Lessons on the vows from my 2 year old nephew

The most adorable, extroverted and winsome little two-year-old in Ireland just happens to be my nephew, Daniel. He lives in Dublin, Ireland with his mom and dad and in utero sibling. I went home to Dublin in July and had the privilege of spending a lot of time in Daniel’s company. 

To give you an example of his adorableness, on more than one occasion, we had friends or extended family over for dinner. Naturally, from time to time, everyone would laugh at something funny that someone had just said. As the laughter began, Daniel would proceed to toss his curly, blond head back and give a very real, loud and prolonged laugh that made it look like he fully understood the joke and was, quite naturally, joining in! It was hilarious and provoked yet another round of laughter on our part!

As well as enjoying his company, I found myself observing closely how a child sees the world, and, to my surprise, found myself learning more about the living out of the vows. 

While I live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the context of religious life, each one of us without exception is called to live poverty, chastity, and obedience according to our state in life, as this was what Christ modeled for us when He was on earth. We are all called to live in a way that is mindful of those who have less than us, to love chastely with deep respect for the dignity of the other person (though some are not called to live celibately), and to be obedient to rightful authority (lawful government, civil and Church law, etc.).

It struck me one day that Daniel and I both live a kind of radical poverty. Neither of us owns bank accounts, phones (dumb or smart), cars or houses. Neither of us wears labeled clothes or gets fancy haircuts! We use things but don’t strictly own any of them. We don’t really have much more than we need. Everything has been gifted freely and generously to us, including his little blue boots and my worn sandals (see picture). Our needs are provided for, but not necessarily our wants. Neither of us can just get up and go somewhere else when life is not going according to plan or we’re having a meltdown. Our lives are ones of quite radical dependence and this can lead to tears for both of us on occasion! 

But it also leads to great freedom! Not being so preoccupied with material wants and worries, I observed Daniel being present in the present moment. I walked with him to Mass one day. What could have been a brisk, blinkered, future-focused 4 minute walk on my part took about 18 minutes because with Daniel, every twig on the path had to be examined, flowers in passing gardens had to be pointed out and admired, cars going by had to be waved at, random people walking by had to be engaged with in some way, the teddies on the children’s graves by the church had to be hugged and any open gates had to be pointed out (All doors and gates in Daniel’s world have to be closed, and, incidentally, if by chance we forget to put across the child-proof closet latches and close the child-proof gates, he points those out, too, until the house is adequately child-proofed!!). 

In his material poverty, he kept drawing my attention back to the natural beauty of the present moment and the people present in front of me. 

After Mass, he began smiling widely at all the older ladies who were leaving the church. He even took hold of the hand of one of them and was marching quite happily away with her when I had to run after him and grab hold of his other hand! We escorted the lady to her car, and then Daniel proceeded to wave goodbye to her as if she were his third grandmother! He then wanted to wait and wave off every other parishioner as they left in their cars! He loved chastely and widely, with no agenda or expectation of something in return. His love was abundant and reached out to all, including these hidden, holy women whose lives often fly below the radar of our world’s obsession with youth, looks, and materialism.

I also observed his obedience, not yet perfected of course! It was my last time to see him before I flew back to the U.S. We were having dinner in my mom’s house and we were eating meatloaf (I was trying to introduce my family to some U.S. recipes!), carrots and potato wedges. Daniel’s plate contained a little of each. The wedges were his clear favorite and were speedily eaten while the carrots were all piled over the top of the meatloaf as if to hide it and pretend it didn’t exist! 

Daniel gestured that he wanted more potato wedges. His mom told him that he couldn’t have any more wedges until he’d eaten his carrots and meatloaf. This produced an indignant outburst, a very red face and lots of tears. Shortly after, his mom, dad, and grandmother left the room temporarily. It was just me and him. He climbed up on one of the chairs and suddenly the coveted wedges were within his grasp. He could easily have done a “grab and gobble.” But he didn’t. 

He picked one potato wedge up, looked up at me with a questioning look and when I shook my head “no,”  he quietly and without fuss put it down. It was clearly a difficult “no” as he had campaigned long and hard for it, and it was now easily within his grasp, but in the end, he freely chose to be obedient and to do what he was asked. He didn’t realize it at the time, but this act of obedience maintained him in a better physical balance and was ultimately for his greater good. It was a good reminder of how rightful obedience keeps us within the parameters of what is ultimately in our best interests.

I came away from my home visit with a deeper gratitude for the vowed life and a new resolve to live our way of life more fully and freely. I also acquired a new perspective on being present to those who are right in front of me and of living in the present moment (and, I should add, the importance of eating my carrots and meatloaf when I’d rather be eating potato wedges!). 

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