To begin the first week of my new format, I thought I'd take a moment to share the vows of a Lay Missionary of Charity (LMC) in their literal form as taken from the Lay Missionary of Charity Statutes.
1. Chastity is an attitude of profound reverence toward that consecrated reality which is marriage, according to the design of God the creator who fashioned man and woman for that purpose, and thus the mystery of virginity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God transcends and exalts sex in the spirit of sacrifice. Christian chastity does not signify disdain for sexuality, but rather sure self-control in the exercise of the dominion of the spirit over the "flesh". Marriage and virginity are the two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with his people.
2. It is good to know that:
- the celibate state, that is, the choice to live in total continence for the sake of the Kingdom is God's special gift to certain people (Mt. 19:11);
- it finds its ultimate basis in the life, example and teachings of Jesus and in the tradition of the Church. By virtue of its witness, virginity keeps alive in the Church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends it from any reduction and impoverishment (FC 16).
"It liberates the human heart in a unique way, so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity, bearing witness that the Kingdom of God and its justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value" (FC 16).
"In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, co-operating in the realisation of the family according to God's plan" (FC 16).
It is a fragile and vulnerable gift because of human weakness: "We carry this treasure in earthen vessels" (St. Paul).
"Just as fidelity at times becomes difficult for married people and requires sacrifice, mortification and self-denial, the same can happen to celibate persons, and their fidelity, even in the trials that occur, should strengthen the fidelity of married couples" (FC 16).
3. The sacrament of matrimony is a gift of God to His people, through which a man and woman establish a partnership for the whole life to:
- form a community of persons united and rooted in love;
- serve life, that is, the transmission of life (procreation) and education of children;
- participate in the development of society;
- share in the life and mission of the Church, fostering and promoting her teachings.
Christian marriage instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ is at the same time a vocation and a command to:
- remain faithful to each other forever, beyond every trial and difficulty, in generous obedience to the holy will of the Lord: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder".
"Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation..." (FC 21);
- bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage. "Conjugal communion is characterised not only by its unity but also by its indissolubility"(FC 20).
4. The basic points which govern conjugal chastity and furnish the criteria by which to judge the conjugal act are:
1 - a reverential disposition to render service to life: conjugal love must be an affirmative response to the command of the Creator: "Increase and multiply", an assent to the mission of procreation in Christian responsibility. "There must be excluded as intrinsically immoral every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequence, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (FC 32; HV 14);
2 - mutually faithful love: the conjugal act must express conjugal love and fidelity. "The gift of the Spirit is a commandment of life for Christian spouses and at the same time a stimulating impulse so that every day they may progress toward an ever richer union with each other in all levels - of the body, of the character, of the heart, of the intelligence and will, of the soul - revealing in this way to the Church and to the world the new communion of love, given by the grace of Christ" (FC 19);
3 - orientation to Christ in accordance with the nature of the sacrament: conjugal love, tolerance, sacrifice, must be understood as the fulfilment of the sacramental commitment. "The Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which in the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave himself on the Cross" (FC 13). "By virtue of the sacramentality of their marriage, spouses are bound to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the Church" (FC 13);
4 - the power of holy discipline and moderation flowing from love: the pure resolute assent to the sacred ordinances of God in the conjugal life must be attained through tenderness, effort and renunciation. "The dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly, requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continuous effort, yet, to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of their problems; it favours attention to one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their off-spring" (FC 33; HV 21).
5. Conjugal chastity demands that husband and wife are fully aware:
- of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood:
"...The commitment to responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognise their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society. From this it follows that they are not free to do as they like in the service of transmitting life, on the supposition that it is lawful for them to decide independently of other considerations what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God, the Creator" (HV 10);
- of the fact that the Church does not disapprove of making correct use of sexuality.
"When by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and the procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as 'ministers' of God's plan and they 'benefit from' their sexuality according to the original dynamism of 'total' self-giving, without manipulation or alteration" (FC 32);
- of their need to have very precise knowledge of in matters of fertility, in order to knowingly take advantage of periods of fertility as well as periods of infertility.
"The choice of the natural rhythm involves accepting the cycle of the person, i.e., the woman and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control" (FC 32).
"A broader, more decisive and more systematic effort to make the natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and applied is very necessary for our time" (FC 35).
6. Conjugal chastity requires the couple to be aware of:
- the value and importance of choosing to practice periodic continence for example during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent or any other times which they jointly decide to observe on a short or long term basis, helping others to do the same where possible and necessary. "A very valuable witness can and should be given by those husbands and wives who through joint exercise of periodic continence have reached a more mature and personal responsibility with regard to love and life. To them the Lord entrusts the task of making visible to people the holiness and sweetness of the law which unites the natural love of husband and wife with their co-operation with the love of God the author of human life" (FC 35; HV 25);
- the need to grow and progress together through constant prayer and especially frequently approaching the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation, and moreover, with sacrifice, mortification and selflessness which helps them practice interior chastity of the heart";
- their obligation to defend the teachings of the Church against the use of contraceptives, the practice of sterilisation, and the destruction of human life through procured abortion (HV 14);
- their right and duty to educate their children in the essential values of human and Christian life (FC 36 and 37).
7. The LMCs endeavour to follow in the way of life and the example of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph, foster father of the Son of God, Patron of the Universal Church, and always take them as point of reference and source of inspiration, and to turn to them for help and protection in moments of trial and temptation.