Living the Vows: One Year On - Part 1


by Audrey fcJ

It has been exactly a year since I made my first vows as a sister in the FCJ Society. I never thought that this day would find me in Yangon, Myanmar, having just been a part of the first vow ceremonies of two good friends, Maria and Cecilia, who have now become our first Myanmarese FCJs.

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Sacred Stories

It was such a privilege to witness this historic and joyful occasion. The peak of all the ceremonies was of course the mass at which they professed their vows. Friends, families and FCJs had come from near and far to support them, many dressed in colourful traditional "longyi", making for a festive sight. As the entrance procession began and Cecilia and Maria made their way down the aisle of St. Augustine Church, they were each accompanied by two members of their families, to whom they bowed as they reached the front of the altar. Seeing that touched me deeply, reminding me of the long journeys they each had made to this point and the people who had loved and accompanied them as best they could.

FCJ sisters singing the Magnificat.
At the midpoint of the mass they both said their vows in clear, bold voices. When they returned to their seats, they and the FCJ sisters present (ten of us altogether) stood to sing, acapella, the "Magnificat", a song from the scriptures attributed to Mary, glorifying God for his blessings. "My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour..." Our voices together seemed to rise up and fill the cathedral, an almost tangible expression of our joy and gratitude in that moment. Later some people were to comment that that singing touched them deeply, coming as it evidently did from the heart.

As I sang with my companions, I was suddenly aware of how we all were so different in our backgrounds, cultures, personalities, gifts; how we each had our own sacred stories. In the group was Barbara from Australia, who had been among the first FCJs to begin the Society's mission in Asia. There were Agnes and Afra, the first two Asian FCJs from Indonesia who had made their vows almost 25 years ago. There was Clare from England, and Beta, Narni and Sisca from Indonesia, who had all left their own native lands to share God's love in cultures not their own. There was me, the first (and hopefully not last!) FCJ from my own country Singapore… and now Cecilia and Maria were becoming the first FCJs from a new land. By the mysterious grace of God we had all been drawn in our own ways to this little Society, and bound together in love for the sake of God and for the world. What an incredible blessing it is, to be called together as companions in a shared mission of love!

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The Mystery of Self-Giving

Watching Maria and Cecilia make their vows also made me reflect on the meaning of these vows in my own life. Funnily, on the day I left Manila for Yangon, I had a light-hearted chat with the taxi driver driving me to the airport that, on hindsight, held something significant. He asked me first if nuns were allowed to marry, and then when I said no, why not? My rudimentary grasp of Tagalog forced me to get straight to the point, and I simply responded, "Because we want to serve God with our whole lives."

Later I realised that this stripped-down explanation that I was forced to give because of my lack of language is exactly what the whole business of making vows is about! Last year on the occasion of my vows I had written a long and flowery explanation of how I understood each of the vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. This year, though, I am reminded of the essentials: that the vows are about complete self-giving. Poverty, chastity and obedience are merely the particular ways in which I give my whole life to God and God's creation.

Our vow formula says this beautifully: "Loving and eternal God, I implore you to accept the offering of my life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ..." 

Of course, such a thing is easier said than done. In fact there is a joke in religious circles that goes: "When we make our vows we offer all of ourselves... and then we spend the rest of our lives taking it back!"


To be continued... read Part 2 of this article.

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