Giving and giving up

The other evening I was listening to a recording of a homily about vocation to religious life, given by a university chaplain. He spoke of the negative perception of our life, as one of renunciation, letting go - giving up. And yes; there is renunciation, there is letting go, there is giving up: but, of course, this is true of any way of life. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else - not necessarily because one thing is bad or lesser, but simply because the other is so much more attractive or compelling, or simply right.

But, of course, religious life is about so much more than simply giving up, and the priest proceeded to remind his congregation that it is, particularly, about giving. Not giving up, he said, but giving. Giving yourself the freedom to pray, to love to, serve...

And at that point I sat up! We so often talk of religious life as gift: the gift of oneself to God; the gift of the whole way of life to the Church and the world. We talk of our vocation as a gift, too, received by us from God, who, never outdone in generosity, gives us far more than we can ever even dream of giving him. We talk, too, of freedom: that mysterious paradox whereby the very act of binding ourselves by vows becomes the source of a sense of greater, joyous freedom. I blogged about this about 18 months ago, and it came up in conversation a couple of weeks ago, when a few of us were recalling our perpetual professions of vows. But this was the first time I heard the two in the same sentence, heard religious life described as giving yourself the freedom to pray, to love, to serve...

But in fact, that is very much what we do: through whatever we may give to God, we also give to ourselves this wonderful gift of freedom, of growth and depth in prayer, and in love, poured out in service.

Tomorrow I travel to Rome, where, on Sunday, twelve young RSCJ - including one who lived with me in Oxford for nearly two years - will make their perpetual vows. They will bind themselves forever, to God in the Society... and hopefully know that in so doing, they have given themselves the most tremendous gift of freedom, to become women of prayer and love lavishly poured out.

Please join me in praying for them, and for all those God is calling to this tremendous and extraordinary gift of a life.