What makes monks, nuns, sisters and brothers religious? There are three elements of their lives which make their form of life a distinct one in consecrated life. The three elements are the profession of the evangelical counsels, separation from the world, and common life.
The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience were given by Christ to help people imitate Him more closely. While we are all called to practice these counsels according to our state in life, religious vow poverty, chastity, and obedience according to the charism of their institute. Their rules govern how these vows are concretely lived out in the day to day life of a religious.
While religious don’t separate themselves from the world to the extent of establishing a convent in space, they do withdraw from certain activities and things which hinder their call to leave things behind for the sake of following Christ more easily. For example, you will probably not see religious who as a community get season tickets for the football games in their area. They may individually attend some football games, but as a whole you should not see them make extravagant purchases or indulge in activities proper to those who are not separated from worldly things.
Common life is another characteristic of religious life. Religious should be in community. How this common life is lived out practically speaking is spelled out in their rules. By living together in community, religious are able to help support each other in their common goal of holiness in their way of life, of prayer and intercession for the people of God. Common life can be both a very large blessing and a source of friction and penance as individuals have their own personalities.
Should you be discerning a call to the religious form of consecrated life, you might want to pay attention to how these three elements are lived out in the community your are considering.
(c) 2007 by Therese Ivers and DoIHaveAVocation.com