The Other I

January 29, 2008

A nun’s final vows

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 5:28 pm

It’s a little embarrassing to look back and see what was so obviously going on when I made my final vows as a Maryknoll nun.  Final vows are supposed to mean final commitment, no going back, no changing your mind, no breaking the promise.  So it takes some fancy footwork to explain how I managed to take final vows, and why I am sitting here now a very married and thoroughly non-nun for more than 40 years.

I will start  with the more ego-enhancing part of the explanation which, I admit, I’ve only recently thought up.  It is that the Catholic Church itself sees final vows as less irrevocable than getting married or becoming a priest.  In fact, women outside of marriage don’t have a commitment that the Church sees as irreversible.  Men do but not women.  I think it makes it just that little less significant, that little less binding.

Baptism, and marriage, and ordination to the priesthood can’t be undone, even by the Pope.  I can’t go to Rome and say I want my original sin back, that it was removed from my soul when I was baptized and before I was old enough to give my consent and that it’s not good enough to say I can easily produce many more sins of my own.  This was my first sin and it was an original. 

I can’t go to Rome and say I don’t want to be married to X anymore either.  If I have enough money, I might be able to convince the powers in Rome that it was never a valid marriage in the first place, but if I can’t achieve that, I’m irrevocably married until one of us dies.  Likewise, priests can be unfrocked and relieved of their priestly responsibilities, but they can’t be un-ordained.  Being made a priest is a permanent state for life.

Becoming a nun, even taking final vows after many years on probation, never becomes irreversibly permanent in that way.  Rome reserves the power to release nuns from their vows. 

So perhaps the fact that I took my relationship with Peter more seriously from the start than in retrospect I took my final vows at Maryknoll was in part the result of a subtle socialization.  I always knew it didn’t really have to be for keeps.

But there are other explanations, too, for which I must take a greater share of personal responsibility.  About which, more on another post.

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5 Comments »

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  4. I always thought, when one takes a VOW before GOD, whether, married, single or religious, public or private, it can NOT be undone, revoked, expired etc. Vows and Oaths made to God, whether in marriage, religious life or a Chaste Virgin single life, that are broken, will be accountable for in the next life, as they are ALL BINDING! Just as those whom God has called to take VOWS, to marry/ religious/ or the Chaste Virgin single life, and do their OWN WILL, instead of God’s WILL!
    It works both ways…

    Comment by Joyce — September 23, 2013 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

    • Yes, many people think that vows are binding and irrevocable, but that is theologically incorrect. Interestingly, a priest’s ordination, and the vows of marriage are irrevocable, and even Rome cannot revoke them. According to Rome, only death can end a marriage or bring a man’s priesthood to a close, whether or not he has technically life the priesthood and even been defrocked. But one can be released by Rome from many vows, including those taken by nuns. The night before I took my final vows, I asked my spiritual adviser if I could take them legitimately, because I wasn’t sure I belonged in the convent for life. He told me I should take them. Rome released me from the vows before I left.

      But to me you sound a little eager to remind me that not doing God’s will will result in my ultimately being punished. But I think the mark of a true Christian is not one concerned with punishment but with forgiveness. Jesus, in the midst of the excruciating agony of crucifixion prayed “Father, forgive them.” He didn’t call for vengeance, or punishment, or remind his persecutors that it works both ways…

      Comment by theotheri — September 24, 2013 @ 8:07 pm | Reply


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