Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Feast of St. Lucy

Today is the feast of St. Lucy, one of the martyred consecrated virgin-saints whose name is mentioned in the Roman Canon...for more on St. Lucy, click here.

To be perfectly honest, I would have loved to have written a long, thoughtful post on this lovely “sister” of mine, but right now my brain is way, WAY too tired from trying to study Diritto Canonico  in Italian. (Right now, I am working on a summary/reaction paper for a book with the translated title of A Critical Introduction to Natural Law”--and this work is pretty much what it sounds like. Happily, at least with this asignment, the book has a good English translation and you can write your paper in whatever major European language you want. Guess which language I’m choosing!)

So instead, I am going to let the Church’s liturgy speak for me! The Office of Readings for St. Lucy is one of my favorites in the breviary. Taken from St. Ambrose’s work De Virginitate, it reads like exceedingly beautiful “spiritual direction” for consecrated virgins, applying equally as well to the consecrated virgins of our own century as it did to the consecrated virgins of the Patristic era.

Emphases and comments are mine.

***
You light up your grace of body with the radiance of your mind

You are one of God’s people, of God’s family, a virgin among virgins; you light up your grace of body with your splendor of soul. More than others you can be compared to the Church. When you are in your room, then, at night, think always on Christ, and wait for his coming at every moment.

This is the person Christ has loved in loving you, the person he has chosen in choosing you. (I think here, St. Ambrose means that Christ loves the Church in His love for the individual consecrated virgin.) He enters by the open door; he has promised to come in, and he cannot deceive. Embrace him, the one you have sought; turn to him, and be enlightened; hold him fast, ask him not to go in haste, beg him not to leave you. The Word of God moves swiftly; he is not won by the lukewarm, nor held fast by the negligent. Let your soul be attentive to his word; follow carefully the path God tells you to take, for he is swift in his passing.

What does his bride say? I sought him, and did not find him; I called him, and he did not hear me. (Most of these quotes are from the Song of Songs--a book St. Ambrose loved to reference in his writings to and about consecrated virgins.) Do not imagine that you are displeasing to him despite having called him, asked him in, and opened the door to him; and that this is the reason why he has gone so quickly – no, for he allows us to be constantly tested. When the crowds pressed him to stay, what does he say in the Gospel? I must preach the word of God to other cities, because for that I have been sent. But even if it seems to you that he has left you, go out and seek him once more.

Who but holy Church is to teach you how to hold Christ fast? Indeed, she has already taught you, if you only understood her words in Scripture: How short a time it was when I left them before I found him whom my soul has loved. I held him fast, and I will not let him go.

How do we hold him fast? Not by restraining chains or knotted ropes but by bonds of love, by spiritual reins, by the longing of the soul.

If you also, like the bride, wish to hold him fast, seek him and be fearless of suffering. It is often easier to find him in the midst of bodily torments, in the very hands of persecutors.

His bride says: How short a time it was after I left them. In a little space, after a brief moment, when you have escaped from the hands of your persecutors without yielding to the powers of this world, Christ will come to you, and he will not allow you to be tested for long. (This is a valuable concepts even to those of us who are unlikely to be called to “red” martrydom. We should still earnestly pray for the grace to “love Him till the end” in whatever circumstances we live our lives.)

Whoever seeks Christ in this way, and finds him, can say: I held him fast, and I will not let him go before I bring him into my mother’s house, into the room of her who conceived me. What is this “house,” this “room,” but the deep and secret places of your heart?

Maintain this house, sweep out its secret recesses until it becomes immaculate and rises as a spiritual temple for a holy priesthood, firmly secured by Christ, the cornerstone, so that the Holy Spirit may dwell in it

Whoever seeks Christ in this way, whoever prays to Christ in this way, is not abandoned by him; on the contrary, Christ comes again and again to visit such a person, for He is with us until the end of the world.

Prayer:

May the glorious intercession
of the Virgin and Martyr St. Lucy
give us new heart, we pray, O Lord,
so that we may celebrate her heavenly birthday
in this present age,
and so behold things eternal.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.*



* There is an interesting explanation of the new (2011) translation of this prayer at WDTPRS?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Secular Vocation?

Recently in her blog, “Notes From Stillsong Hermitage” diocesan hermit Sr. Laurel O’Neal has written several posts with the aim of articulating on the nature of consecrated virginity as a distinctly “secular” vocation. (There are many posts in her series on this, but for some examples see here, here, here, and here.)

Without meaning to spark off a huge inter-blog debate, I do think it would be good for me to respond in at least a general way to Sr. Laurel’s series of posts on consecrated virgins, especially since “Sponsa Christi” was quoted or alluded to in several places.

In a nutshell, my view on the “secularity” of consecrated virginity as a vocation is: I very strongly believe that consecrated virgins are NOT called to a secular way of life, in the sense that we would normally use the word “secular.”  That is, I think that consecrated virgins should adopt a way of life that is distinctively “consecrated,” or “set apart” for God alone in demonstrable and concrete ways. Because consecrated virginity is a public state of consecrated life (just as religious life is), consecrated virgins should order their lives around Christ and His Church in a more exclusive, explicit, and radical way than would be proper or possible for the vast majority of the laity.

To put it in more tangible terms, a consecrated virgin’s lifestyle should not be one which could be easily mistaken for that of a devout single laywoman. Rather, it should be informed by the Evangelical Counsels to a greater degree than that to which all the baptized are already called.
Consequently, as I’ve written before, I believe that it’s most appropriate for consecrated virgins to have (whenever it is at all possible in any way whatsoever) serious commitments to the direct and full-time service of the Church; to the recitation of the Divine Office and participation in the Church’s liturgical life; to a lifestyle of true evangelical simplicity; to life-long service in fulfilling the spiritual and pastoral needs of her home diocese; and to a real accountability towards her bishop.
As consecrated virgins, our reception of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity should have major, significant—and therefore, plainly noticeable!—consequences not only in the quiet recesses of our souls, but also in the shape and quality of our day-to-day exterior lives.
Consecrated virgins could perhaps be described as “secular” in a limited and more technical sense of the term, in reference to the fact that consecrated virginity is a different form of consecrated life than religious life properly so-called. (Much in the same way as diocesan priests are called “secular” simply because they are not a part of a religious Order.) Although even here I do want to point out that: 1. In their English translations, neither Canon Law nor the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity ever actually use the word “secular” in referring to consecrated virgins; and 2. very often before the second Vatican Council, and even sometimes in more recent documents, the Church uses the word “religious” in a looser way to refer to all forms of consecrated life inclusively, so in some contexts even referring to consecrated virgins as “religious” would not seem to be wholly inappropriate.
And, one thing to keep in mind is that “secular” is not a univocal term. I.e., it can be used to mean different things in different contexts. The limited, technical sense of the word “secular”—which I believe is the sense used when describing the vocation of consecrated virgins or the secular clergy— is different from the way we would use it in common speech.
A stronger, more robust (and at the same time, more colloquial) definition of “secular”—which the Church does employ in other contexts, such as when speaking of the vocation of the laity or of those in secular institutes—would probably be something along the lines of “full participation and engagement in the world of temporal affairs”; or in a negative* sense: “not exclusively set aside for God’s own use in a direct and explicit way.”
While the majority of baptized Catholics are called to a secular lifestyle in this strong sense of the term, I don’t believe that this is the case for consecrated virgins. In other words, consecrated virgins are called to be openly and consistently identified with the Church; not only with the Church as the somewhat more abstract concept of the communion of the People of God, but also with the Church as the visible institution which Christ Himself founded.** Therefore, every area of consecrated virgins’ lives should revolve unambiguously around the direct service of the Church and intimacy with God in prayer.
Given this, consecrated virgins would therefore NOT ordinarily be called to be Christian witnesses in politics, purely civil affairs, the secular professional world, or the business or financial community. They would also not be called under normal circumstances to be a “hidden leaven,” or to live out their consecration in a more subtle or less than fully public way.
I don’t think it would be possible for me to respond to every point Sr. Laurel makes in her series on consecrated virgins, especially since it seems that we may disagree on some very fundamental philosophical and ecclesiological premises (such as the inter-relationship between a person’s identity and his or her concrete actions and choices, the nature of the Church as an institution, the role of the hierarchy in relationship to the Church’s charismatic dimension, and the objective theological superiority of consecrated life).

Still, having briefly shared my basic point of view on the question of  whether or not consecrated virginity is a truly “secular” vocation, there are four main points which I would like to make in response to Sr. Laurel’s series of posts:
1. There are actually no clear indications that the Church envisions consecrated virgins as being called to a secular vocation in the strong sense of the term…
…which remains the case despite the numerous and wide-spread assumptions to the contrary.
If you read the actual authoritative liturgical and magisterial documents pertaining to consecrated virginity on their own, apart from whatever non-authoritative commentaries you might have encountered (such as the USACV website or widely read journal articles such as this one by Sr.Sharon Holland, IHM), I think it would be highly unlikely that you would come away with the impression that consecrated virgins are supposed to be “secular” in the strong sense of the term.
In fact, the only thing I can think of which could possible give anyone the idea that consecrated virgins are called to live secular lifestyles is the phrase “living in the world.” Yet, this term is still rather ambiguous—in my opinion, much too ambiguous to be the final word in such an important question.
In the Rite itself, the phrase “living in the world” is used only once: to distinguish between the version of the Rite which is to be used for professed cloistered contemplative nuns, and the version which is intended for non-monastic consecrated virgins. The only other instance where this phrase is used is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church—once again, as a way to identify the two categories of women who may receive the Rite of Consecration. (Canon Law actually does NOT use the phrase “living in the world” to decribe consecrated virgins.)
Given this, my thought is that when speaking about consecrated virgins the Church understands the phrase “living in the world” as primarily a technical designation, and not as a blueprint for consecrated virgins’ way of life.
To be sure, I don’t think that “living in the world” is totally without practical and spiritual significance for those called to this category of consecrated virginity. However, I do think that many (if not most) commentators tend to give this one phrase more weight than it actually seems to merit, and to jump to conclusions when it comes to “filling in the blanks” about what concrete expressions the designation “living in the world” should have in the lifestyle of consecrated virgins.
Further, not only do the Rite of Consecration, Canon Law, and the other authoritative magisterial documents which mention consecrated virginity refrain from stating anywhere that consecrated virgins are called to a secular way of life in the strong sense of the term, but they also include passages which suggest exactly the opposite.
For example, the introduction to the Rite of Consecration states that consecrated virgins are to: “…spend their time in works of penance and of mercy, in apostolic activity, and in prayer, according to their state in life [i.e., according to their newly-attained state of being publically consecrated] and their spiritual gifts.”
What this does not say that consecrated virgins should only spend part of their time in these activities, or that they should do these things insofar as their professional work schedule allows, or that it might be nice if a consecrated virgin did these things if she had personal feelings of being called to do them.
Likewise, canon 604 of course describes consecrated virgins as “dedicated to the service of the Church,” in similar wording used in canon 281 when it describes secular priests as being dedicated—i.e., “totally given over” to their ministry. This point is echoed in the Rite’s suggested homily, where the virgin-to-be-consecrated is exhorted to “…Never forget that you are given over entirely to the service of the Church and of all your brothers and sisters.”
Also, one formula for the presentation of the veil reads:
Receive this veil,
by which you are to show
that you have been chosen from other women
to be dedicated to the service of Christ
and of his body, which is the Church.
As I see it, this is a very clear indication that consecrated virgins are in fact expected to live their lives as women “set apart.”
In all these examples, the focus on concrete service and prayer, combined with the emphases on the completeness and entirety of a consecrated virgin’s self-offering and her role as one “set apart” for God, very strongly suggests a visibly and distinctly “consecrated” lifestyle rather than a strongly secular one.
Finally, if we were to consider consecrated virgins as being called to a “consecrated secularity” similar to that which Sr. Laurel describes (which to me seems to indicate a way of life and spirituality very similar to that of secular institute members, or to that of women who have made private vows of virginity), then this would actually be somewhat of a historical anachronism.
The consecrated virgins who lived during the time of the Church Fathers were basically proto-nuns, and likewise religious life properly so-called in may respects grew directly out of the vocation of consecrated virginity. So it would be exceedingly difficult to argue that the early consecrated virgins saw themselves as being truly “secular.”
Now, I do NOT think this means that we should ignore the distinctions between consecrated virginity per se and religious life technically speaking. Nor do I think that recognizing the significance of this historical reality should automatically lead to consecrated virgins inappropriately trying to live as “quasi-religious”*** instead of embracing their own unique charism as consecrated virgins.
But at the same time, I think this also should prevent us from trying to superimpose a very modern charism (secular institutes and “consecrated secularity” are almost overwhelmingly a twentieth-century development in the life of the Church) onto what is really an ancient vocation.
2. In and of itself, a perceived pastoral need does not necessarily affect the foundational theology of a particular vocation or state in life.
One of Sr. Laurel’s main theses regarding the proposed “secularity” of consecrated virginity as a vocation is that the Church is in need of a specifically secular witness on the part of consecrated persons.
Whether or not there actually is such a pastoral need in the Church today (and I personally would tend to think that there is not), this kind of premise is actually kind of irrelevant to the question of whether or not consecrated virgins should live strongly secular lifestyles.
Granted, in many ways pastoral issues can be important to take into account when making decisions on certain very practical matters. (E.g., if consecrated virgins wearing veils full-time would truly confuse and scandalize the faithful in a particular local Church, then it would be prudent and appropriate for the diocesan bishop to ask the consecrated virgins in his diocese not to wear them, even if wearing a veil is a completely practice on a theological level.) However, in most cases, determinations about how a vocation should be lived should be based only on the objective theology of that state in life. (E.g., Even if a bishop thought it would greatly benefit his diocese to consecrate men as virgins, he would be unable to do so, because this is totally against the nature of consecrated virginity as a feminine vocation.)
So even if the Church truly needed consecrated virgins to be more secular, this alone would not change or retroactively influence the mind of the Church when she established the consecration of virgins in her first centuries. Even if we can’t precisely articulate it right now, consecrated virginity is what it is an objective way—external, pastoral considerations would not change its fundamental, essential nature (even if they might legitimately affect  some of its more practical expressions).
If consecrated virginity is indeed a vocation which calls one to be more “consecrated” than “secular,” no amount of pastoral need is going to change this fact. Such a pressing pastoral need might lead to an increase in vocations to secular institutes or to lay movements like Opus Dei (or perhaps even to new kinds of vocations developing within the Church), but it would not change or affect the essential theological nature of consecrated virginity.
3. Saying that consecrated virgins are not called to a strongly secular vocation does NOT undermine the call of the laity.
In her series, Sr. Laurel also expresses concern that if consecrated virgins were to be asked to live a more demonstrably “consecrated” lifestyle, this would undermine the call of the laity by reinforcing the erroneous notion that non-clergy  and non-consecrated persons are something like “second class citizens” within the Church.
As I understand it, Sr. Laurel’s reasoning on this matter is based on the premise that: if consecrated virgins are asked or seek to avoid a secular- or lay-lifestyle, then this must manifest a belief that the call of the laity is something deficient, lacking, or perhaps even less-than-pure or otherwise “bad.” Therefore, consecrated virgins should not avoid living like laypeople, because their openness to a strongly secular way of life would show that the call of the laity is something which is intrinsically good.
Since this more or less a pastoral (rather than a strictly doctrinal or canonical) issue, everything I said in the previous section naturally applies here. Still, I want to stress that I do NOT think that an emphasis on consecrated virgins’ publically consecrated status undermines an appreciation of the call of the laity in any way—on the contrary, I believe it affirms and safeguards it.
The vocation of the laity is to witness to Christ in every-day life, and to infuse the world of temporal affairs with the spirit of the Gospel. If this is also essentially the vocation of consecrated virgins, then consecrated virginity as a vocation would be almost a redundancy in the Church, and thus it wouldn’t make sense for the Church to have consecrated virgins in the first place.
But more importantly, I think that if we understand consecrated virgins as having virtually the same role in the Church as the laity, then this school of thought would actually be what undermines the vocation of lay people.
What message does it convey to the laity when we describe consecrated virgins as being called to more or less the same thing as they are—only that consecrated virgins live out this vocation with more gifts of grace from God because they are allowed to receive a special rite?
And doesn’t this line of reasoning also suggest that lay people aren’t quite as capable of being a Christian witness in the secular world as consecrated virgins supposedly are? Or that, unlike the laity at large, the consecrated virgins are the ones who are really serious about being a “leaven in the world?”
In either case, to me it seems like it would be most respectful to the dignity of the lay vocation if we regard it as something that truly is proper to the laity (as in, unique to them)—and not something which consecrated virgins also do, only to a more exceptional degree.
4. There is nothing about a more “consecrated” lifestyle which prevents consecrated virgins from being true “apostles” and witness to the Gospel.
Sr. Laurel also argues that an emphasis on “consecration” at the expense of “secularity” hinders consecrated virgins from their true vocation as “apostles,” or witnesses to the Gospel.

But if we were seriously going to argue that a distinctively “consecrated” way of life makes consecrated virgins less capable of being “apostles,” then we would also have to maintain that women religious are also bear less of an apostolic witness than the Catholic laity. (In which case it would follow that religious life would be sort of a step down or away from one’s obligation to bear witness to the Gospel—and does anyone here really want to argue that?)
On the other hand, I really do think that we consecrated virgins are most convincing as Christian witnesses when we live a distinctively “consecrated” way of life.
When we as consecrated virgins live as women demonstrably “set apart” for God’s purposes, we bear witness to the fact that God’s goodness transcends that of all created things. We proclaim the primacy of Christ in a world which “is passing away”; we testify to the fact that Christ alone is the fulfillment of all time and history; and we show the world that God alone can satisfy the human heart.
However, I think that this particular type of witness is a lot less striking when consecrated virgins come across to others as being fully committed to and engaged in the world of temporal affairs. To me, it seems like it would prompt the question: if consecrated virgins have supposedly chosen Christ above all things, why do they still seem so attached to the things of this world?
It should go without saying that just because some people are called to renounce worldly things, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all of these things are therefore bad in and of themselves. I do believe that there is a role in the Church for those who feel called bear witness to the essential goodness of all of God’s creation, including the goodness of many passing temporal goods. But once again, I think this is the call of the laity, especially the laity who are married and who have children.
What’s more, I really don’t think it would make sense for consecrated virgins to try to be a witness to the goodness of earthly life. Consecrated virgins publically renounce human marriage and natural motherhood, which are arguably some of the greatest and most precious earthly goods. Making the profound sacrifice of such great goods, only to occupy ourselves with the much lesser earthly goods of a professional career, involvement in civil politics, etc., to me seems to be sending a rather confused and inconsistent message.
5. A strongly secular lifestyle isn’t good for consecrated virgins, or for consecrated virginity as a vocation.
Admittedly, this is my own opinion, albeit a thoroughly well-considered one. And, once again, concerns such as this, which are more pastoral in nature, don’t necessarily affect the objective theology of a state in life.
But, coming towards the conclusion of this post, I still think that it would be appropriate for us to take into account some of what I see as the “dangers” of emphasizing consecrated virgins’ proposed “secular” identity.
First of all, saying that consecrated virgins are called to be publically consecrated persons, but at the same time are called to be fully secular, puts candidates and newly-consecrated virgins in a confusing situation as far as interiorizing their vocation is concerned. As I see it, this is asking consecrated virgins to base their identity on the combination of two mutually exclusive concepts—something that could be defined as an impossible developmental task! It can also lead to a lot of painful rumination on whether or not receiving the Rite of Consecration actually “means anything,” and this ambiguity makes it a lot harder to bear up under the inevitable misunderstandings newly-consecrated virgins will encounter.
I know a lot of people say that this is “creative tension.” However, we should remember that tension is not always in every case creative—it can also be highly, highly destructive. Determining whether or not a particular point of tension is creative or destructive takes an uncanny amount of insight and discernment, and is often only seen clearly in hindsight (and this is true for people of all ages—the chronologically young don’t have a monopoly on the need for discernment). So I don’t think we should be too quick to assume that the “tension” which many newly consecrated virgins experience when trying to reconcile the “consecrated” and supposedly “secular” aspects of their vocation is a good or healthy thing.
Also, considering problems that could possibly arise in sort of the opposite direction (and I know I’m going to generate pages of negative comments for saying this, but I’m saying it anyway because I honestly believe that it needs to be said), I think that we should be realistic and frank about the possibility that “secularity” could at some point come to mean “laxity.”
Speaking in purely hypothetical terms (and thus not, NOT, NOT in reference to any individual consecrated virgin--and I am fully aware that there may be many consecrated virgins who disagree with me who are much holier than I am), it’s easy to imagine how a supposed “secular” identity could be used to rationalize a consecrated virgin’s less-than-convincing witness to the Gospel.
For example, maybe a consecrated virgin maintains a much higher standard of living than she really needs to, wearing expensive cloths, taking nice vacations, and frequenting fancy restaurants and other entertainments…this could be justified as a need to “be professional” and to keep up with her secular lay colleagues.
Or, maybe it could happen that as her “first fervor” or “honeymoon period” starts to fade, a consecrated virgin finds herself drifting away from her commitment to prayer. “Being called to a secular life” could offer a plausible sounding excuse for skipping daily Mass (perhaps as “…too inconvenient with my work schedule.”), giving up large portions of the Divine Office (maybe since “I’m secular, and so I must not be strictly required to say it, and I haven’t been finding it personally helpful lately…”), or for skimping on private prayer (“…I visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as recreation, and I haven’t had much time for recreation lately—after all, I hold down a full-time job!”)
notes:



* By “negative” I of course don’t mean negative in the moral sense of “bad” or “evil.” To come to a more in-depth understanding, I’m just trying to consider secularity according to what it is not, in addition to considerations on what it is.
** But at the same time, I do want to point out that it’s not good to maintain too strict a division between an understanding of the Church as “the people of God” and an understanding of the Church as a visible institution—this is setting up a false dichotomy.
*** Although there are things which, although some commentators might call them “quasi-religious” which are actually proper to consecrated life in general, and thus appropriate if not necessary for consecrated virgins. Examples of this might include a commitment to a truly simple way of life or a basic level of accountability to some external authority figure.
Examples of things which might be “quasi-religious” in a way that was truly inappropriate for consecrated virgins could be things like: a focus on one specific type of apostolic work; a intensely characteristic devotion to a particular “founder,” saint, or specific kind or set of devotional prayers; or a deep sense of commitment to the following a detailed “Rule” or horarium (i.e., a devotion to a specific schedule which became a central element to one’s interior life.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Feast of All Saints

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.

But they are in peace.

For if to others, indeed, they seem punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;

Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of Himself.

As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to Himself.

In the time of their judgment they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble;

They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.

Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:

Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with the elect.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Updates from Rome

(About the image: this is a photo of my school, shamelessly “borrowed” from their website.)

Well, I did make it to Rome safely! I’ve been here exactly one month today—a month which has been amazing, but also totally and utterly overwhelming.

For one thing, this was my first time leaving North America ever (and practically my first time being outside of the United States; I was in Canada for thirty minutes about ten years ago). And in travelling here, I left the United States so quickly that sometimes I feel like I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything.

I knew at the end of June that I would be sent to study Canon Law, but I didn’t know for sure until the very end of July that I would be going to Rome (that is, if the logistics would not have worked out, I would have been sent to Washington, D.C.). Also, I wasn’t quite sure how long it would take for me to get a visa, so I didn’t even book my flight until about three days before I left.  It was not until my plane was over the north Atlantic that I let myself believe that Rome was really going to happen.

Providentially, I landed here in Rome early on the morning of September 14—the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The first thing I did once I arrived at the place where I am living was attend a morning Mass for the feast. And after the Mass, I was even able to venerate a relic of the true cross! (Appropriately enough for someone attending Pontifica Universit√† della Santa Croce.)

In this past month, I’ve seen things I never thought I would see in person: St. Peter’s, the Sistine Chapel, and the catacombs of St. Callixtus (an image of which I have had on my sidebar since this blog first started) where St. Cecilia was first buried.

One of my favorite things about my life in Rome right now is that I can walk through the Piazza Navona on my way to and from school—not because I particularly care for all the tourist attractions there, but because it was the place where St. Agnes was martyred. One of the most beautiful antiphons from the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, which the newly-consecrated sings right after she receives her ring—“I am espoused to Him whom angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at His glory”—is attributed to St. Agnes. It amazing for me to be able to stand in the place where these words were spoken for the first time!

On a similar note, you always hear about how the Church is universal…but to actually see it for yourself really is as marvelous as everyone says. I keep getting a feeling that I can’t quite put into words—something like: I never knew! I never really understood before just how vast and deep our Church, the Church of which I am a member, truly is. All this history, all these people—all the Apostles, martyrs, Popes, saints, and billions and billions of Christian souls. And yet, even someone as little as me is not unknown or insignificant.

Still, my coming to Rome is most certainly NOT the Archdiocese sending me on a three-year vacation. (Or even a three-year retreat!) Getting used to a foreign culture is challenging. I am finding that I need to re-learn how to do almost everything: how to use the washing machine, how to cross the street, how to buy things in stores, converting everything into metric (I’m still not used to hearing people say things like: “it’s going to get up to 33˚ tomorrow, so you’re lucky you have air conditioning”), etc. Even trying to plug things into walls is an adventure!

And of course, the reason I’m here is to study Canon Law (a subject I’ve never formally studied before), with all my classes entirely in Italian (a language which I had also never studied). After just having completed my first week of classes, I can say that yes, this really is about as daunting as it sounds…yet at the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited and happy to be going to school. Knowing that I was send her with the express purpose of serving the Church in New York spurs me on to keep trying my best even in the times when the task ahead of me seems almost beyond my capacities.

Still, I think out of necessity, my personal motto this year is going to have to be: “With God, all things are possible.” (cf. Matthew 19:26) So I could still use prayers!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Where I Will Be Studying

While I was searching for something else online, I found this video about the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce, where I will be studying for the next three years:

And yes, I am totally excited for this amazing opportunity! :)

(But please pray that the Holy Spirit will help me learn Italian.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Some Updates: Yes, I Am Still Alive!

Despite the long silence, yes, I am still alive! I’m just coming towards the end of one of the busiest summers I have ever had.

As I mentioned earlier, I am writing a high school level Religion textbook on Vocations (which will probably reach classrooms in September 2013). I have had about four and a half months to write a full-length book, so needless to say this didn’t leave me with much time or mental energy to do much other writing. (Even when I writing my Master’s thesis, that was shorter in length and I had twice as much time to do it!) Happily, I’m starting to a light at the end of the tunnel; at this point, the core writing is more or less done and now I’m working on the rewrites. And it’s by far worth all the work to know that my writing may—God willing!—help to plant the seeds of future vocations in the Church.

I was also able to get away for a few days, albeit with my laptop in tow, to attend the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins’ annual convocation. This is the first one I have ever been able to attend, and overall it was a good experience. I’m very glad that I was able to go. (I was even pleasantly surprised to meet a few blog readers in person for the first time!)

Since the convocation was help at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, (a.k.a. Mundelein, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago) I was able to stay with and visit my mentor, Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT, who is on the theological faculty there. I met Sister Sara when she was teaching at St. Joseph’s Seminary here in New York, and she was a great help to me in my discernment, first few years of consecrated life, and in my graduate theological studies. (She was also one of my “bridesmaids” when I was consecrated.)

Sister Sara is Missionary Servant of the Blessed Trinity, a community founded in the early twentieth century for the preservation of the faith—basically, their charism is what we would now call “the new evangelization.” (I told Sister that her community’s vocation promotion tag line should be: “The New Evangelization: We did it before it was cool!” Sister said she would think about it.)

Also this summer, I received some rather life-changing news—the Archdiocese of New York is going to send me to Rome for three years to study for a license in Canon Law (a J.C.L. degree) so that I can serve on our Metropolitan Tribunal. God willing, I am planning to start classes at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross this coming Fall.

As you might imagine, I’m overjoyed to be given such a wonderful opportunity! I’m excited to have the change to live for a few years in the heart of the Church, and amidst so many cultural riches. But in all honesty, I think I’m even happier to know that, once I come back home for good, I’ll be able to serve the Church in New York in such a much-needed capacity.

And actually, I’m kind of having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that this is really happening! Things are coming along, but there is still a lot I need to do to get ready to go to Rome. So please, everyone, do keep me in your prayers!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Habemus forum!

We have a forum! In response to this post, a friend graciously offered to help me set up a “Sponsa Christi” forum. This forum will be for consecrated virgins, candidates, and women seriously discerning this vocation who feel called to embrace a more structured and demonstrably “consecrated” way of life.

You can find the forum at: http://www.sponsa-christi.proboards.com/.

Most of the content will be open for anyone to read, but you will need to register in order to post.

If you would like to promote the new Sponsa Christi forum on your website or blog, simply save the image and upload it to your site.

Use the following code to place the ad:

<a href=http://sponsa-christi.proboards.com><img src=ForumAd.jpg width=300 height=353 border=0 alt="Join the Sponsa Christi Forum"></a>

If you would like a slightly smaller version, try the following:

<a href=http://sponsa-christi.proboards.com><img src=ForumAd.jpg width=150 height=151 border=0 alt="Join the Sponsa Christi Forum"></a>

Or if you prefer, you could try this one with the following code:

<a href=http://sponsa-christi.proboards.com><img src=ForumAd2.jpg width=256 height=450 border=0 alt="Follow Apollonia to the forum!"></a>

If you would like a slightly smaller version try the following:

<a href=http://sponsa-christi.proboards.com><img src=ForumAd2.jpg width=135 height=237 border=0 alt="Follow Apollonia to the forum!"></a>

If you have thoughts or suggestions for the forum, feel free to leave them in the comment box below. (Hat tip to blog reader Mantellata for her help with the graphics.)

What I Have Been Up To Lately

Sorry for the long blog silence! It’s been a busy month and a half.

First of all, I’m currently writing a high school religion textbook on…of all things…vocations!
(You can be sure there will be a seriously awesome section on consecrated life! ;-) ) The book is for a series created to correspond with the U.S. Bishop’s new curriculum guidelines for high school religion classes.

To me, writing for upper-level high school students is an “apostolate” in the best sense of the term—it’s a wonderfully direct way to teach the faith. And hopefully, it will also encourage more than a few young people to consider the priesthood or consecrated life.

However, I am on a rather tight deadline schedule. So please be patient with me, as the blog might have to suffer a bit until the manuscript is completed in August. (Although I do hope to have a real post here sometime next week.)

During the month of May, it seems like didn’t have a single free weekend—it seemed like something special was happening every Saturday.

The second weekend in May, I drove out to Alfred, New York (about five hours west of where I live) where I was invited to blog reader Shana’s senior B.F.A. art show. Her thesis was on the Theology of the Body. She has many of her paintings posted on her blog. So you can check them out when you go over to congratulate her!

The next weekend was our priesthood Ordinations in the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Here is a slideshow of the Ordination weekend made by one of the Cathedral Prep students:

Ordination 2011 Slideshow from Caleb Lococo on Vimeo.

After that, I drove down to Raleigh, North Carolina for the transitional diaconate Ordination of my friend and college classmate Don Maloney.

Here is a great picture of Deacon Don preaching a homily for the first time at Mass the next day:


Happily, the first reading was on the instituion of the diaconate (in Acts 6:1-7), so the new “Reverend Mister” didn’t have to look too far for inspiration.


On my way back home from the Deep South, I was able to make my annual retreat at the Visitation Monastery in Georgetown (in Washington, D.C.).

The Order of the Visitation was founded by Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane Francis de Chantal. A contemplative monastic Order, their charism is centered on the “little virtues,” such as kindness, patience, and humility. The particular charism of the Visitation monastery in Georgetown (which is one of the oldest religious communities in North America) also involves an educational apostate. The nuns of the Georgetown monastery are semi-cloistered, so they are able to run a girls’ high school adjacent to their convent.

St. Francis de Sales also insisted that the Visitation monasteries have the rare privilege of allowing women (even lay women) to make private retreats inside the enclosure. This is something for which I’m certainly very grateful! Among other things, it was a real treat to be able to pray the Office in choir with the nuns.

The night before I returned home, we took a few pictures. Here’s a photo of my friend Sr. Anne Elizabeth, me, and St. Francis de Sales:



Sr. Anne E. grew up in Yonkers, New York (actually right across the street from our archdiocesan seminary). So even though we didn’t meet until after she entered the convent, we’ve wound up having some of the same friends and knowing a lot of the same people.

In this photo, Sr. Anne E. said we had to do a cool “rapper” pose. But obviously, Sister is much cooler than I am!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anybody Interested…?

I have been wondering lately, would any readers be interested in something like a closed Facebook page (or a private blog, or some kind of forum—assuming I can figure out how to set up a forum) for consecrated virgins, candidates, and women seriously discerning this vocation who feel called to embrace a more structured and demonstrably “consecrated” way of life?

Based on some of the comments I’ve received on this blog (such as the first anonymous comment on this post), as well as many of the relationships I’ve developed through email correspondence, I’ve come to believe that I am not the only one who is inclined to interpret the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity in a more strict and literal fashion.

This is absolutely not intended at all as a criticism of those who hold different views than I do—the Church hasn’t yet given any authoritative clarification on many of the practical aspects of a consecrated virgin’s daily life, so I recognize that right now it’s completely legitimate to have different opinions.

However, it seems that oftentimes those of us who do feel called to live our virginal consecration in a more radical way can tend to feel sort of isolated (despite the growing influence of various consecrated virgins’ associations worldwide).

Although as consecrated virgins we all receive the same Rite of Consecration, sometimes in striving to live a distinctively “consecrated” lifestyle, at times I personally feel almost though I’m living a de facto different vocation than the virgins who feel called to live out their consecrated lives in a more “hidden” way. And I’m guessing that my experience in this is not an entirely unique one.

My hunch is that there are probably greater numbers of “radical” (or at least “radically-inclined”) consecrated virgins than most of us realize, and I think it would be great if we could connect online for the purpose of offering mutual sisterly support.

I also think that it would be good to have a place where we could have open discussions amongst ourselves about things like: how to deal with certain practical issues, how to best interpret ambiguous areas of the Rite, how we explain our vocation to family and friends, relating to the wider community as a consecrated virgin, and dealing with some of the spiritual challenges unique to consecrated virginity. My thought is that it would be very helpful to have a place where we could run problems and concerns by others who have truly “been there.”

I don’t think that everyone in this proposed Facebook group/private blog/forum would have to agree with each other on absolutely everything—after all, part of its purpose would be to learn from each other and to try to see our concerns from different angles.

But just to make sure that we were all basically on the same page, this would be a group for consecrated virgins and candidates who believe that:

1. the call to be “dedicated to the service of the Church” should mean a literal dedication to direct service of the Church under normal circumstances;

2. consecrated virgins should strive to live the evangelical counsels of poverty and obedience in at least some sense;

3. consecrated virgins are called to have at least some kind of serious and meaningful bond with the diocese for which they were consecrated;

4. while consecrated virginity involves a great deal of joy, it also necessarily entails some very real sacrifices;

5. in fulfilling their obligation of prayer, consecrated virgins should be asked to meet at least some objective standards (such as praying the Liturgy of the Hours or attending daily Mass);

6. consecrated virgins are called to be public witnesses in the Church, and therefore should be as open about their vocation and identity as priests and religious Sisters are called to be about theirs;

7. young women should not be discouraged from discerning vocations to consecrated virginity simply because of their age.

If an online group of this sort would appeal to you, let me know. Either leave a comment at the bottom of this post (anonymous comments are okay here); or send me an email: sponsa.christi.author [at] gmail [dot] com (put “CV online group” in the subject line).

I would appreciate input, not only about who’s interested, but also about the best way to go about organizing this kind of online community (e.g., would it be better to start a private multi-author blog, or to start a Facebook group?).

Finally, I want to restate once again that this is NOT in any way intended as a disparagement those who generally disagree with my interpretations of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity. Nor am I trying to create factions or cut off dialogue.

I completely appreciate the fact that—as far as the ambiguous areas of this form of consecrated life are concerned—all consecrated virgins have the right and the obligation to live out their vocation according to what they in conscience determine to be the mind of the Church. If you’re a consecrated virgin who is doing her best to follow her conscience, there’s no way I could fault you, even if I might disagree with some of your interpretations on an objective intellectual level.

It’s just my thought that, since consecrated virginity lived in the world is such a challenging vocation as it is, it might be helpful if consecrated virgins who share a similar (and perhaps less widely-accepted) understanding of our vocation were able to “meet” one another.

Update 5/4/11:

Just for some clarification—I have no plans to discontinue this blog, even if my idea for an online community is successful!

Also, for the purposes of this proposed online community of consecrated virgins and discerners, the seven above-mentioned points are, for the most part, non-negotiable.

My intention in trying to start an online community is not to argue for a specific interpretation of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, but rather to encourage mutual sisterly support among consecrated virgins who already share a similar understanding of our vocation.

If you disagree with my thoughts on the most appropriate way to live out a vocation to consecrated virginity, that’s perfectly fine! You’re still more than welcome to comment on this blog.

However, I’m envisioning the proposed online community as a place where virgins who feel called to live a more “strict” or “radical” consecrated life can share our thoughts and experiences without feeling as though we constantly need to justify our desire to live a more demonstrably “consecrated” lifestyle to other participants in the community.