On July 15, I made my Final Promise with the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, promising to live the rest of my life in allegiance to Jesus Christ, with the Virgin Mary as my model, living out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as well as the spirit of the Beatitudes, according to my state in life in the world. Living the evangelical counsels are usually considered to be for those who are in the religious life and live in a convent or monastery, but really they are for everyone to follow and live out, according to their state and circumstances in life.
The evangelical counsels help us grow closer to Christ and become more like Him, Who was poor, charitable and obedient, all to perfect degrees. The evangelical counsel of poverty helps us turn our mind to God and teaches us to rely on Him for everything, counting Him as our only treasure. Members of a religious order take a physical vow of poverty, but even those who live in the world who may not be able to do this can live the counsel of poverty by living without those things which are not absolutely necessary for survival or at least taking advantage of them less often. Living this counsel also includes poverty of spirit, constantly working to detach oneself from material things and creatures so as to live more freely for God alone. This is even more difficult when living in the world which gives our efforts greater merit. Doing our best to conquer anxiety over everyday issues such as work or family life by handing it over to God and surrendering ourselves to His will strengthens our spirit of poverty and attaches us more to Him rather than to the world.
Living the counsel of chastity according to our state of life seems very straightforward, but can often be the hardest since the devil hates purity and will do whatever it takes to attack it. This is why there are so many temptations in the world today against chastity and so many who sadly have fallen into those temptations. Being chaste begins in the mind, as Christ says when He tells His disciples that anyone who merely looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her (Matthew 5:28). This is why we must go beyond thinking of living chastity as merely not having sex before marriage or not having sex with someone other than one’s spouse. Yes, these are important parts of chastity but it begins with our thoughts and we must curb them in order to be in line with the mind of Christ. If we find we are struggling with thoughts of impurity, we can certainly ask for the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the greatest of all virgins, St. Agnes, the patron saint of purity, and also St. Michael, who will come to our aide to put the thoughts to flight.
The counsel of obedience might be the hardest to understand, but it doesn’t mean blind obedience. It means obedience to those in a position of authority when it comes to matters that do not have to do with morality or the law of God. It helps us practice patience and studiousness, particularly when we are asked to do things we don’t feel like doing. In the world, people like our bosses and our parents, even when we are adults, are in positions of authority and we are called to obey them when we are asked to do certain things. Particularly in small things, obedience makes us more open to respect for God through the authority figures He has appointed and prepares us to obey Him in even bigger things. When authority figures overstep and abuse their power, however, it is our duty to obey God rather than man and refuse to go along with them. Obedience to man should only go as far as the authority given to them by God, but obedience to God should go until the end of time, even if it means we give up our lives.
Living these counsels in the world today gives us a new perspective on life and shows others how they should be living as well in order to obtain eternal life. They run very countercultural but are greatly needed in order to make us Christ’s witnesses everywhere in the world. They can be and should be lived by everyone, whether layperson or religious, and if they were, a new culture would begin to take the place of our current one, which is growing increasingly secular.