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Q & A with Father Anthony



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Is the rule of an order unnatural?

Jeannie asks:

Hi Fr Anthony, The order I'm thinking of joining has a rule that members can only visit home once every ten years for two weeks. I think that would be much too austere and challenging for most people because it is unnatural to be separated from your family for that long. That is a big blockage that is stopping me from joining that order. What is your opinion of that rule?

Dear Jeannie,

Let's first step back a little from the particular rule you are having difficulty with and consider the place of rules in general in religious life, because if you do join this order or any other there are bound to be other rules too that are not to your liking and you will need to deal with them. So it is good to get the principles down.

The external rules of an order express the practical ways in which the members are called to live their consecration to God, and they also express certain aspects of the order's particular charism. So, behind the rules there is always God's intention for the members of that order, and supporting this is the approval of the Church which says that this particular path to holiness is a valid one, really from God. Now, there is a great variety of orders and rules. Some orders live a strictly contemplative life and their members never visit home, never even leave the monastery; other orders never eat meat and do long fasts and physical penances; the members of other orders have to be ready to be sent anywhere at any time to do any work; many orders have rules regarding the use of media (TV, Internet, etc) and what their members wear and their dealing with their families. There are orders whose members never eat out or go to ball games or the movies or concerts. You get the idea. Now, you could pick any one of these and say, "this is unnatural" and in a sense you'd be right.

But then you must also say: taking a vow to remain poor is unnatural, taking a vow of perfect obedience is unnatural, taking a vow of celibacy is unnatural, because we all have a right to private property, to self-determination and to intimate, human love. Unnatural too is believing that Christ is present body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist.

The choice, then, is not solely between what is natural and what is unnatural; there is another level of reality and it is the supernatural-the world of Grace and of supernatural Faith, Hope and Love-and it is on this level that the vocation and the rules of a particular order are to be situated and understood.

So the question is really not what you or I think about this or that rule. The question is, is it an established rule of an approved order? If it is, a person who feels called to that order will accept, live and love it as a manifestation of God's will for him even if at times he feels like repeating Christ's words in Gethsemane, "Father if it's possible take this chalice away from me" because the Holy Spirit always leads us on to repeat Jesus' complete phraseing words "nevertheless, let it me as you will and not as I will."

I hope that helps. Don't look at the cost, look at the gift God is giving you far beyond the small toll it takes on us. The pearl of the vocation is worth all the other pearls we might have in our hands.

God bless

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