My sister-in-law recently made her final profession as a Dominican sister, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and committing to live as part of her community for the rest of her life. These vows are not a small undertaking, and they quite go against what society says leads to happiness.
Her day is centered on prayer as there are required times of prayer every day, and the sisters rise early and have periods of silence in their day. There are cloistered spaces in their Motherhouse and mission homes; they eat some meals in silence; they wear the same habit each day; visiting with family is restricted to a handful of days a year; and they live without access to cell phones or email, except when required for their teaching jobs. Even writing letters is limited at some points in their formation and in the liturgical year. They serve as teachers wherever they are asked, and do so with a willing obedience.
On paper, and to the average person today, this might seem like a much too structured life with few choices, making it a confusing choice of lifestyle since there’s “so little freedom.”
In fact, the truth lies in this: my sister-in-law has found true freedom that is only possible through a life lived completely for Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a beautiful section on freedom and responsibility. “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude (CCC 1731). The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin’ (CCC 1733).”
Viewing freedom through this lens, those who give up distractions and limit their choices for the good of their souls are better able to achieve the freedom God wants for us. The world offers us a myriad of options in nearly every aspect of life; some lead us closer to the Lord, and others to the “slavery of sin.” If we follow certain structures, routines, and “rules,” our path to heaven becomes straighter. I find it comforting that I’ve been given direction to help me do what is good and just, and use the beautiful gift of free will to achieve freedom in Christ.