Vows and the Religious Life
By Brian Vetter, C.S.C.
Brian Vetter, a St. Brigid of Kildare parishioner since 2009 and St. Charles alumnus, has just finished his novitiate year in Colorado Springs and professed his first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Congregation of Holy Cross. He is now back at the University of Notre Dame studying for a four year Master of Divinity degree. Brian describes the novitiate year and his experience of discerning and living the vows below.
For the past year, from August 2018 to August 2019, I was living in Colorado Springs during my novitiate year, the official beginning of my religious life in the Congregation of Holy Cross. Simply put, the novitiate was a year for me and my eleven other classmates to live a monastic lifestyle-with a highly structured schedule, an abundance of time for prayer, and long periods of silence. As someone who has a difficult time keeping my mouth shut, enjoys large crowds, and thrives on interruptions and spontaneity, the novitiate was naturally a year that challenged me in many ways. I also had to give up my cell phone for the year, which as a millennial, can feel more unnatural than giving up oxygen. I had to learn how to write letters by hand, and, to my surprise, my friends wrote me back! While it seems strange and confusing that a highly apostolic, “in-the-world” religious order like Holy Cross would have a year like the novitiate as part of its formation program, it is a year that I know has been essential for me to give myself fully to the life and mission of Holy Cross. The novitiate provided a unique opportunity for me to examine more deeply how God is working in my life, to grow in prayer, and to enter more intentionally into the question of where God is calling me. Ultimately, I realized that whether times are good or bad, religious life in Holy Cross is the best way for me to become the most loving, joyful, authentic person that I can be. So finally, after a long year of prayer, routine, and silence, I decided to profess my first temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience on August 3, 2019.
In professing religious vows, I am glad to be officially committed to living out the life that I have already been learning to live for the past two years. The most common but misleading description of the three religious vows usually focuses on the “no’s”: no to a wife and kids, no to keeping my paycheck, no to making my own decisions on where I will live and work. While factually true, defining the vows in this way does not come close to my experience of the vows as a source of life, love, and joy. Through poverty, I have learned how to be more generous. When I had my own Starbucks gift card for our road trip back to Notre Dame from the novitiate, rather than saving it for an extra couple of green tea lattes for myself, I used it to pay for my classmates’ drink orders, because in religious poverty we share resources in common. This is a small, every day example of how my vow of poverty reminds me that everything I have are gifts to allow me to give myself away more fully to God and to others.Through celibate chastity, I have experienced more love and fulfillment than I could have ever imagined. Many people assume that my life of celibate chastity is lonely, but that cannot be further from the truth. Currently, I live with about 60 Holy Cross community members, with whom I pray, eat meals, play sports, and have many thoughtful and thoughtless conversations. Many of my brothers in Holy Cross have seen me at my best and at my worst, and choose to love me through it all. This abundance of love in my life compels me to share that love fully with all the people I encounter in ministry, with the freedom and confidence that whatever trials and challenges I may face, I can always count on the love and support of my Holy Cross family. That is anything but lonely! Obedience has taught me that as much as I may think otherwise, God’s will is always more fulfilling than my own will. If I had followed my will in college, I can see now that the plans that I had for myself-medical school, marriage-while the best and most life-giving path to holiness for some, would not have led me towards becoming the best version of myself that God is calling me to be. This life as a religious in Holy Cross has been full of love and joy, and it is a life I am thankful for every day. I hope to continue to grow closer to God through these vows I am living, and to share the life and love I have received in these vows with everyone I encounter.
For more information on the Congregation of Holy Cross, please see https://www.holycrossusa.org