Exchanging Lower Values for Higher Joys
December 2011 — Vol. 1, Issue 2
Fr. Drew Gawrych, C.S.C.
“Sacrifice does not mean ‘giving up’ something, as if there were a loss; rather, it is an exchange: an exchange of lower values for higher joys.”
I ran across that quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen while reading his masterful work on Jesus, simply entitled Life of Christ. Although the immediate context for the quote was Archbishop Sheen’s explanation of Jesus’ teaching on the Cross, I was immediately struck that his words contained great insight into what is a standard stumbling block for those discerning a vocation to religious life.
When reflecting on the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, many of us often fall into the temptation of focusing on what we have to give up in order to live religious life. Rarely do we focus on what we stand to gain through living the vows. In other words, we look on the sacrifice of religious life as a “giving up” rather than “an exchange.”
On the other hand, when we reflect on marriage, we are more likely to see the sacrifice of marriage as “an exchange” rather than merely as a “giving up.” Yet in our discernment, if we only focus on what we stand to gain through marriage and give up through religious life, we will never be able to discern well the sacrifice the Lord is calling us to in our lives.
Both marriage and religious life involve sacrifice, this is true. But the sacrifice of both vocations is not a giving up, but rather, in the words of Archbishop Sheen, “an exchange of lower values for higher joys.” Again, we often more easily see this when it comes to the vocation of marriage, but the same is even more true of the vocation of religious life.
Through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, we do not simply give up the enjoyment of our own material goods, the beautiful intimacy of marriage, and the independent exercise of our own free will. Instead, we exchange those goods to be able to live, in the words of the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, with a “single-hearted intimacy with God, a trusting dependence on God, and a willing surrender to God. … In consecrated celibacy we wish to love with the freedom, openness and availability that can be recognized as a sign of the kingdom. In consecrated poverty we seek to share the lot of the poor and to unite in their cause, trusting in the Lord as provider. In consecrated obedience we join with our brothers in community and with the whole church in the search for God’s will” (5:43-4).
It is so important to remember what we gain through the vocation of religious life because that is precisely what we will sacrifice if we follow the vocation of marriage. We will exchange the goods and blessings of religious life in order to enjoy the goods and blessings of marriage.
It is when we begin to see the sacrifice of both these beautiful vocations precisely as this exchange that we can truly begin to ask the question: What, for me, constitutes the exchange “of lower values for higher joys” when it comes to marriage and religious life?
As Archbishop Sheen points out regarding the nature of sacrifice, “Exchange implies something that one can get along without, and something one cannot get along without.” Thus, given what I stand to gain in the exchange of either marriage or religious life, which vocation is it that I “cannot get along without”? The answer to that question will go a long way into revealing to you in what vocation God is calling you to sacrifice for the sake of His Kingdom.
Prayer from the Tradition
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