Sunday, March 1, 2015

Who Can Be Called a Bride of Christ?

Whenever I’m asked what is the most central element of a vocation to consecrated virginity, without hesitation I always answer: the call to be a bride of Christ. All other aspects of this vocation revolve around this core identity and specific form of self-gift. The centrality of this vocation’s spousal element is clearly stated in both the Code of Canon Law as well as in the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity itself. It’s also very evident in the personal vocations stories of most consecrated virgins.

However, I’ve found that sometimes people are still confused by the spousal dimension of consecrated virginity, perhaps owing to the fact that this sort of bridal imagery has so often been associated with nuns and religious Sisters. For example, at times some Catholics will assume that only women religious can be “real brides of Christ.” In other cases, I’ve heard it argued that the Church intended to discourage the use of bridal spirituality altogether among consecrated women in general after Vatican II. Much more rarely, I’ve even encountered some consecrated virgins who have maintained (quite mistakenly, in my opinion) that it would be wrong for women religious who have not received the Rite of Consecration to identify themselves brides of Christ, based on the notion that only consecrated virgins have the right to regard themselves this way.

Given the potential for misunderstandings, I thought it would be good to have a discussion about what it means to be a bride of Christ, who is called to this role within the Church, and the ways in which such a special vocation might be received.

Some preliminary clarifications

But before anything else, let’s be clear on exactly what we’re talking about. The Church uses the term “bride of Christ” to describe a number of different (albeit often overlapping or inter-related) concepts.

First and foremost, the title “bride of Christ” belongs to the Church herself in the fullest and truest sense. We know this is true from a wide number of scriptural references, and also from the Church’s constant theological tradition. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “The Church is the Bride of Christ: he loved her and handed himself over for her. He has purified her by his blood and made her the fruitful mother of all God's children.” (CCC 808)

Because the Church is also the people of God, formed from the countless number of baptized members, I believe we can say that all of the faithful—both on collective and individual levels—share in the Church’s “brideship.” Therefore, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that there is a certain sense in which each and every baptized Christian is called to be a “bride,” insofar as they are incorporated into the body of Christ’s bride, the Church.

We can also speak of Christ as the true Bridegroom of each individual soul, since He is ultimately the source of all fulfillment for every human heart. This is why spousal or bridal imagery is regularly employed in a metaphorical or analogical way by theologians who write about the spiritual life. Some good examples of this can be found in the writings of St. John of the Cross or St. Bernard of Clairvaux. In the Carmelite tradition especially, the expression “mystical marriage” is used almost as a technical term to describe the most advanced stages of contemplative prayer.

“Bridehood” as special call

All of the above-mentioned ways of being a bride of Christ apply in a general way to all of the faithful. For instance, our participation in the brideship of the Church can be thought of as a universal, “automatic” consequence of baptism. And on a more personally specific level, even while the spiritual phenomenon of mystical marriage might be a rare occurrence in actual reality, this kind of call to complete union with God is God’s intended destiny for all His children. That is, it’s not a state He wants to reserve only for a chosen few, but is rather the culmination of each and every Christian vocation.

But in addition to these more general ways of using bridal imagery, I think we can also speak of a call to be a bride of Christ in a more restricted, special “vocational” sense—i.e., the sense in which some women are called to live as a bride of Christ in a much more radical way, as their state in life.

Since Apostolic times, there have always been some Christian women who  felt called to renounce the possibility of an earthly marriage in order to dedicate themselves Christ in as complete and total a way as they could. Or in other words, they were offering Christ all the love and devotion that they would have otherwise given to an earthly husband and children. In relation to the rest of the baptized faithful, such women can rightfully be considered espoused to Christ in a more radical, concrete, and literal sense. They could be appropriately regarded as being “brides of Christ” in a special way, as their spirituality and way of life is, for fairly obvious reasons, not something to which the baptized in general are all called.

For example, men categorically are not called to be “brides of Christ” in this particular sense, since this kind of more-or-less literal “bridehood” is an essentially feminine reality. That is, a man in his masculine nature is not able to relate to Christ as his Bridegroom in the same strong sense as a woman can in her femininity. Similarly, a married woman cannot take Christ as her spouse in this same direct way, since she has already committed herself to a mortal husband.


“Brides of Christ” from a historical perspective

Historically, the Church first formally acknowledged this special call to live as a bride of Christ through the consecration of virgins. From all appearances, in the Church’s first few centuries, the call to be a consecrated virgin was considered one and the same with call to be Christ’s bride. However, in subsequent centuries, as the Roman persecution of Christians subsided, other forms of consecrated life in the Church began to develop. This included the earliest versions of what we today would know as “religious life,” or a vowed consecrated life lived in community according to a specific Rule and a particular foundational spirituality.

Although religious life properly so-called was (and is) distinct from consecrated virginity per se, some of the first precursors to women’s religious life were communities of already-consecrated virgins who chose to live together in order to receive mutual support in living out their vocation. But with the rise of organized monastic life in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, laywomen would enter monasteries and then subsequently receive the consecration of virgins at a later point, often in conjunction with their solemn profession of religious vows.

Because of this, the consecration of virgins came to be closely associated with religious life for women. Many ritual or liturgical elements which originally pertained specifically to the consecration of virgins—such as the reception of the veil, or committing one’s life to Christ in the presence of the local bishop—later became more strongly identified with women’s religious life, especially as the custom of consecrating non-monastic virgins was gradually falling out of practice.

Even while the newer medieval women’s religious Orders (e.g., the Poor Clares and Dominican nuns) did not continue the custom of bestowing the consecration of virgins upon their solemnly professed nuns, they continued to identify with the title “spouse of Christ.” Likewise, once the more modern congregations of active Sisters began to develop, the traditional use of “bridal” imagery continued to be a common theme in the spirituality and theology of women’s religious life. 

Towards the mid-twentieth century, it was to the point that, rightly or wrongly, the call to be a bride of Christ was considered more or less synonymous with the call for a woman to become a religious—especially since non-religious consecrated virgins had become little more than a distant memory in life of the Church at the time.

After Vatican II

Although the Second Vatican Council certainly did not introduce any true doctrinal changes, it did clarify several theological points related to the Church’s own inner structure and nature.  Because of this, after the Council the Church began to approach many elements of her theology on consecrated life from a somewhat different (or perhaps we could say a renewed) point of view. That is, the Church sought to promote a fuller understanding of the history, fundamental nature, and the original inspirations behind the various expressions of consecrated life.

This renewed perspective would later be reflected in the Church’s legislation, especially in the new Code of Canon Law which was to be promulgated several years later in 1983. It would also be evident in many magisterial documents, such as John Paul II’s 1991 post-synodal exhortation Vita Consecrata, as well as in many of the revised liturgical rites.

Concretely, some of the results of this renewal were:

- the 1970 revision of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, which also effected the re-establishment of the ancient Order of Virgins as a recognized form of consecrated life in its own right;

- religious life being recognized as a vocation which is essentially the same for both men and women (unlike the earlier 1917 Code of Canon Law, the canons on religious life in the post-Vatican II Code make virtually no distinctions between men’s and women’s institutes);

- the expression “consecrated life” no longer being considered a strict synonym for “religious life”—it was clarified that “consecrated life” is an umbrella term encompassing a wide variety of forms, with religious life properly so-called being just one particular expression among others.

The question at hand

So, if consecrated virginity is the vocation which is explicitly identified with the call to be a bride of Christ, and if religious life per se is understood as something different from consecrated virginity, is it still appropriate for religious Sisters and nuns who aren’t consecrated virgins to call themselves brides of Christ?

I think the answer here would have to be a qualified “yes and no.” That is, a general “yes” for most practical purposes, and a more limited “no” when we’re dealing with precise technical theological and canonical issues.

To start with the “no” part of the answer, it can be noted that consecrated virgins are the only ones whom the Church’s law describes as being “mystically espoused to Christ” (“Christo Dei Filio mystice desponsantur,” cf. can. 604). And as is clear from even a cursory reading of the Rite of Consecration, consecrated virginity as a vocation is directly ordered around the call to be a bride of Christ. That is, the call to be a bride of Christ is absolutely essential to the call to become a consecrated virgin; the vocation cannot be understood apart from this central call. A spousal call is not just a non-negotiable element of consecrated virginity, but it is also its single most defining element.

On the other hand, canon law never once identifies the call to be a bride of Christ with religious vows as such. Religious life, for both men and women, is not understood as being fundamentally a literal spousal relationship with Jesus. Rather, it is an approved way of life centered around following Christ more closely through vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In contrast with consecrated virginity, the basic concept of religious life can be grasped without referencing a call to be a bride of Christ.

This difference can be seen not only in the Church’s law, but also in the two vocations’ respective liturgies. In the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, nearly every single prayer explicitly references the spousal dimension of this vocation. In comparison, the “generic” liturgy that the Church provides for profession in women’s religious community contains relatively few bridal references. And when the Rite of Religious Profession for Women does allude to bridal spirituality, these bridal references tend to be much more abstract and general in their tone (so abstract, in fact, that virtually all of these references could reasonably be applied to all Christians in our common baptismal consecration).

Different religious communities typically have their own proper customs, liturgies, and vow formulae for profession. Some communities do choose to employ abundant bridal imagery in their vow ceremonies, while other communities opt not to include any sort of nuptial language at all in their profession liturgies. That is, individual religious communities are free to emphasize or de-emphasize spousal imagery according to their own unique spirituality and charism. The fact that communities have this sort of freedom would seem to suggest that while a call to identify as a spouse of Christ can harmonize with a religious vocation, it would not seem to be absolutely essential to religious life as an overall category.

Additionally, in a handful of cloistered communities, nuns not only make religious profession, but also receive the consecration of virgins. Since the Church has these two different rituals which are both permitted to be received by the same person, it would follow that these two liturgies are meant attain different ends. Since we know that the consecration of virgins is explicitly intended as a betrothal to Christ, we can therefore gather that religious profession in and of itself must have something other than espousal with Christ as its direct object.

So to sum it up a bit roughly, bridal imagery is more or less optional for religious, but is absolutely necessary for consecrated virgins. Therefore, it might be right to say that consecrated virgins are brides of Christ in a special strong sense, insofar as they are the only ones who are officially recognized as brides of Christ as a direct consequence of their particular vocation.

However…

But now we move on the “yes” part of the answer. Even while consecrated virgins may be the only “canonical” spouses of Christ, it would be wrong to ignore the Church’s venerable and extensive custom of using bridal imagery in reference to professed religious women. We also have the witness of countless faithful women religious—whether they be great mystics of the Church like St. Teresa of Avila or the more ordinary Sister serving at the local school or parish—who have experienced their calling and vocation in a distinctly spousal way. Additionally, we should remember that many canonized lay women, such as St. Kateri Teckawitha and St. Catherine of Siena, saw themselves as responding to a very real call to be a bride of Christ through the making of a private vow.

Yet if we’ve already established that it is specifically the consecration of virgins, as opposed to religious vows or any other kind of commitment, which formally marks a woman as a bride of Christ, how could we then consider non-members of the Order of Virgins as being brides of Christ as well? Wouldn’t this seem a bit inconsistent? Or could we even reasonably ask whether or not calling all consecrated women “brides of Christ” runs the risk of emptying the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity of its meaning and significance?

Perhaps the key here is to frame the questions properly by making some more nuanced distinctions. In particular, it would seem that we can distinguish between: 1. the objective theological reality of being interiorly called to relate to Christ as one’s spouse; and 2. the Church’s public, canonical recognition of this. While of course there is certainly significant overlap between these two concepts, it might be helpful if we could recognize that they are nevertheless slightly different things. Working from this premise, it would be reasonable to conclude that actually living as a bride of Christ may perhaps be something which can happen even apart from officially receiving the title “Sponsa Christi.”

To this end, perhaps it is possible to resolve the apparent conflict over who can be called a bride of Christ by acknowledging the grace to relate to Christ as a spouse as a charism, with the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity being the Church’s way of strengthening and confirming that charism.

What is a charism?

A charism is a spiritual gift, granted directly by God to an individual for the benefit of the wider Church. Scripture often speaks of charisms (for example, see 1 Corinthians 12:4, 7), as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. CCC 798 – 801). Since Vatican II, the Church has also used the word “charism” to describe the foundational spirituality of a religious family—a terminology which expresses that idea that the inspiration which prompted the start of a religious family is a grace initially granted as a gift to the community’s founder, and then carried on as an inheritance by the community’s vowed members down through time.

A defining characteristic of a charism is that it is truly a supernatural gift. I.e., it is not something which can come about through human effort or achievement. It therefore results in something which is quite above our natural human capabilities. The call to be a bride of Christ certainly fits this description. Not all women have this calling, and the spiritual capacity to see Christ as one’s spouse is not something that a woman can attain simply by desiring it. Rather, it is something that comes directly from God.

Like all gifts, I think this bridal charism is something which needs to be definitely accepted by the women to whom it is granted. Naturally, I would think that an acceptance of this bridal charism would have to take the form of some sort of definite resolution to renounce earthly marriage. Of course, for some women, their acceptance of this the charism of takes the form receiving the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity. But since it would seem that God grants this charism to individual women in a wide variety of circumstances, it is reasonable to suppose that many women’s acceptance of this spousal charism may come through an exclusive commitment to Christ made by means of religious profession. Other women may accept this charism in a more hidden way through the making of a private vow.

I think we can consider the consecration of virgins to be an especially privileged way of accepting and living out the charism to be a bride of Christ, since it is through only the consecration of virgins that the Church confirms this specific charism explicitly. This is a notable difference from religious profession, in which the Church confirmations a call to live a more generally evangelical way of life in the context of a particular religious community. It is even more different from a private vow, which is simply a personal response to the Lord which doesn’t involve the Church’s formal confirmation in any official sense.

But while the Church tells us authoritatively through the consecration of virgins who is a bride of Christ, we should keep in mind that she does not thereby tell us definitely who is not one. We can say with certainty that consecrated virgins are indeed called to be brides of Christ. But on the other hand, even though a woman religious (or a woman with a private vow of virginity) may not have this same kind of direct confirmation of a bridal call, this does not mean that she has not been granted this charism in actual fact. We need to have a certain humility in remembering that God calls whomever He wills according to His good pleasure, and that from an outsider’s point of view we don’t always have the clearest insight into the graces God has wrought in a particular soul.

The upshot

So what are the practical consequences to all of this?

First of all, I think we as a Church should treasure the distinctive spousal vocation of the Order of Virgins, as it’s ultimately meant as a gift for the entire Church.

We should also respect the spirituality of women religious who understand their own vocation in bridal terms. Even if bridal spirituality isn’t absolutely essential to religious life, it can still be beautiful and very fitting in this context. Many religious communities do consider bridal imagery as part of their foundational spirituality, so we might think of bridal spirituality a sort of “charism within a charism” in these instances.

But on the other hand, we also shouldn’t negatively judge women religious who for whatever reason do not identify with bridal imagery. We should keep in mind that a woman can live out the essential elements of religious life—i.e., an evangelical life of prayer, service, community, and public witness—in a full and fervent way, even if she best relates to Christ in a way other than as His bride.


If a woman discerning a vocation to consecrated life feels most strongly drawn to a spousal relationship with Christ (rather than feeling primarily attracted to community life or the mission of a particular religious family) then it might be good for her at least to investigate consecrated virginity. But if a discerner realizes that Order of Virgins is not where she is called, she shouldn’t feel that she therefore cannot be a spouse of Christ in any sense.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Homily for the Feast of St. Agatha

For today’s feast of St. Agatha, consecrated virgin and martyr, here is a lovely homily preached by Fr. Hugh Clifford to the students of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome (where Irish seminarians receive their priestly formation while studying at Rome’s Pontifical Universities).

***

You could say that, in a way, St Agatha is a former patroness of ours! The Irish College was at the Church of Sant’Agata dei Goti from 1836 to 1926 before it moved here, so our predecessors as the Irish College community no doubt turned often to the intercession of Saint Agatha. So maybe it would be a good thing for us to rekindle that devotion today on her feast.

She was held in great veneration in the Church of Rome, so much so that her name is among the Saints mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Agatha, like St. Agnes whom we celebrated in January, died rather than allow her virginity to be violated, because she had consecrated it to God. In choosing to accept death, and in choosing virginity in the first place, she was placing her trust in God that this world is not the full of reality. She was putting her faith in the heavenly Jerusalem. Today’s first reading from Hebrews puts this vision before our eyes, to be our motivation too, “what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first born son’ and a citizen of heaven.” St. Stephen was someone else, also mentioned in Eucharist Prayer I, who accepted martyrdom and gazed into heaven seeing a vision of the glory of God before he died.

Agatha lived up to Jesus’ teaching on evangelization in today’s Gospel. Her influence didn’t arise from purses and haversacks and coppers. She sent strong waves through Christian history by her steadfast faith. The mighty Roman Empire had a deeply ingrained attitude to sexuality which certainly didn’t resemble the purity of heart demanded by Jesus. Yet, the witness of people like Agatha to higher values amazingly turned that around. The Christians succeeded in changing the sexual outlook of the Romans. It’s something we should keep in mind when we try to figure out the best pastoral approach to matters of marriage and the family today.

St. Agatha can help us in our own commitment to celibacy too, so that we can make it a pointer to the heavenly Jerusalem—forsaking marriage, something very good, in view of that festival with the millions of angels gathered. People’s view of that motivation for celibacy can be obscured by legalistic wrangling about whether celibacy should be compulsory or not. If we embrace celibacy in a spirit of love for God and his Church, so that this pure love flows out from us to the sheep of God’s flock, then our celibacy will be fruitful and it will make more sense to people.  

The above-mentioned Church of Sant’Agata dei Goti in Rome

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Feast of St. Agnes

A blessed feast of St. Agnes, virgin and martyr, to all my sisters in Christ around the world!

As many of you already know, in Rome there is a special custom for the feast of St. Agnes. Two lambs are blessed during Mass at the basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls (which was built on the site of St. Anges’ parents’ home). Later, these lambs will be shorn, and their wool will be used to make the pallia that new metropolitan archbishops receive from the Holy Father on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

This tradition is especially meaningful for me in my own spirituality,  since it’s beautifully symbolic of consecrated virgins’ call to provide spiritual support for the ministry of bishops through our life of prayer and total dedication to Christ.

One of my favorite memories from my three years in Rome was last year on this date, when I was able to attend the lamb blessing ceremony. Unfortunately, at the time I was too busy with my academic work to take the time to write about it here! But in the spirit of “better late than never,” I thought I would at least share last year’s photos today:

Here I am in the courtyard of the basilica before Mass.

The lambs arrive!

Me with the lambs. Before Mass, the lambs are set out in one of the hallways, and you can go up and pet them!
There are two lambs: one decorated in red silk roses and one decorated with white ones. 
This is meant to represent both the virginity and the martyrdom of St. Agnes.

Other people petting the lambs, including my friend Fr. Hugh and some local Italian school children on a field trip.

Praying at the tomb of St. Agnes. From early records, we know that her body was buried under what is now the high altar of the basilica. 
(Her head is believed to be in a different Church in central Rome.)

And finally...

In front of the poem from Pope St. Damasus.
In the basilica, there is a sort of marble plaque with a Latin poem composed in honor of St. Agnes by Pope St. Damasus (who lived from 304 – 384). This is actually one of our earliest written sources on the life of St. Agnes. The plaque was actually lost for several centuries, but was found again in 1728. It had been used as a paving stone (inscription side down, luckily!), which is why it had been preserved.

The Latin inscription reads:

FAMA REFERT SANCTOS DUDUM RETULISSE PARENTES 
AGNEN CUM LUGUBRES CANTUS TUBA CONCREPUISSET
NUTRICIS GREMIUM SUBITO LIQUISSE PUELLAM
SPONTE TRUCIS CALCASSE MINAS RABIEMQUE TYRANNI
URERE CUM FLAMMIS VOLUISSET NOBILE CORPUS
VIRIBUS INMENSUM PARVIS SUPERASSE TIMOREM
NUDAQUE PROFUSUM CRINEM PER MEMBRA DEDISSE
NE DOMINI TEMPLUM FACIES PERITURA VIDERET
O VENERANDA MIHI SANCTUM DECUS ALMA PUDORIS
UT DAMASI PRECIBUS FAVEAS PRECOR INCLYTA MARTYR


(Fr.Z’s blog gives an English translation:“It is told that one day the holy parents recounted that Agnes, when the trumpet had sounded its sad tunes, suddenly left the lap of her nurse while still a little girl and willingly trod upon the rage and the threats of the cruel tyrant. Though he desired to burn the noble body in the flames, with her little forces she overcame immense fear and, gave her loosened hair to cover her naked limbs, lest mortal eye might see the temple of the Lord. O one worthy of my veneration, holy glory of modesty, I pray you, O illustrious martyr, deign to give ear to the prayers of Damasus.”)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

“Today, indeed, He was born after the manner of men, of a Virgin, but was begotten of the Father before all things, resembling His mother in body, His Father in power. 

Only-begotten on earth, and Only-begotten in heaven. 

God of God, born of a Virgin, Righteousness from the Father, Power from the Mighty One, Light of Light, not unequal to His Father; nor separated in power, not confused by extension of the Word or enlargement as though mingled with the Father, but distinguished from the Father by virtue of His generation. 

He is your Brother, (Song of Songs 5:1) without Whom neither things in heaven, nor things in the sea, nor things on earth consist.” 

–St. Ambrose, in De Virginibus

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Back to Blogging

In honor of the Year of Consecrated Life, I’ll be making a more conscious effort to resurrect the blog!

A few updates on my life since I last posted…in Rome this past June, I successfully completed my license degree in canon law along with my classmates.

This photo was taken at a little graduation ceremony we had right after our comprehensive exams. 
I had been officially a canonist for about three hours at this point!

I returned to the Unites States over the summer, and have since been serving once again as Director of Religious Education for a mid-size parish in New York state. That is, I am now responsible for the catechetical formation and sacramental preparation of about 500 schoolchildren ranging in age from five to fourteen years old. I’m very happy to have the chance to “labor in the vineyard” again, though I will admit to getting nostalgic for Rome every now and then!

While I was in Rome studying, I didn’t have much time or mental energy to blog, since my coursework was very demanding. For a while, I even thought of discontinuing the blog altogether. But after being blessed to be in touch over the past few years with a surprising number of young consecrated virgins and young women discerning this vocation, I realized that there is still a great need for accessible resources to help consecrated virgins and aspiring consecrated virgins to support each other and reflect more deeply on our vocation.

On that note, a few housekeeping considerations:

First, I am going to be much stricter about enforcing my “respectful comments only” policy. Honest questions and even friendly debates are still welcome, but snide remarks or outright nastiness are not. Readers should feel free to share their thoughts without having to worry about being torn down, as “Sponsa Christi” is meant to be a friendly and encouraging corner of the internet.

Also, in the interest of sharing resources and perhaps building a sense of community more effectively, I’m going to experiment with having a facebook page for this blog. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/sponsachristiblog  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Anniversary Reflection

“IHS” is a traditional symbol for the Holy Name of Jesus
January 3, 2014 is the fifth anniversary of my solemn consecration to a life of virginity. Even after five years it’s still hard for me to find the words to write a reflection on the day. So instead, I’ll just share one small memory:

I originally chose January 3 as my consecration day, because I knew I wanted to be consecrated during the Christmas season, and that year January 3 happened to be the eve of the Epiphany. And January 3 is also my onomastico—that is, the feast of my patroness St. Genevieve, who herself was a consecrated virgin.

What I was not totally aware of at the time was that January 3 is also the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. But what might have been simply a liturgical happy accident instead led me, providentially, to see a new shade of meaning within my vocation.

The night before my consecration, a local Poor Clare monastery let me spend the night in their guestroom, so that I could spend that last night under the same roof as Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, so as to then be more recollected for my consecration day. In the morning, I joined the nuns in their chapel for their early prayers.

Since, as I then found out, the Holy Name of Jesus is an important feast for Franciscans, the nuns had a special commemoration of the day in their celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. Their Franciscan Office books had all the beautiful proper prayers, readings, and antiphons which I didn’t have in my own “standard-issue” Roman breviary. So although I had not planned it this way, I found myself meditating specifically on the significance of the Most Holy Name in the final hours leading up to my consecration.

As I sat in the chapel, singing the Office along with the nuns, it came to my mind that if I were marrying a mortal spouse that day, I would be changing my last name to my new husband’s—and therefore “losing” my own name in a certain sense. It reminded me of how, when I was a very young, it used to strike me as a bit unfair that women generally took their husbands’ surnames, and were sometimes even addressed by their husbands’ name alone (as in: “Mrs. John Smith”).  To be very honest, when I was a little girl I used to marvel at how much you would have to love somebody to allow your own name to be basically taken over by his!

But that bright winter morning, I suddenly thought: how happy I would be if my name could be hidden under Jesus’ in the same way that a wife’s is hidden under her husband’s! In Jesus, I had truly found the one whom I loved enough so as to be willing to lose my own name.

Of course,  it should go without saying that God, who deliberately created us as unique individuals, doesn’t will that we should give up our own personalities when He calls us to consecrated life. And naturally it would sound a bit silly if I took to calling myself something like “Mrs. Jesus.” Still, at that moment, I couldn’t think of a greater joy or privilege than to be known simply as Jesus’ spouse.

Sacred Scripture and the Church’s teachings paint us a stunning picture of the power and majesty of the Holy Name of Jesus: 
…God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

But I am also grateful that every year this feast also gives me a chance to savor this mystery in a personal and more intimate way, as I remember my consecration day and how I felt that joyful longing to give myself over entirely to the one who bears the Most Holy Name.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Few Brief Thoughts for Christmastime


The Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity reminds us in its suggested homily about the connection between the vocation of virginity and the wonder of the Incarnation:

“…When the fullness of time had come, the almighty Father showed, in the mystery of the incarnation, his love for this great virtue [of virginity]. In the chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh, in a marriage covenant uniting two natures, human and divine.”

With each passing year, I’m coming to understand more and more how we consecrated virgins should savor the Christmas season as an especially spiritually nourishing time for us. The brief but beautiful Christmas season, from the Octave of Christmas through the feast of the Epiphany, gives us the time and liturgical “space” to envelope ourselves in the great truth of God’s spousal love for His people.

During this time, I think it’s good for us to reflect on how consecrated virginity, although it may seem fruitless in the eyes of the world (or even to our own eyes in some of our more difficult moments), is truly meant to be a state wherein we are specially blessed to encounter God in a privileged way, so that in us He can show forth His love and presence to the world that longs for Him. The coming New Year gives us a chance to resolve to embrace and live out the indescribable mystery of this love ever more fully.


My warmest Christmas greetings to all my sisters in Christ around the world!