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Of poverty, chastity 
and obedience

The diocese celebrated the long life in religion of 42 sisters, brothers and priests marking their 25th, 50th, 60th, 75th and even 80th anniversaries in religious life on December 8.

What is an annual event is celebrated as an expression of gratitude to those who have borne the heat of the day and also a reminder of the unique role that people in religious life play in the life of our faith communities and wider society.

However, it is not just the number of years chalked up as a religious or priest that is actually being celebrated, but the unique witness to the love of God in the world made by those in religious life.

Biblical wisdom tells us that venerable old age is not acquired by a long life, nor counted by the number of years, but by the ability to be human in relationship with God and creation.

The Book of Wisdom tells us that it is a spotless life that determines old age. However, in an imperfect world it is difficult to find anyone who has literally lived a spotless life. Nevertheless, there are holy people.

While history tends to record the deeds of great service done by religious people, often in the fields of education, health care and social service, there is maybe a more fundamental witness to the spirit of humanity that should command more attention.

Members of religious communities live a public witness to the three virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience, a life which, although being taken up by less and less people, provides an important counter witness to some of the excesses of modern culture.

In a time when modern society is tending to isolate people more and more from each other, with a marked push, at least in advertising, to re-describe them in terms of product-consumers rather than unique creations by God, religious chastity challenges this by witnessing to the significance of intimacy and friendship within the perspective of love, and attributing only what is good to a person.

As participants at the United Nations climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, are attesting to at the moment, we live in a time when the very life of our planet is being threatened through excess consumption of its resources. Religious poverty challenges society to be good stewards, by witnessing through a life that seeks mutual sustainability of both consumer goods and the health of the earth.

At a time of frenetic drive to consume and the consequent equally frenetic drive to produce, we are seeing more exploitation of the resources of our earth, often at the expense of the livelihoods of people. The religious virtue of obedience witnesses to the value of the common good and freedom of all people, through a life lived in obedience to the God-given nature of things.

Being of one mind and one heart with God is tantamount to dancing lightly on the earth for the common good of all people. The three virtues are a stark reminder that we are called to live appropriately in God’s image and likeness.

Laypeople seek their sanctity through the same virtues lived out according to their own vocation. We do not compare levels of sanctity, nor should we, but, by living the evangelical virtues, both religious and the laity play important roles in building a city of God on earth. JiM