What Are the Evangelical Counsels?

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The Evangelical Counsels are a cornerstone of Catholic spirituality, especially in religious life. But even if you’re not a nun, monk, or priest, these counsels have something profound to offer every Catholic. So what are they? Simply put, they’re three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. These aren’t just rules for the sake of having rules; they’re ways to free ourselves so we can love God and neighbor even better. Let’s take a closer look at each one and see how they can deepen our faith and enrich our lives.

Understanding the Evangelical Counsels: An Introduction

You might be wondering, “Why are these counsels called ‘evangelical’?” The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word for “good news,” which in this context refers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, these counsels are closely tied to the teachings of Jesus, serving as a practical roadmap for living out the Gospel.

The Vow of Poverty

What is Poverty in this Context?

The vow of poverty isn’t about making yourself destitute; it’s about detachment from material goods. It challenges us to rely on God rather than our possessions. This doesn’t mean everyone should give away all their stuff, but it does call us to evaluate what really matters in our lives.

Biblical Basis

Jesus was pretty clear about the dangers of wealth. He famously said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). But this isn’t a blanket condemnation of being wealthy; it’s a warning about letting wealth own you.

Church Teaching

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the vow of poverty “is a sign of Christ’s total self-giving to the Father and to the brethren” (Catechism, 915). So, it’s a way of imitating Christ, who, though rich, became poor for our sake (see 2 Corinthians 8:9).

Practical Implications

The vow of poverty isn’t just for religious people; it has something to teach all of us. We can practice it by simplifying our lives and sharing what we have with those who have less. By doing so, we create space for what truly matters: our relationship with God and neighbor.

The Vow of Chastity

What is Chastity in this Context?

Chastity often gets misunderstood. Many think it means a complete rejection of sexuality, but that’s not true. Chastity means rightly ordering our sexual desires according to our state in life.

Biblical Basis

Jesus taught that everyone is called to be pure of heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). St. Paul also talked about the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Church Teaching

The Church teaches that “Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in keeping with the divine plan, as a means of attaining perfection” (Catechism, 915). Chastity is part of this. It allows us to love freely, without the distractions or complications that can come from misordered sexual desire.

Practical Implications

For married folks, this means fidelity to one’s spouse. For single people, it means celibacy until marriage. And for priests and religious, it means celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. By living chastity according to our state in life, we’re freed to love more deeply and authentically.

The Vow of Obedience

What is Obedience in this Context?

Obedience doesn’t mean mindlessly following orders. It’s a joyful listening and responding to God’s will, whether it comes through Scripture, Church teaching, or legitimate authority.

Biblical Basis

Jesus Himself was obedient, even unto death (Philippians 2:8). In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He’s our model for what obedience should look like.

Church Teaching

The Catechism teaches that the vow of obedience “to those who are appointed to exercise authority in the Church” leads us to imitate Christ’s own obedience (Catechism, 915).

Practical Implications

We can practice obedience in our daily lives by respecting legitimate authority and by seeking God’s will in prayer and action. It’s not about losing our freedom but about finding it in God’s will.

The Universal Call to Holiness

The Evangelical Counsels are, first and foremost, a call to holiness. The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that all Christians are called to holiness, no matter their state in life (Lumen Gentium, 40). You don’t have to be a priest or a nun to take these counsels to heart. They’re for all of us.

In Summary

The Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience aren’t just for religious people. They’re a challenge and invitation for all of us to live out the Gospel more fully. By embracing them, we can grow closer to God and become the people we’re meant to be.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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