I believe that what distinguishes me as a vowed member in the St. Joseph Family is the fact that I pronounce public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and share a common life in the congregation with other vowed members.
I try to see the vows as integral to what it means to be a human person, opportunities to get a hold on life in all of its aspects.
Poverty means I have everything and yet paradoxically I have nothing. It means accepting all of creation into my life without owning anything. Poverty calls me to unselfishness, to sharing, and to using only that which I need. It lets me know that our natural resources have limits. When I recycle, I am faithful to my vow of poverty. When I consider my needs versus my wants, I am being faithful to poverty. Poverty calls me to simplicity, which I define as a single focused vision. Of all the vows, poverty helps me to keep my priorities straight and ultimately creates in me a reverence for all of creation.
It’s the vow of chastity that I believe is at the very heart of what it means to be a vowed religious. It touches the core of my life. If lived fully, chastity speaks to the centrality of God and God’s love in all of one’s life. Rather than loving someone exclusively, I am called to love inclusively. It means listening to someone I may not naturally want to listen to. It means not giving up on people. It means letting others touch me and change me. It means loving others because God is at work in all of us, loving us and helping us to discover our goodness together.
Obedience means to be a good listener, especially a listener in the Spirit. This vow challenges me to look at who I am with my particular set of gifts and limitations; the vow of obedience also has me looking at priorities both the province and the congregation set before me and then matching all of that with the needs of God’s people. Obedience also leads me to take the opportunity to learn so that I can serve better. If one has the gift of organization and leadership as an educator, for example, obedience would have her get certified and stay updated so that she could be a good principal. Obedience nudge me always to be alert to the touch of God and to how God would have me act as a Sister of St. Joseph.
These vows are really not separated. They make up a lifestyle that cannot be compartmentalized. They overlap and fit together and join me to others in the congregation who share the charism with me.
~Sister Rita Huebner