This may surprise you, but when my classmates and I were
ordained to the diaconate in 2005 and the priesthood in 2006, we didn’t
make any vows — at all!
Shocking? It shouldn’t be.
confusion revolves around the distinction between religious life
(brothers, sisters, monks and nuns) and the diocesan priesthood.
Religious vows are made as part of belonging to a particular order such
as the Franciscans, Dominicans or Benedictines. Much like marriage vows,
a man or woman entering into a consecrated relationship with the Lord,
as well as a communal relationship with an order, typically vows three
things; poverty, chastity and obedience. Some orders may have four vows; for example, the Missionaries of Charity also take a vow of joy, and Benedictines make a vow of stability.
chastity and obedience are known as the evangelical counsels, or the
counsels of perfection. They mirror the life of Jesus and set the man or
woman apart to give witness to the Gospel in their entire being.
By sacrificing the goods of the world (poverty), they remind us that happiness doesn’t come from material goods.
sacrificing marriage (chastity), religious begin living now the
relationship we all hope to have perfectly with God in heaven, where
we’re neither given nor taken in marriage, but worship God with the
angels (Matthew 22:30).
By submitting their wills to their
superiors (obedience), they die to self in service of the kingdom in
union with Jesus who came not to do his own will, but the will of his
Father (John 6:38).
So what about me and my classmates? As
diocesan clergy, we don’t belong to a religious order, so we make no
vows. Rather, we make three promises to our bishop: respect and
obedience to the bishop and his successor; to pray daily for the people
of God through the Liturgy of the Hours; and we promise celibacy for
the sake of the kingdom. Notice what isn’t promised? Poverty.
law states that “since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical
ministry, they deserve remuneration which is consistent with their
condition … and by which they can provide for the necessities of their
life as well for the equitable payment of those whose services they need
(Canon 281).” Put simply, diocesan priests need enough to provide for
things such as a car, clothing, food, medicine and reasonable leisure.
Religious orders provide all of these things for the members of their
community, but the diocesan priest is responsible for these things on
However, the Church wants her priests to be spiritual
fathers, not spiritual bachelors, so she also gives this guidance:
“Clerics are to foster simplicity of life and are to refrain from all
things that have a semblance of vanity.” Should a diocesan priest have a
well-functioning and reliable car for ministry? Yes. Should a diocesan
priest be driving around in a luxury vehicle? Probably not. The cardinal
virtue of prudence plays a pivotal role in guiding the stewardship of a
So, even though my classmates and I didn’t take
any vows at our ordination, as diocesan priests, we promised to live
simple, obedient, chaste and prayerful lives for the sake of the