Consecrated sisters and brothers or priests who belong to a religious order or congregation are living the vocation of consecrated life. They live in community and commit their lives to serving God and his Church either in contemplative prayer and sacrifice hidden in the cloister or through lives of apostolic outreach in the most diverse situations of our modern world - living and working alongside lay people and seeking to love and serve everyone they come in contact with.
They take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
- Chastity is a promise to keep oneself only for Christ. By not having intimate relations with another person they are free to have a deeper personal relationship with Jesus.
- Poverty is not about being poor, but about sharing everything in community and keeping only what they need. It frees them to fix their gaze on Jesus instead of on the things of this world and to lead generous and simple lives.
- Obedience is a vow to be obedient as Christ was obedient to his Father. The vow made in the context of Consecrated life is a promise to do whatever and go wherever they are asked by their Religious Superior, whose instructions and counsel they accept as coming from God.
Each consecrated community follows the charism of their founder. For example the Benedictines have a charism of hospitality - in years gone by they always greeted everyone who came to their door with the words "Thank God you are here." The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart were founded by St Mary of the Cross Mackillop to provide education for children of poor families who could not afford to attend other schools.
Often today members of consecrated communities live together in smaller groups in a normal house rather than in a large convent or monastery. Some congregations will wear the traditional European dress, commonly known as a ‘habit', while others have defined their habit (that which they habitually wear) as that which defines them as a religious (e.g. Sisters of Charity define their habit as their Crucifix and ring).
The life of the consecrated community is centred around prayer and the Eucharist - both private prayer and community prayer in the chapel at regular times throughout the day. Individuals in the community are also involved in work and study. Some are teachers or nurses or work in parishes or as chaplains in hospitals, universities and schools. They may work with the homeless or go as missionaries to other countries.
In addition to consecrated communities there are also secular institutes and societies of apostolic life which are different ways of living out a life committed to loving God and evangelising and serving others.
If you think you may be called by God to live the consecrated life you first need to talk to someone whom you trust who could advise you about different religious orders. Most orders offer the opportunity to "come and see" - visit and spend some time with members of the order and see how they live. If you and the community decide to take it further the steps of religious formation generally are: candidate, postulant, novice, professed with First or Temporary vows, professed with Final or Perpetual vows. At each step along the way until Final/Perpetual vows either you or the community can decide that this is not the path that you are being called to. The process of discernment takes up to 7 or 9 years. Read the testimonies of some Religious Priests and Brothers or Religious Sisters.