The Evangelical Counsels are more commonly known as the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They are three ways of pledging oneself to live as Christ lived in areas that cover the whole of life: possessions, affections, and autonomy. Each vow emphasizes a relation to Jesus, and we see Him as the model of living each vow.
Jesus was rich but became poor for our sakes, emptying Himself and having nowhere to lay His head. Following in His example, a Sister makes the free choice to forgo the use and disposal of her property and belongings, depending on her religious family for the material provision that she needs. Like the early disciples, Religious Sisters share all things in common, and in that way, no one goes "wanting." This, of course, implies the living of a poor and simple lifestyle. We also acknowledge a "poverty of spirit" which implies our great need for God, as we become more aware of our own emptiness.
Jesus loved with undivided heart, universally and to the end. A Sister is challenged with that same call for generous love for all. She is dedicated to living a chaste life in her thoughts, words, and deeds, avoiding any behavior, personal relationships, and forms of recreation incompatible with this credible witness to a total dedication to chastity.
Jesus came to do the Father's will, and He did that consistently, never wavering from what the Father had asked of Him, even if it involved suffering. A Religious Sister is pledged to obey the directives of her lawful superiors according to the Constitutions of the particular Institute.
In our particular community, we make a fourth "promise" to live in Fellowship in the Spirit with all the members of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. This challenges us on a daily basis to "deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow in Jesus' footprints." (Cf. Mt. 16:24) This is a call to daily repentance, forgiveness, and conversion, as our selfishness becomes more apparent in a community setting. We concretely can then make those choices to live no longer for ourselves, but for Jesus, and our religious family, and for those that He puts in our lives.
Sound challenging? You bet! Impossible? Yes, according to human standards! But with the grace of God we are able to live a supernatural life in a very human and natural world. As we profess the Evangelical Counsels, we also open ourselves up to the grace necessary to live them. With God, all things are possible, and our lives then become a testimony and witness of the life to come.
(For further reading, see Essential Elements of Religious Life and Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father John Paul II on Consecrated Life.)
Sister Cecilia, DLJC