Good morning Father Angelo
Thank you for this service that you offer us: it is a gift of a profound spiritual richness. Each question to which you answer underlines contents that are very different from each other but which in every way characterize every man, allowing us to understand each other better in the brother who asks, and through the teaching of the Church that answers us.
In today’s reading (August 22, 2019) from the Book of Judges is written:
“Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.’” (Judges 11, 29-31).
This passage made me reflect on the vows that we might make in our life. It is written that, if we are not able to respond to the vows we promised, it is better not to vow at all. From the Ecclesiastes: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay fulfilling it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).
But it is equally true that we are asked to make these vows to the extent of our strength and in harmony with our talents: “Make vows to the Lord your God, and perform them” (Ps 76:11).
Again: When one has made a vow to the Lord or has sworn an oath to abstain, let him not break his word, but let him fulfill what he has promised with his mouth (Nm 30,3).
So it seems to me necessary for the Christian life to take these vows and keep them.
I also read that if one finds oneself unable to satisfy the vows, the confessor in persona Christi can undo them. Can the person take them again, privately in a personal dialogue with the Lord? Can you tell us more about this devotional practice, as ancient as the fathers of the church? How did our grandparents live it?
I would like to ask you some examples of holy vows suitable to be made.. An act of almsgiving? For a university student what could be a good vow to make to the Lord?
I thank you you again with happiness for your service, I stay in communion of prayers with you and the Mother Church, and I wish you all the best,
1. Everything you wrote is right (at least in its substance).
About Jephthah’s vow, I already had occasion in the past to remind the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.
In the meantime, here is what Jephthah’s vow consisted of: “Jephthah vowed to the Lord, saying: If you will give me the children of Ammon, the first one who will come out and meet me at the gates of my house when I return victorious, I will offer it in holocaust to the Lord” (Jn 11:30-31).
2. St. Thomas comments: “Now, this could have a bad consequence, if an animal that could not be sacrificed, such as a donkey or a man, had come to him: which precisely happened. That is why St. Jerome affirms that Jephthah ‘in making the vow was foolish’, because he lacked discernment, and ‘in observing it was impious'”. (Theological Summation, II-II, 88, 2, ad 2).
3. He was foolish because he could meet a living creature considered impure, like a dog, which therefore could not be offered as a sacrifice.
Or a person could come to meet him. But God had forbidden human sacrifices, as usually performed in pagan religions.
That time Jephthah went to meet his daughter, the only one he had.
That is why St. Jerome says that if he was foolish in making the vow, because he did not make it with the right discernment, he was impious in executing it.
4. For this reason, when a vow is made it is always opportune to submit it to the evaluation of the confessor in order not to go overboard, running the risk of ending up in the circumstance of being unable to satisfy it.
5. The only inaccuracy in your writing is the following: “I also read that if you find yourself unable to satisfy them, the confessor in person Christi can dissolve them”.
The Church wants vows to be made with the right discernment, therefore, their eventual dispensation is not granted by the confessor, but has to be granted by the parish priest.
This is because the parish priest, unlike the confessor, usually knows the person deeper.
You ask me to spend a word about this practice, how was it perceived in the past epoques by the holy Fathers.
In truth, examples of vows can be found already in the Old Testament by people like Jacob and Anne, who were Jews and not Christians.
Jacob, for example, promised to build God a house in Bethel and to give him a tent if he was granted a safe return to his father’s house (Gen 28:20-22).
Anna promised to bring her son to the temple if he received the grace of motherhood (1 Sm l,l0ss).
In the New Testament and precisely in Acts 18,18 it is written about the satisfaction of a vow made by St. Paul.
7. Any good deed can be the object of a vow.
It is clear that one can promise God only what He pleases.
Therefore, one cannot take a vow to commit a sin, such as not going to Mass on Sundays.
It would be foolish to promise something that the person concerned does not like.
I wish you every good, I remember you to the Lord and I bless you.