As a religious sister, I often receive questions along the lines of, “Can you…?” or “Will ‘they’ let you…?” This way of wording questions about the religious life misunderstands the vow of obedience I make, which both comes from and brings freedom.
How can we say that obedience and freedom are connected? Indeed, to be authentic, the two cannot be separated. “Obedience” without freedom is, in fact, not obedience but force. And freedom without obedience is rather rebellion and anarchy.
The Bible teaches us that the proper response to God’s Revelation of Himself is “the obedience of faith” (cf. Romans 16:26). God has poured Himself out for us, and we respond by a faith which seeks His will and His plans above all things. Even when we find what He has revealed about faith or morals hard to embrace, we trust that He desires only our good and that He alone will fulfill the desires of our hearts. We freely choose to accept in active faith and obedience all that He has shown us is good and true and beautiful.
What is it that leads one to give oneself entirely to God in obedience to His will? There is really no question of what I am “allowed” to do as a sister. I have chosen this life, knowing completely everything that it entails, freely and joyfully. I have encountered a God who is in love with me, and I have desired to return love for love, giving myself completely to Him as His bride. I have vowed my life to Him in poverty, chastity and obedience, and He has vowed Himself to give the grace to live as His forever. What joy could be greater than this? If people could experience even a small amount of the peace and joy I have in this life, they would understand the desire for it.
But no matter the vocation one has, the joy and peace of living obediently as a disciple of Christ are possible. For each Christian, the same motive for being a disciple should exist, springing from freedom. There is only one reason to be willing to renounce anything (cf. Luke 14:26) and to risk the rejection (cf. John 15:20) that inevitably comes from being a true follower of the Lord: love. It is a love of one who recognizes how much he or she has been loved — even to the Cross – and desires to hold back nothing in response. When one encounters such love, how can one not respond with love — with complete gift of self — in return? May we always give of ourselves in the obedience of faith to the One who first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:19).
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.