The Vincentian Consecration of the Daughters of Charity

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

By: Fernando Quintano, CM


[This presentation was given during the XXXIX Week of Vincentian Studies, Salamanca, June 29th – July 3rd, 2015, and has been translated and posted on-line with the permission of the author and CEME Press who will publish all the presentations in Spanish at some later date].


Introduction

Before beginning this presentation, allow me to make a clarification in order to eliminate possible doubts or misunderstandings about the manner in which I am going to develop the two themes that have been assigned to me.

Looking at the program that will be developed during this week, it is easy to conclude that it was inspired by Pope Francis’ letter that convoked the “year of consecrated life” (Apostolic Letter of November 21, 2014). This letter is a model of balance between innovation and fidelity. Innovation: the Pope states that consecrated life has to change those structures that are hindering openness and mobility in order to engage in the task of evangelization, has to accept and confront the challenges that society presents to consecrated life (Apostolic Letter, II:4) and has to recover the prophetic dimension that ought to characterize it (Apostolic Letter, II:2). Fidelity: Francis states that we should not neglect the inheritance that we have received but should once again reconnect ourselves to the inspiring charism of our Founders and recall our origins in order to give new life to our identity (Apostolic Letter, I:1).

The themes that have been entrusted to me highlight two elements with regard to the identity of the Company of the Daughters of Charity. I am going to develop these themes by returning to the sources and to the origins … and in doing so I hope to rediscover and recall the significance of the two essential traits of the Daughters of Charity: the significance of their consecration and the significance of their secular character. In returning to the origins we are not becoming involved in some archeological expedition nor do we do so with some yearning to return to the past. The Daughters should not give into the temptation of self-complacency or the temptation to close in upon themselves or the temptation to become obsessed by their differences. The Pope warns us that no one contributes to the future in isolation (Apostolic Letter, II:3). The Vincentians and the Daughters of Charity are called to continue the mission of Christ, evangelizing and serving the poor and they are to be inspired and impelled by the charism of their Founders. At the same time we must ask ourselves what is humanity and God demanding of us (Apostolic Letter, II:5). We must be open to change and at the same time faithful to our origins and identity, without which any authentic renewal would be impossible. In the development of the themes that have been given to me I will focus on the original identity of the Daughters of Charity.

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The words that Vincent de Paul addressed to the first Daughters ten years before their official approval provide the background and the context for this first conference: If you are really faithful in the observance of this way of life, Sisters, you will all be good Christians. I wouldn’t be saying as much if I told you that you would be good nuns. Why do people join religious Orders if not to become good Christian men and women? Yes, Sisters, really make it a point to become good Christian women by the faithful practice of your Rules [1].

According to this text, the manner of following Christ is intended to make the Daughters of Charity good Christians. That being so we must state here that we become Christian through faith and through baptism. Therefore, being a good Christian means that people fully live out the meaning of their baptism. The Constitutions of the Daughters, following this same line of thought, present the vocation of the Daughters of Charity in these words: The Daughters of Charity, in fidelity to their Baptism and in response to a divine call, give themselves entirely and in community to the service of Christ in their brothers and sisters who are poor, in an evangelical spirit of humility, simplicity, and charity (Constitutions, #7a). In other words, the Daughters of Charity are good Christians by being faithful to their Baptism … and their manner of being faithful to their Baptism is to give themselves entirely and in community to the service of Christ in the poor and to do so with humility, simplicity and charity.

This manner of following Christ is a response to the divine call, that is, a response to a specific vocation. This specific vocation is the manner in which the Daughters of Charity live their common baptismal vocation. Therefore, when they take vows for the first time and each year when they renew their vows, they say the following words in order to confirm the gift of their whole life to God: I renew my baptismal promises. Through the total giving of themselves to God which brought them into the Company and through the confirmation of this self-giving in the taking of vows, the Daughters strive to be good Christians and they are able to do so as they continue to be faithful to their baptism and to the promises that they made at the time that they received that sacrament.

This introduction provides me with a foundation that allows me to develop the following points in this presentation: [1] the significance of the baptismal consecration and the implications of that consecration; [2] in religious life an individual becomes involved in “a new and special consecration” --- what is the significance of that new consecration? [3] in light of giving themselves entirely to God (consecration) and in light of the vows of the Company, what are some of the implications and the priorities for the Daughters of Charity? These are the points that I will develop in my presentation.


Baptismal consecration

The Second Vatican Council affirms that the profession of the evangelical counsels that is made by religious constitutes a special consecration, which is deeply rooted in their baptismal consecration (Perfectae Caritatis, #5). The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II states that religious profession is considered to be a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism (Vita Consecrata, #30). The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity affirm that the Sisters, in fidelity to their Baptism, give themselves entirely to God in order to serve Christ in the poor (cf. Constitutions, #7a). If “the special consecration” of religious life and the self-giving of the Sisters’ lives to God … if these refer to baptism then we must begin by explaining the baptismal consecration that is common to every Christian because that is the fundamental consecration and is the root of everything else [2].

From an etymological perspective the words “baptism” and “to baptize” mean to submerge in water. Saint Paul viewed baptism as a submersion or a burial with Christ into his death in order to participate in the new life of the Risen One (cf. Romans 6:3-5). Through baptism men and women pass from death into life; the old sinful person of sin is put to death in order that the new person might be born, the new creature animated by divine life.

Through faith and baptism we become incorporated into Christ and therefore, with Saint Paul, we can say: for to me life is Christ (Philippians 1:21) or yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Through this incorporation into Christ we participate in his divine filiation, thus entering into a personal relationship with God.

The baptismal formula: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit actually means and signifies that I baptize you and consecrate you to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That consecration means that we have become the total and exclusive possession of the three divine Persons, members of the family of God and fellow citizens with the holy ones (cf. Ephesians 2:19). In baptism God sends his Spirit to dwell with us thus constituting us as his holy temple (cf. Galatians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 3:16).

The anointing with chrism signifies our membership in the Church, our being a new people who participate in the condition of Christ as priest, prophet and king. The white garment expresses the dignity of baptism, that is, as new creatures we are clothed in Christ.

Baptismal consecration is therefore identification with the person and the life of Christ. As we become incorporated into Christ through faith and baptism, so too we are also introduced into the life of God, we become Jesus’ brothers and sisters, we become adopted children of the Father and we are consecrated and destined to be temples of the Spirit.

“To consecrate” means, in the first instance, that God takes possession of someone, configures that person with God’s Son, Jesus Christ, sanctifies and dwells with that person. In the second instance, “to consecrate” means to give oneself to God without any reservation and to do so as a response to that previous donation of self. Therefore, when we speak about any other form of consecration, such an action should always be understood as a deepening of the baptismal consecration and a further development of the seeds of life that were planted at the time of baptism.

In view of the common baptismal consecration, all the baptized are members of the body of Christ, all share in the same dignity (cf. Galatians 3:26-29) and all are called to the same holiness (cf. Lumen Gentium, #32). The Second Vatican Council affirms: it is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love (Lumen Gentium, #40). In this way, the secular understanding that distinguished two types of Christians was overcome, that is, that who viewed mystics as distinct from people who were active in the world. Such was not Christ’s understanding … Jesus invited all his followers to be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The vision of life that is presented in the Sermon on the Mount is intended for all people. There are no first and second class Christians, just different ways of incarnating the common Christian vocation. The different paths or vocations in the Church have as their origin and source the common vocation of baptism. The distinct spiritualties are different ways of deepening the same Christian baptismal spirituality. What is specific about one form of spirituality should not blind us to the common elements and, therefore, the manner in which a specific form of spirituality is deepened should not make us lose sight of that which is most important and at the center of every form of spirituality … the different forms of spirituality should not lead us to deviate from the source of all spirituality. All the various vocations and states in the Church are different ways of living the common Christian vocation, different ways of being faithful to the baptismal promises and different ways of developing the seeds of the same baptismal grace.


Religious profession, “a new and special consecration”

The recovery and re-evaluation of the meaning of baptismal consecration does not eliminate or diminish that which is proper to consecrated life (whether that be religious life or not). We want to clarify here that “consecrated life” is not the same as “religious life”. As we will see, the Daughters of Charity can be said to belong to consecrated life but not to religious life. All Christians are called to holiness but it the Holy Spirit who, throughout the course of history, has raised up in the Church a diversity of vocations and charisms and various manners of aspiring to holiness. One of those forms is religious life.

This “new and special consecration” of religious life occurs at the time of profession, that is, the profession of public vows (usually perpetual vows), the profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. That is what constitutes the proper consecration of men and women religious (cf. Canon #654). The Council defines this as a special consecration which is deeply rooted in their baptismal consecration and is a fuller expression of it (Perfectae Caritas, #5).

Through their baptism all Christians are called to live a chaste life that is in accord with their state in life. Furthermore, they are called to be obedient to God and to the Church and they are also called to a reasonable detachment from material goods. Nevertheless, baptism does not imply that Christians have to live as celibates or profess obedience to a superior or renounce the possession of material goods. That is proper to those who have received the gift of God’s call to live their baptismal consecration through the profession and the practice of the evangelical counsels. Therefore, through the act of religious profession, certain individuals accept certain gospel demands that are not demanded by baptism but are a privileged expression that said individuals accept because they want to live their baptismal consecration in a radical manner. When Canon Law refer to religious life it utilizes the words: consecration of the whole person and a total self-giving as a sacrifice offered to God (cf. Canon 607.1).

Baptismal consecration is primarily and fundamentally a participation in the life of Christ. Baptism is the basis of everything else, but it is not everything. Baptism is an initiation into a process of growth, into a process of on-going configuration with Christ. Through religious consecration, individuals configure themselves more fully with Christ, more fully with three specific dimensions of Jesus’ life: chaste, poor and obedient. Through the profession of the evangelical vows, certain individuals intend to concretize and give witness to their baptismal consecration in their daily life. That is the meaning of one of the more current definitions of consecrated life: to follow Christ more nearly.

When we spoke before about baptismal consecration, we stated that it had a twofold meaning: God consecrates Christians and Christians consecrate themselves to God. Now as we speak about religious consecration that same twofold meaning applies. On the one hand, it is God who consecrates religious men and women; it is God who calls them and takes possession of their being in order to configure them with Christ. On the other hand, it is the men and women who give their whole life to God in response to God’s call. Thus religious consecration, on the one hand, is rooted in one’s baptismal consecration and, on the other hand, brings that consecration to its fullness as it is freely embraced with all the demands of its radicalness. Religious consecration does not modify or add anything additional to the content of one’s baptismal consecration. Individuals accept commitments that enable them to confront the challenges and overcome the obstacles that are opposed to their baptismal consecration and that make it difficult for them to live out their baptismal consecration. Those obstacles and challenges are often rooted in a desire to have rather than to be, a desire for pleasure and a desire to dominate others. Religious consecration is an option for the absoluteness of God and the Kingdom … realities that are viewed as precious jewels. In order to obtain those jewels one sells everything and all other values become relative (values such as marriage, money and personal autonomy).

In summary: religious consecration is the total gift of oneself to God, it is an option in which one offers oneself to God in order to live one’s baptismal consecration with all its demands. The visible sign of religious consecration is the profession of the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. In the history of the Church the clothing of oneself through vows in the three dimensions of Christ life has always been viewed as an expression of the radicalness of the gospel, as well as an expression of one’s unconditional commitment to the cause of the gospel.

Through religious consecration one’s life is oriented toward the mission: thus it can be said that consecrated persons are “in mission” by virtue of their consecration (Vita consecrate, #72c).

Baptism makes us members of a prophetic people. Religious consecration, in addition to being a total surrendering of oneself to God, proclaims gospel values and denounces those values opposed to the gospel. Therefore, the prophetic character of consecrated life takes the shape of a special form of sharing in Christ’s prophetic office (Vita Consecrata, #84a).

We see, then, that the Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, recognizes the fact that the church and society have need of the consecrated life (cf. Vita Consecrata, #105). But this is true only when consecrated life is a sign of the radical nature of the gospel and when consecrated life concretizes and reveals the demands of baptismal consecration. Otherwise it loses its means, it loses its taste and is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (cf. Matthew 5:13) … it loses its strength and like the yeast does not enable the mass of dough to be leavened because it has lost its transformative power (cf. Luke 13:21).

The “consecration” of the Daughters of Charity

Probably during this presentation on religious consecration, the Daughters of Charity have found themselves in a position in which they are able to identify with some of these elements and not with others. Why? Let us attempt to clarify that situations.

The Founders were insistent on the fact that the Daughters of Charity are not religious. That state was viewed as contrary to the purpose of the Company and the spirit that God desired of its members. The consecration proper to the religious state consists of the profession of public vows, the profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The Daughters of Charity are not religious; they do not profess the evangelical counsels and they do not consecrate themselves in the manner of religious. Vincent’s words are most clear in this regard: They shall bear in mind that they do not belong to a religious Order because that state is incompatible with the duties of their vocation … they make no other profession to ensure their vocation [but that of] their constant trust in Divine Providence and the offering they make to God of all that they are and of their service in the person of the poor (CCD:X:530). The Daughters of Charity are nor professed religious. Furthermore, since the Code of Canon Law states that religious consecration occurs during the act of profession, the Daughters of Charity are neither religious not consecrated in the manner of religious.

Since the word consecration commonly refers to the profession of the evangelical vows through public vows (usually perpetual vows) and since the Daughters of Charity are not, properly speaking, religious nor do they consecrate themselves in the manner of religious, thus the delegates to the 2003 General Assembly who revised the 1983 Constitutions, instead of using the words consecration and consecrate themselves substituted the words give themselves entirely to God (Constitutions, #7a, 16b) … words that are in greater accord with the expressions that the Founders utilized.

In what sense “consecrated”?

The word consecration has various meaning. I explained the basic meaning referred in the section where I spoke about our baptismal consecration,. Another meaning is that which is referred to in the Code of Canon Law when speaking about the profession of the evangelical counsels, a profession that is made by religious. That meaning, however, is not applicable to the Daughters of Charity.

In a theological and spiritual context, consecration can also mean an “unconditional surrender of one’s life”, “a total giving of one’s self”, “an offering of one’s life”, “configuring oneself with Christ”. It is in this sense that the Daughters are really and truly consecrated individuals. Those expressions were utilized by our Founders and are found in those sections of the Constitutions that refer to the vocation of the Daughters of the Charity (cf., Constitutions, #7a, 16b, 28a).

Viewed from a broader perspective that looks beyond the juridical consequences, it can be said that whenever there is an authentic configuration with Christ in the essential dimension of his mystery, then there is a true and real consecration. This, then, is the decisive criteria in determining the existence of the act of consecration in a formal and proper sense, in a theological sense, in its existential sense [3].

The consecration proper to religious life is a configuration with Christ in the three dimensions of his life: chaste, poor and obedient. The “total giving” (consecration) of the Daughter of Charity is also a configuration with Christ in another three dimensions of his life which are not less essential: adorer of the Father, servant of the Father’s loving plan and evangelizer of those who are poor (Constitutions, #8a). This consecration is rooted in charity: you are giving your entire life to the practice of charity and, therefore, you are giving it for God (CCD:IX:361); you have consumed your life for the same reason for which Jesus Christ gave his --- for charity, for God, for the poor! (CCD:VII:397).

Vincent was very clear about the identity of the Daughters and, therefore, felt very free in utilizing the language that he used to explain their vocation: [our vocation is one] in which we profess to love God and our neighbor (CCD:IX:367); you profess to serve your neighbor (CCD:X:159). The words “profession” and “consecration”, when applied to the Daughters of Charity, were utilized to express a contrast with the profession and the consecration of women religious. The specific and unique consecration of the Daughters of Charity distinguishes them from the Institutes of Religious Life, from Secular Institutes and from Lay Associations. The Company of the Daughters of Charity is a Society of Apostolic life. These societies are similar to those of religious life because they aspire to the perfection of charity, to evangelical holiness … but they seek those goals through means of a different path. The members of a Society of Apostolic Life do not make an act of profession and, therefore, their vows are not religious or public. They aspire to perfection through the observance of their Constitutions and through embracing the evangelical counsels in a specific manner determined by their Constitutions (cf., Canon #731).

Some might say that these are subtle and accidental differences … that the most important reality is to follow Christ and to promote his cause for the Kingdom (and in that regard everyone is involved, priests, laymen and women, consecrated men and women. That is true, but at the same time we must explain why, throughout history, the Holy Spirit has gifted people with different charism and inspired people with distinct manners of following Christ. We must explain why the Church insists that each Congregation remain faithful to their charism, convinced that this diversity of charisms beautifies the body of Christ.

The Daughters of Charity, as a result of the total offering of their life to God, cannot be identified with the laity. For the same reason they cannot be identified with women religious. They are not more or less like one group or the other; they are distinct from both groups. Yes, the multiple charisms in the Church is a reality, but that does not mean that said difference is accidental. In fact, that difference affects the identity of the members … and we must have precise concepts about our identity if we hope to incarnate that identity.

The radicalness of the gospel

Even though the manner in which the Daughters give themselves entirely to God is distinct from the consecration of other women religious, nevertheless, both forms of consecration include a similar gospel radicalness and similar gospel demands. The text from Vincent’s writings that was previously cited and that refers to the fact that the Daughters of Charity do not make a religious profession nor do they belong to the religious state … that text goes on to state that the Daughters of Charity have as much and even more need of virtue than if they had made their profession in a religious Order (CCD:X:531). At the beginning of that same conference, after telling the Sisters that they must place themselves in opposition to anyone who attempts to makes them religious, Vincent told them: It is very important that you be more virtuous than nuns. If there is one degree of perfection for members of religious Orders, Daughters of Charity need two (CCD:X:527-528). There Vincent was responding to some of the Sisters who thought that the state of the cloistered Sisters was more perfect than “the state of charity” of the Daughters. Vincent wanted to convince them that such was not the case and even though they might admire those cloistered women religious he reminded the Daughters that although [you, Sisters,] do not have vows to sustain [you] for the present, [you] are, nevertheless in that state of perfection if [you] are true Daughters of Charity (CCD:IX:13); then he went on to state: I have never seen a more perfect state (CCD:IX:538).

Vincent’s words reveal the radicalness of the divine call, the call that is extended to Daughters to give themselves entirely to God (consecration): To be a true Daughter of Charity, it is necessary to have left everything: father, mother, possessions, and the hope of establishing a household. This is what the Son of God teaches in the Gospel. We also have to renounce ourselves …To be a Daughters of Charity is to be daughters of God, daughters belonging entirely to God (CCD:IX:13-14).

Vincent addressed the Missionaries and commented on Jesus’ words: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” ... That is aiming high; who can reach it … yet that is the standard. Then Vincent went on to say: But because all Christians do not work at it, God, by certain ways we have to admire, seeing that most people neglect to do this, raises up some who offer themselves to his Divine Majesty to undertake, with his grace, to become holy themselves and to guide others to holiness (CCD:XI:68). Vincent gave a similar explanation to the Sisters (cf. CCD:IX:13-14). On another occasion when Vincent referred to the Daughters as continuing the mission of Christ, he stated: Doing what God did on earth? Wouldn’t you have to be very perfect? Yes indeed, Sisters! Shouldn’t you be angels incarnate (CCD:IX:459).

The Daughters of Charity, in fidelity to their Baptism, give themselves entirely to God (Constitutions, #7a), They commit themselves to live their baptismal consecration through serving Christ in those persons who are poor and therefore, they practice the evangelical counsels which they take (“non-religious” vows which are renewed each year [Constitutions, #28a]). They pronounce the vow formula after affirming the renewal of their baptismal promises (Constitutions, #28b). In other words, the Sisters’ total offering of their life to God (consecration) in order to serve Christ in the person of the poor is a response to God’s call to live out the gospel demands that are implied in their baptismal consecration. It is in this sense that Vincent wanted the Daughters of Charity to be “good Christians” and therefore, he could not demand anything more of them if he told them to be good women religious.

What is the meaning of the vows of the Daughters of Charity when it is swtated that they give themselves entirely to God (consecration)?

Article 28 of the Constitutions defines the vows as non-religious, annual and always renewable. When the Church approved those Constitutions, it affirmed that the manner in which the Company understood and expressed its vows in the present day world is, indeed, faithful to the understanding of its Founders.

The expression non-religious vows means, first of all, that the vows of the Daughters of Charity are distinct from those of men and women religious. The fundamental difference is that in religious life the evangelical counsels are professed through public vows and that act consecrates said individuals as religious. That which grounds or constitutes the vocation of the Daughters of Charity is the offering of their life to God in service of the poor. In fact, it should be noted that vows were introduced into the Company nine years after their foundation … nevertheless, before that time the women were true Daughters of Charity. They were Daughters from the time they entered the Seminary. The vows (neither public nor perpetual nor solemn nor totally private, but proper to the members of the Company) would come later and would confirm the offering of their life and would also enable them to serve the poor in a more effective manner (Constitutions, #8b, 8c). In religious consecration the focus is on the profession of vows, but for the Daughters of Charity their focus is the offering of their life to God in order to serve Christ in the person of the poor. The lifestyle that our Founders introduced into the Church, through the inspiration of the Spirit, was another way of following Christ in all of its radicalness … but a manner that was distinct from religious life. This new manner enabled the Daughters to be faithful to their baptism and to be good Christians.

Vows are an expression of a commitment and also an expression of a spiritual thrust. Through the vows the Daughters of Charity not only accept the concrete matter that is the object of the vow but they also accept the virtue and the corresponding evangelical counsel. It would be a contradiction if the vow lessened the demands of the virtue. An example: through the vow of poverty the Daughters of Charity commit themselves to total dependence in the use and disposal of the goods of the Company, as well as in the use of their personal goods (Constitutions, #30a). This manner of concretizing those matters pertaining to the vows does not relieve them from fulfilling the demands that are involved in following the poor Christ nor does it relieve them from fulfilling the demands implied by their situation as servants of the poor. If the Daughters of Charity were to limit themselves to a literal understanding of the vows of poverty, they would, indeed, be impoverished and they would make the gospel demands less radical. When Vincent spoke about poverty to the Sisters, he stated: Sisters, you chose Him at the time you entered the Company; you gave Him your word and, since He led a life of poverty, you must imitate Him in that (CCD:X:169) … in that same conference Vincent went one to say: all who are members of the Company and have not yet taken vows must practice poverty --- [and] that goes without saying for those who have taken vows (CCD:X:170). Therefore, when the Constitutions present the vows of the Daughters of Charity, in addition to presenting the specific matter related to the vows, the Constitutions develop the theology and the spirituality of the corresponding virtues and evangelical counsel and offer the means that will enable the Sisters to fulfill all those demands in the best possible manner (cf. Constitutions, #29-31).

It could not be otherwise since the Daughters of Charity confirm their complete surrender to God when they take and renew their vows. Thus, the offering of their whole life to God in order to serve those persons who are poor becomes a radical evangelical manner of following Christ. As a reaffirmation of the offering of their life to God and in order to better fulfill the purpose of the Company, the Sisters accept the evangelical counsels with all the demands that are implied in professing them through vows (cf., Constitutions, #8b, 8c).

We have already stated that the Sisters give themselves entirely to God and that said act of consecration is not less radical than the consecration of women religious. We also affirm the reality that the vows of the Company, even though they are “non-religious”, are nevertheless signs of a great demand. Let us listen to the words of Vincent: Each of you was inscribed in the book of charity when you gave yourselves to God to serve the poor (CCD:X:379).

The fact that the vows are made annually and that they are renewed does not lessen their importance. The temporary nature of the vows does not mean that they are provisional … rather it is precisely that element that gives the vows a spiritual dynamic which envelops the Sisters in a progressive deepening of their understanding of their vocation. On an intentional level, the vows of the Daughters are an option that is made for the whole of their life. The annual renewal of those vows is a “yes” and so there is no discontinuity in their life. In light of the possibility of relativizing the vows as a result of the fact that they are renewed on an annual basis, Vincent stated: it would be better not to make them at all [that is, the vows], than to have the intention of obtaining a dispensation whenever you wished (CCD:IX:22).

Another fundamental aspect of the vows of the Daughters of Charity is the fact that the purpose of the Company constitutes and defines the object of the specific vows, namely, to serve, corporally and spiritually, those who are poor (Constitutions, #24a). In the Constitutions service of the poor is placed before the practice of the three evangelical counsels because such service is directly related to their identity and to the apostolic purpose of the Company. The three evangelical counsels are to be lived and understood from the perspective of the “specific vows” to serve Christ in persons who are poor (Constitutions, #27 and 8b).


Some key points with regard to the meaning of the consecration and the vows of the Daughters of Charity.

(a) When a postulant requests entrance into the Seminary in order to live the Christian ideal and when that person is admitted into the Company by the competent authority, that action marks the beginning of one’s consecration as a Daughter of Charity, that is, one’s consecration is formalized.

The offering of one’s life in order to serve the poor is, in itself, an option that is intended to be a lifetime commitment. Saint Louise said: we do not accept anyone who does not intend to live and die in the Company [4]. To make an option for the whole of one’s life is a very serious matter. Therefore, if admittance into the Seminary means that an individual becomes a Daughter of Charity, it is necessary that one take this step with full knowledge and with the proper human and Christian maturity … in other words, it is necessary that the individual understands the meaning of the complete offering of one’s life in order to serve the poor. Here I am not diminishing the importance of the formation that occurs in the Seminary nor the time of preparation for the taking of vows for the first time, rather I want us to revalue the time of postulancy.

(b) As a result of their baptismal consecration, every Christian is incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. The consecration of the members of the Company is the manner in which they express and live out the consecration that occurred at the time of their baptism; it is the manner in which the Daughters live out their vocation in the Church. This means that they love the Company as a Mother, that they feel themselves involved in the missionary project of the Company, that they are zealous in their ministry, that they follow the teachings of the Company. Furthermore, it means that they collaborate in the diocesan and parish ministry … that they be “parish daughters” in the local church and that from the perspective of their charism they give witness to God’s and the Church’s preferential option for the poor. Finally, the Daughters (without losing sight of their own identity) minister as members of a team that is composed of lay persons and other religious.

(c) The consecration of the Daughters of Charity is a sign of the radical nature of the gospel to which they commit themselves as they following Christ, the evangelizer and the servant of the poor. Mediocrity, satisfaction with the status quo and renunciation of one’s ideals are opposed to that radicalness. Pope John Paul II affirmed: What must be avoided at all costs is the actual breakdown of the consecrated life, a collapse which is not measured by a decrease in numbers but by a failure to cling steadfastly to the Lord (Vita Consecrata, #63d). The radicalness of the gospel means that one does not place conditions on the offering of one’s life, that one is willing to engage in any form of service, willing to minister in any place, willing to become a member of any local community, etc. Such is the meaning of the holy indifference that both Vincent and Louise spoke about.

(d) The consecration of the Daughters of Charity is composed of two inseparable but distinct elements: the offering of one’s life to God and service on behalf of the poor. In these elements the Sisters find a unity of life and these elements are expressed through their love, an affective and effective love which animates both of these elements (cf., Constitutions, #16a, 24a). To state that the consecration of the Daughters is lived out through their service on behalf of the poor is ambiguous and only partially true. There are many other persons who have not consecrated their lives in that manner (including many Christians) that have dedicated their life to serving those who are poor. The statement, however, is true if this service is done by individuals who are Daughters of Charity. Such a statement expresses the spirit of the Company, the mystique that ought to animate this group of women: persons who have identified themselves with Christ the Servant, who humbled himself and lowered himself in order to present himself as a poor man among other poor people. It is in this way that the temptation to activism and professionalism (in a worldly sense) and simple humanism is overcome. Animated by the spirit that we have spoken about and also animated by this mystique, the Sisters, in both their direct and indirect service on behalf of the poor, are fulfilling the mission of the Company. This means that the elderly and infirm Sisters actively participate in the mission … each gesture of a Daughter of Charity is truly at the service of the poor, since it is the entire Company that is dedicated to them, and everything within it is conceived with this end in view (Constitutions, #24).

(e) The consecration of the Daughters of Charity is expressed with the following words: they give themselves entirely and in community … in other words, they live out their commitment with other persons who have been called by God and who have been gathered together to participate in the common mission of service on behalf of those persons who are poor. This community dimension of their vocation gives unity to their consecration and is also an essential element in said consecration (cf. Constitutions, #71, 9). Community life continues to be an element of vital importance. The very nature of the charism of the Daughters of Charity and their attempt to be faithful to their name should lead the Sisters to look for ways in which the words of Saint Paul might continually find an echo in their lives: if I do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Finally, I want to conclude by highlighting the following points:

With regard to the vows in general: the fact that the vows are “non-religious” and renewed every years does not lessen the gospel radicalness which leads them to vow themselves to the evangelical counsels. Vincent urged the Sisters to live their vocation with all its radicalness from the time when they took their vows (CCD:X:379). The Daughters must guard themselves against any attempt to trivialize and relativize the vows. Renewing the vows simply means that the Sisters deepen their understanding of the vows and that they live their vows in accord with the Constitutions.

With regard to the “temporary” nature of the vows: the fact that the Daughters of Charity renew their vows every year does not in any way affect the reality of their vocational option which is an option for the whole of one’s life. Perhaps as a result of one of the characteristics of our present day culture, namely, a fear in making long-term commitments and therefore, a preference for short-term commitments, some Daughters of Charity are relating their vocational option to the “temporary” nature of their vows. Their vows are taken for one year but, on an intentional level, their vocational option is a life time commitment. Vincent told the Sisters: you have given yourselves to [God] in the Company with the intention of living and dying in it (CCD:IX:495).

With regard to the vow of service on behalf of the poor: it can be affirmed that the most characteristic vow of the Company is that of service on behalf of the poor, a vow that expresses their consecration and that unites and gives meaning to the other three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Nevertheless, such a statement does not express the whole truth because it is not enough to serve poor persons (CCD:X:494) … many other profess to assist poor persons as you do, but not in the way you usually do (CCD:IX:465). The Daughters of Charity view the poor with the eyes of faith and they see in them the image of Christ and therefore, they serve the poor with compassion, gentleness, cordiality, respect and devotion (Constitutions, #10). They also assist those who are poor by comforting them, by promoting their causes and by evangelizing them. They engage in this service with an attitude of true servants, an attitude that is expressed by their humility, simplicity and charity. With regard to the vow of service I emphasize the fact that the mystique of service needs to be recovered and/or enhanced … and in this sense we must reflect on who is to be served and why they are to be served and finally, how they are to be served.

With regard to the vow of chastity: In the midst of a hedonist culture which emphasizes the satisfaction of all one’s sexual impulses and which, therefore, trivializes sexuality, we can see why it is necessary to offer clear information and a solid formation with regard to the significance and the implications of living chastity as celibates. It is also important to discuss the use of the internet with regard to the material related to this vow.

With regard to the vow of poverty: our lifestyle and its relationship with poverty should be characterized by simplicity. In a consumer and wasteful society it is easy to fall into the temptation of moving from that which is necessary to that which is convenient and then, from that which is convenient to that which is superfluous.

With regard to the vow of obedience: when Vincent spoke to the Sisters about obedience he almost always referred to this in terms of a willingness to go wherever the superior sent them and wherever the poor cried out for their presence. The revision and the renewal of the works of the Daughters as well as the process of reconfiguration which many provinces are engaged in requires that same willingness. Obedience requires people to have hearts that are free to accept the will of God and also requires them to be aware of the fact that those persons in positions of authority, community discernment and the signs of the time are means that allow them to discover God’s plan for the Company.


Footnotes

[1] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-14), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-14), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11, 12 and 14); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-14); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2014; volume IX, p. 103; future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number, for example, CCD:IX:103.

[2] The author of this article states that this section as well as the following section is based on pages 89-104 and pages 354-444 of the Diccionario Teológico de la Vida Consegrada [The Theological Dictionary of Consecrated Life]).

[3] Diccionario Teológico de la Vida Consegrada, p. 369.

[4] Louise de Marillac, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, Edited and Translated from the French by Sister Louise Sullivan, DC, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, p. 513-514 [L.486]. Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [SWLM] followed by the page number, followed by the number of the letter or the number of the writing and/or manuscript, for example, (SWLM:513-514 [L.486]).


Translated by: Charles T. Plock, Cm