Why do Augustinians take temporary vows?
By Br. David Relstab, O.S.A.
The process of becoming an Augustinian takes several years of discernment and prayer in order to hear what the Lord may be asking of an individual. Men in formation do not profess any vows until they have completed their Pre-Novitiate and Novitiate, a two-year period during which they are introduced to the Augustinian way of life and undergo a process of inner searching. At the close of the Novitiate, novices are asked to make their first step in professing vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. What makes these vows unique, however, is that their span is only for one year. At the close of this year, each friar has the decision to either renew his vows for another year or let them expire and pursue another path in life. According the Constitution of our Order, temporary vows are to renewed at least three times and no more than nine before a friar make his “solemn” lifelong vows to the Order.
The beauty of this structure is its allowance for greater freedom for each man to reflect interiorly on his call to Augustinian life. During these initial years of temporary vows, friars typically take graduate-level coursework in Theology and Pastoral Studies. Alongside their studies, they begin ministerial work and ask themselves if a future in ministry is right for them.
In the Spring Semester of each year, men in formation begin seriously considering whether they will renew their vows for another year. They must be renewed before the anniversary date of their initial profession, typically in July.
As part to the “Plan of Formation” produced by the Order, there is an annual questionnaire of self-reflection designed help friars see where they have grown over the past year and whether they are ready for the lifelong commitment. The questions draw the individual to prayerfully examine how the life of an Augustinian is fulfilling their baptismal consecration and vocation. Such an examination is additionally carried out in a yearly personal retreat. Once a friar decides to renew his vows, a request is brought forward to the Prior Provincial and his Council to be voted upon. If approved, the renewal can be carried out during the celebration of a Mass or at Evening Prayer within the local community. The vows themselves are repeated vocally and are usually accepted by the Prior Provincial, in the name of the Prior General of the Order. This is important to note: all Augustinians profess their vows to the greater Order and not locally to the Province. This demonstrates the universality of the Order of St. Augustine and how all its members are joined together.
Even though he has not made a solemn commitment to the Order, a friar under temporary vows is still considered an Augustinian and is entitled to many of the components that comprise the Augustinian life. A friar in temporary vows is limited in his ability to vote on matters regarding the Province or their house community, but, in some cases, he can still contribute to the conversation. This unique period of initial formation demonstrates the wisdom with which our Order was designed and the importance it places on ensuring each friar makes his vows with the full freedom of his will.