependence which is not servile but filial, marked by a deep sense of responsibility and animated by mutual trust, which is a reflection in history of the loving harmony between the three Divine Persons” (par 21).
Religious Life comes in many different forms. Some communities are active, meaning they have an apostolate among people to aid or assist them with physical or spiritual necessities (teaching, missionary work, care for the poor, etc.) Some are contemplative, meaning their primary apostolate is prayer for the Church and the world. Many communities mix aspects of both active and contemplative life.
The lives of religious are full and richly rewarding, though this may seem contradictory to a worldy understanding of what makes people happy. While religious do not have their own spouses and children, they take the whole Church as their families, and are free to be present in all lives in a unique way. While they do not collect many possessions, they possess true joy and purity of heart, and have more than material possessions can give with the love of God. And while they have bound themselves in obedience, the freedom of trusting entirely in Divine Providence obedience brings allows profound peace and happiness.