A man or woman takes a vow because of the life-changing impact of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and fascination with his way of being human. Far more than a legal obligation or social contract, religious vows are an expression that one is wholly given over to living the way Jesus lived: obediently, communally, chastely, and with great inward and outward simplicity. As Jesus himself was set on fire and ultimately consumed by his passion to do the Father's will, the Cistercian aspires to be a holocaust offered to God on the altar that is the monastic way of life.
The Vow of Obedience
As followers of Christ who came not to do his own will but the will of the Father who sent him, Cistercians promise obedience to an abbot or abbess. Much more than the following of orders from a superior, our obedience is a quality of soul which makes us willing to put our own desires aside even to the point of preferring another's wishes.
The Vow of Stability
By our vow of stability, we promise to commit ourselves for life to one community of brothers or sisters with whom we will work out our salvation in faith, hope, and love. Resisting all temptation to escape the truth about ourselves by restless movement from one place to the next, we gradually entrust ourselves to God's mercy experienced in the company of brothers or sisters who know us and accept us as we are.
The Vow of Conversion of Life
Cistercians believe that people can change. Each of us takes a "vow of conversion" by which we promise to live the monastic way of life as a means of learning the truth about ourselves. Knowing ourselves as we really are, we become radically dependent upon the Lord Jesus who shows us God's mercy. Confident in God's forgiveness, we experience intimacy with God and are born to a new kind of life. Integral to the monastic way of life is the practice of voluntary poverty and celibate chastity.
To possess nothing of our own and to hold everything in common with our brothers or sisters is one means by which Cistercians seek to free themselves from the self-centeredness that separates us from God and others. Being poor with the poor Christ, we experience his need for God and God's manifest mercy who always shows compassion to those in distress.
Celibacy, the renunciation of married love, has as its aim to make the Cistercian free — to liberate the love of our hearts for service to the Lord Jesus in his church. This radical discipline, sustained only by prayer, does not separate us from the riches of human love, but is a means by which that love is taken up and fulfilled as a gift offered to the whole church and the world.