Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

11 October 2015

Take Counsels

You may have heard of a Catholic thing called the “Evangelical Counsels.” They are called “evangelical” because they are rooted in Jesus’ teachings as found in the Holy Gospels (ευ', "good" + αγγελίον, "message"). They are called “counsels” as opposed to “commands,” because Our Lord didn’t make them mandatory; but one might say that, for the person who seeks holiness, they are as optional as a life preserver on a stormy sea. 

They are three in number: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Together they form three prongs of a single plug that connects us to, and keeps us grounded in, holiness--likeness to Jesus Christ. You might recognize them as the vows that men or women take to align themselves with a religious community.

The Scripture readings of last, this, and next week wonderfully illustrate this threefold way of life. Last week’s words on the Creator’s intention for marriage (sexual complementarity, fidelity, permanence, exclusivity, and openness to new life) concern Gospel Chastity; This week’s exhortations against dependence on wealth and other possessions deal with Poverty; and next week’s story of James and John in their search for status speaks to Obedience, our need to "render an account" to another person throughout our lives.

Again, the Church has called these “counsels” because Jesus presented them as paths to perfection, to become the clearest channel of divine mercy. To be perfect, however, is to be steadfast in striving toward their realization in our particular lives. In a sense, one can strive toward evangelical poverty no matter how big your bank account or home, or if you have neither. Evangelical chastity is possible for married or unmarried persons. A company’s CEO can seek evangelical obedience as readily as its janitor can.

The key is to place our individual skills and ills at the Lord’s service. Skills and ills, because God can use both for His glory and for another’s benefit. We cannot cling to anything we have as if we made it happen and it would go away if we loosened our grip. Our treasures, our plans, our institutions—whatever occupies our minds most of all–we must continually offer to God with full appreciation for it, and with a sense of its preciousness and fragility, as if He would take it away the moment we offered it. It’s not that we don’t want it, and it’s not that God will necessarily take it; but when God Himself reserves the place of priority, all else falls into place for His sake.