Until I started exploring Benedictine monasticism, I thought all religious orders made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. However, monastics in the Benedictine tradition promise stability, obedience and fidelity to the monastic way of life. The latter includes, but is not limited to, poverty and chastity. In these next few weeks I'm going to share a little about what these promises mean.
Before reflecting on each specific promise, I want to say something about what it means to make these promises. Profession is a public expression of the personal commitment that I am making to God, to this community, and to this way of life as the means of seeking God. Profession is not a sacrament in the way that baptism or marriage would be regarded as a sacrament, but it is a solemn act made before God and before witnesses in which I declare my intention to give my life to God through living the three monastic promises. There are two important elements: making the promises and then living them. The promises are not a formula which a woman recites to gain admittance to a society, but the declaration of an intention to live a way of life for her whole life. Profession is a moment in time, but the intention contained in that moment is to persevere in seeking God into eternity.
It is going to be a challenge to distill each promise in the next few weeks, because they are not really separate: each links into the other. I have reflected on the promises a lot during my years at the monastery and my understanding has developed over time. I hope this will continue, so please don't take what I'm now going to say as the final word on the subject. However, it seems to me that the unifying force within the promises is love. Ultimately, each one helps us, if we persevere, to move away from putting ourselves first, and enables us to develop our capacity to love beyond ourselves