Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Alice Claire’s Question

Here is a question from fellow consecrated virgin Alice Claire, on my post Open Discussion on “Dedication to the Service of the Church”:

At this time I have no comments, only a question. I get the impression from your blog that you feel very strongly that the life of a consecrated virgin should be very much regimented. While such regimentation is appropriate for a religious order or society of some sort, it is not necessary, appropriate or desirable for a consecrated virgin, who is not a member of an order or a society. Our consecration as virgins presupposes that we have the maturity and integrity to live out our vocation in the world in a manner pleasing to the Lord and in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church. I respectfully ask why you feel so strongly about regimenting the life of a consecrated virgin.

Dear Alice Claire,

Thank you for taking the time to comment. Although I was mainly hoping to hear other consecrated virgins’ thoughts on the subject of service (since sometimes I feel as though, unfortunately, I’m the only one who has written in depth on this particular topic), this is still the kind of thoughtful discussion I had wanted to foster.

Before I write any further, I need to point out that this following post is not so much a matter of me trying to articulate an academic theological point, as much as it is a kind of cry of my heart. I don’t usually blog very much about my personal feelings, but that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

So consequently, nothing I write here should be taken as a criticism of any individual consecrated virgin. I’ve never doubted that my sisters in Christ have ever had anything but the sincerest intentions in their living out their vocations, even if I don’t always agree with certain practical interpretations of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity. The aim of this post is simply to describe the thoughts that go through my own mind.

First of all, I guess I don’t think of my ideas on consecrated virginity as calling for a truly “regimented” lifestyle. To me, “regimented” seems like it would be best used to describe the lifestyle of cloistered nuns or other religious who follow a strict horarium, a detailed Rule of Life, or an extensive set of customs.

I do believe that consecrated virgins should live what I suppose you could call a more distinctive, demonstrably “consecrated” lifestyle. In other words, I do think that our life should be different from that of an average devout Catholic laywoman.

I do not feel that it’s enough for us merely to follow the basic teachings of the Church. Rather, it would seem that our virginal consecration calls us to be specially conformed to Christ in a way that goes above and beyond the call that all the faithful receive by virtue of their baptism.

It likewise seems to me that out identity as “sacred persons” would call us to be oriented towards God and the things of God to with a more intense focus and in a more exclusive way than would be proper or possible for the vast majority of the laity.*

In light of this, I personally believe that in order to live an appropriately “consecrated” lifestyle (and one which is also in accord with our own particular charism), we consecrated virgins should live out our vocation in the following concrete ways:

- By engaging in activities which directly and explicitly advance the Church’s mission on something akin to a full-time basis (which could—but does not always necessarily have to—be accomplished by working in a Church-sponsored institution);

- By praying the full Liturgy of the Hours, spending substantial time in private prayer, incorporating some kind of penance and mortification into one’s spiritual life, and attending daily Mass wherever this is possible;

- By having some kind of serious and meaningful bond with the diocese for which one was consecrated;

- By living in a spirit of evangelical poverty through an attitude of radical detachment from earthly pleasures and through consciously choosing to maintain a very simple standard of living;

- By living in a spirit of evangelical obedience via having at least some kind of accountability to one’s bishop, and through the manifestation of one’s willingness to place the needs of the Church above one’s own personal preferences; and

- By demonstrating an openness to being known as a consecrated virgin at all times and in all places.

This could perhaps be considered a rather demanding lifestyle, and it’s one which certainly would require a great deal of discipline and personal maturity. (I would even argue that it takes more maturity for a consecrated virgin to observe these practices faithfully than it would for a consecrated virgin to live a less-structured lifestyle.)

But, I don’t think you could consider the way of life which I propose here to be an especially regimented one. Even if consecrated virgins everywhere were to model their lives on the above-mentioned points, this would still allow for a great deal of freedom and legitimate diversity—much more freedom and diversity than would be possible within a single religious congregation.

For example, I am emphatically NOT saying things like: all consecrated virgins have to be Catholic school teachers, say Vespers at exactly 5:00 pm, or fast on bread and water every Friday. It has never been my intention to make up a universal set of very detailed instructions to cover a consecrated virgin’s every waking hour; to propose that consecrated virgins all take on one common apostolate; or to argue that this vocation should be lived in exactly the same way, right down to the last detail, around the world without taking into account the different local circumstances and the unique spiritual gifts of each individual consecrated virgin.

Nor am I saying that a consecrated virgin would need to ask her bishop’s permission for every minor choice she needs to make during the day, or that a consecrated virgin would need to be specifically “commissioned” every time she wants to do a good deed for someone or help out at her parish. I’m not even suggesting that consecrated virgins should write out their own personal “rules of life” to be submitted for their bishops’ approval.

What I am suggesting is that, since consecrated virginity is a public state of consecrated life, it should involve some level of real self-sacrifice and accountability. It should not in any sense be understood as a wholly private reality.

I’m also trying to say that consecrated virginity is a vocation which significant enough to determine absolutely every aspect of our lives, and that it should never be viewed as anything along the lines of a part-time commitment. Our call to consecrated virginity should be the center around which we order our entire existence; it should not be something we try to “fit into” an already-full life.**

Unlike membership in a parish organization or a Third Order, consecrated virginity (like marriage, religious life, or priesthood) is a “first” or primary vocation.

You would never say to an earthly bride-to-be, “It would be great if you could live with your husband, or use the title ‘Mrs.,’ or aspire to raise a family—but don’t worry about trying to do these things if they don’t fit with your present work or career situation, or if you don’t feel personally ‘called’ to do them.”

This kind of advice sounds ridiculous to us, because the Catholic view of matrimony recognizes that marriage as a vocation fundamentally entails a specific way of life.

We also acknowledge that marriage, by definition, involves a total self-gift to one’s spouse. And logically, it would seem to us that this self-gift is not occurring if the spouses aren’t willing to give each other the first priority in planning the concrete details of their respective daily lives. We would never say that it’s sufficient for a married couple simply to start adopting a “married spirituality” while living in exactly the same way they did when they were single.

You could draw similar parallels with vocations to the priesthood. Could anyone imagine a bishop ordaining a man who didn’t want to engage in any kind of pastoral ministry, didn’t want to make a commitment to a diocese, and didn’t want to obey anyone, but still sought Holy Orders just because he wanted the grace of the Sacrament to enrich his personal prayer life?

But, to be brutally honest (and, once again, I’d like to remind everyone that I’m speaking only for myself and of my own personal impressions), to me it seems that people often mistakenly see consecrated virginity as being a less serious commitment than marriage, religious life, or priesthood. Either that, or consecrated virginity is viewed as being a kind of vocation designed so that you can have your cake and eat it, too.

For example…

Consecrated virgins are described as women who marry Jesus—but who can still enjoy the freedoms and conveniences of a single lifestyle.

…They should enjoy their bishops’ special attention and concern—but they shouldn’t be obligated to render any practical service to the local Church or be expected to make any binding commitments to their diocese.

…They are publicly established as icons of the Church through a beautiful liturgical ceremony—but they can’t be asked to modify the concrete details of their daily life after the ritual’s conclusion.

…Consecrated virgins are given the privilege and duty of being prayerful intercessors for the needs of the Church—but prayer is to be relegated to their free time and shouldn’t take precedence over their family or professional obligations; and what, when, and how often they pray is to be determined totally by their own inclinations and preferences.

…They sacrifice marriage and family life—but just to be on the safe side, they are ordinarily encouraged to do this only after their child-bearing years have come to a close.

Obviously, this is a very unflattering portrait of consecrated virginity. And to be sure, in my own life I have never met a consecrated virgin who discerned her vocation with this object consciously in mind.

However, I think that as ugly (and let’s hope generally inaccurate) as this description is, I think it needed to be written because, in my own experience at least, this seems to be the popular conception of consecrated virginity as a vocation.

While we shouldn’t let misunderstandings or plain ignorance cause us to lose our interior peace, I still do think that the widespread nature of this misunderstanding should give us pause. Maybe it should even be the occasion of an individual and collective examination of conscience among consecrated virgins. We need to be brave enough to ask—and honest, prudent, and discerning enough to answer—the question of whether or not this popular misconception might actually contain a grain of truth.

I remember one time a very holy priest (for whom I have enormous respect) once said to me, after I had the chance to share my vocation story with him: “But you can’t honestly compare yourself to a Missionary of Charity or a Carmelite. They sacrifice everything!…No one will ever think you’re as good as a nun.”

If you can imagine it, the priest didn’t say this in a way that was at all unkind (the conversation basically concluded with a effort to provide some pastoral encouragement by suggesting that God could still call me one day to be a Carthusian or a Poor Clare...). And for the most part I was able to brush off the unintended offensiveness of this comment by considering the context, and by remembering that one priest’s perceptions don’t dictate the objective reality of a situation.

However, the comment was still a bit disturbing to me, because it posed that same unspoken but haunting question: Could it be that serious Catholics would see me as someone who gave her life to God in half-measures…because I did in fact only give my life to God in a partial and incomplete way? Even if, by the grace of God, I was able to give myself wholly over to God in the quiet recesses of my soul, could it be that consecrated virginity, on an objective level, was not even intended as a vocation that allows a woman to make a complete gift of herself to Christ?

I am writing this as a sinner who consistently fails to meet even her own minimal expectations. I know I am not a saint. Despite the effort I put into discerning and outlining what I think a consecrated virgin’s life should look like, I would be the first to admit that my efforts to reach the perfection of charity within this way of life are always flawed at best, and that my sinfulness keeps me miles away from reaching my goal.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that complete, radical, sacrificial self-giving is still the goal to which I long to be called!

Even if I can’t ever fulfill it perfectly, I still want my vocation to be that of a total, spousal, giving of myself to Christ in every single area of my life. I desire with every fiber of my being to be called to be concretely, literally, visibly—and entirely, without reserve or exception—given over to God and the Church.

But, I have never wanted to strive for this end simply because it happens to be what I feel like doing at the moment; I want to strive for it because I have been explicitly called to do so by God, speaking through His Church.

And I wanted the chance to say “yes” to this call in a public, binding, permanent, and “official” way. Yet my thought is that if the Church were in fact to see consecrated virginity as being a “less total” vocation than marriage, priesthood, or religious life, then it wouldn’t actually be my vocation to give everything to Christ in a radical way.

I could still try to do this on my own, of course—but in that case it would just be an aspect of my own private spirituality. My formal place in the Church wouldn’t be that of one who gives her life wholly over to God, and in that specific sense I truly wouldn’t be “as good as a nun.”

I know this is a very subtle distinction (and one which probably isn’t always the most pastorally prudent thing to discuss openly). But as a young woman who’s signed up for consecrated virginity for the rest of her life, it’s one which nevertheless seems terribly important to me.

So in a nutshell:

I believe what I do about the most appropriate way of life for consecrated virgins because, first and foremost, on an objective theological level this seems to be most consistent with the Church’s teachings on the nature of the liturgy and of consecrated life in general.

The reason I feel so strongly about what I believe is because I want to give everything to Christ in an absolute and radical way; and I think that, in most cases, one of the surest signs that you are truly given over to Christ is that your commitment concretely affects the ways in which you order your exterior life.

And, I want to be wholly given over to Jesus in a way that transcends the limits of my own personal spirituality—I want it to be in response to an unambiguous call from Christ, mediated through His body, the Church.


* This is not to undermine the Church’s teaching on the universal call to holiness or to obscure the many contributions that laypeople make to the life of the Church; it’s only an acknowledgement that consecrated life is a distinct vocation with its own particular nature and purpose.

** I do understand that many consecrated virgins today were consecrated when they were middle-aged or elderly, and I’m sympathetic to the fact that many older consecrated virgins are truly unable to make major changes in their lifestyle. However, I think we should consider these situations to be the exception, and not the rule. (I also think that this is one of the strongest arguments for encouraging—or at the very least, to cease actively discouraging—vocations to consecrated virginity among younger women.)


Anonymous said...

Dear Jenna,

First a hug to you for sharing this-my own pain in your words.

I too feel today's consecrated virgins need to examine the conscience individually and collectively to see whether OCV is living as an 'eschatological' image of the Church's love for Christ- or a 'contemporary' image of a lukewarm Christian life.

Alice Claire Mansfield said...

Dear Jenna,

Thank you for your response to my question. When I asked you why you want to have the life of a consecrated virgin so regimented, I was thinking of your posts about matters such as clothing (e.g., what color should a consecrated virgin wear?) and employment (e.g., what positions should a consecrated virgin pursue?). I apologize for not making this clear when I first raised my question.

It appears that your impressions/observations of consecrated virginity today are vastly different from mine. This also seems true for some of the people who read and post to your blog. I know that there are "lukewarm" consecrated virgins, but they do not accurately define/represent our consecrated life any more than lukewarm Catholics accurately define/represent Christ and His Church.

The consecrated virgins I know not only have absolutely and irrevocably given themselves over to Jesus Christ and His Church but also have allowed Him to totally possess them and use them for His own divine purposes. And that is the heart of our consecrated lives -- not that we have chosen God but that He chose us and not that we have loved Him but that He first loved us. Their lives, their prayer, their schedules and activities and so on clearly reflect this. They are beautiful and powerful examples of the primacy of Christ and His love to all who are so blessed to meet/know them, especially to me.

I sincerely hope that you have met and know some consecrated virgins who are not lukewarm but, rather, on fire with the love of God. If not, please do come to Texas and see!

This is a brief response for now because my time is limited this week. Next week being Holy Week, I will be on retreat insofar as possible while fulfilling my duties as weekday sacristan in my parish. Perhaps I will write more later regarding some specific statements you made in your response to my question.

Dear Jenna, may these remaining days lead you more deeply into the paschal mystery of the true Lamb of God, our Beloved Lord Jesus.

United with you in His love, His prayer and His sacrifice,

Alice Claire Mansfield
Consecrated Virgin
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Suzanna said...

Dear Jenna,
when I read your "cry" I would like to cite one sentence of St. Paul which in my eyes is for priests and consecrated virgins of the same importance : "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. "
Especially looking forward to he Holy Week we experience what it means to walking on the same paths as Christ does during this week as His bride, spiritually like a shadow, being with Him when the crowds are waiting for him on His entry to Jerusalem and when standing under the cross with His mother and loved disciple John. Always remember that letting the eschatological dimension take possession of your heart means living in the world but not being of the world. The consecrated virgin is named "bride of Christ" i.e. Sponsa Christi. This title is normally only allowed in use of the church itself. Thus the consecration is a sacramental and not a sacrament. We live as brides in the world like the church does but we have to be aware of not trying to get part of the world by striving too hard to change the world. As Alice stated our vocation is a grace and call by Christ we get and we cannot apply or ask for, also all our attempts of making the world better and carrying the mission and word out into the world have to be guided by the Holy spirit who will lead our ways to those people already being able to give answer to the call. We cannot push them. Thus in my eyes being dedicated to the service of the church does not mean to be full-time working for the church as institution but being quite more sensitive in watching our neighbours and giving answer when they seem to ask for somebody helping them to find Christ.
So do not worry so much about your deeds or whether being recognized as consecrated virgin or not, because those looking for Christ will feel that you ARE bride of Christ and the others that cannot yet catch up with the message and mission may still regard you as single or laywoman. This might even be a protection of your bridgegroom as you are living in the world without the protection of a monastery or group protecting you against the attacks of the evil in life.

Therese Ivers, JCL said...

Dear Jenna,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. It is hard opening your heart on such a sensitive topic. Although I disagree with almost the entirety of your post (as both a consecrated virgin and a person with a degree in canon law with a 2-year program diploma from the Vatican on the theology and law of consecrated life), I will not get into responding to each of the points you have written. Instead, I'd like to offer the following thought or response to the question your priest-friend brought up. If he was a diocesan priest, why shouldn't his vocation be abolished in favor of religious priesthood or eremitic priesthood only? Consecrated virgins are diocesan virgins or they are religious/hermit virgins. Just because their lifestyle won't match religious life any more than a diocesan priest's will match a Carthusian's doesn't undermine the fundamental value of the vocation itself lived in a non-monastic setting.

One other thought. The emphasis you put on activism and harder=holier lifestyle makes me wonder if you might not greatly profit from taking some serious courses on the nature of marriage. Not so much of the Theology of the Body kind, but of the more difficult works for canonists on concepts such as the "good of the spouses", and an "intimate communion of the whole of life". I sense that this kind of reading and studying may help you understand where the vast majority of consecrated virgins are with respect to their appreciation for the fundamental spousality of their Divine vocation and why they don't agree with being regimented like apostolic religious.

Anonymous said...

Dear Therese,

The emphasis on the spousal dimension of consecrated virginity does not seem practical to me.Maybe because you are yourself recently consecrated ,you are in the phase of savoring this relationship.

It does not seem healthy for young consecrated virgins to focus on the spiritual dimension to the neglect of active service. It is psychologically necessary for celibates, especially if they are young, living alone or without a community - to be involved in some active service. That's why it is difficult to imagine the charism of consecrated virginity as mainly focusing on spousal spirituality.

With regard to Jenna's interpretation of dedication to service, I respect it and 'expect' it from a consecrated virgin of her age. Young blood is usually bubbling for activity and looks for authenticity in living.

From the little I know about consecrated virgins in USA, several may have chosen consecrated virginity after a sour experience of religious life and its regimented living. Hence the desire of most consecrated virgins to move away from anything resembling religious life.

I do not personally agree with Jenna's ideas about particular identifying clothing , service if possible in institutional set up etc. But I do agree that 'Dedication to the service of the Church community ' is strongly linked to the identity as Bride of Christ. One cannot be without the other for healthy celibate living.The definition of 'Church' however would be open for various interpretations.

Therese Ivers, JCL said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your viewpoint. As a Judge who pronounces in the Name of God that certain putative marriages are invalid, I have all too good of an idea of the demands (such as concrete actions and activities) the vocation of marriage puts upon spouses towards each other and their children. Therefore, I would not say that I am pitting "spousality" against action. I am saying that one has to have a lens by which one discern's God's will for oneself. The CV is a spouse of God. This means she discerns her activities such as how/when/where to do the corporal/spiritual works of mercy with her Spouse in prayer(and in certain instances, her Bishop). This is done the way spouses should do it- with open communication and communal understanding of strengths, weaknesses, inclinations, time constraints, common priorities, etc. This requires great maturity since self knowledge is mandatory and self revelation is mandatory in the spousal relationship. I hope this is helpful for you, Anonymous. If it does not clarify my stance, I should mention that I am coming out with a book on vocations for women and I have a chapter on what it means to be "spousal" for consecrated virgins.

Shana said...

Here are some of my thoughts about all of this, I'm trying to bring it back to the original question presented by Jenna in her previous post.

1. It seems that it is a given that what a consecrated virgin does flows out of who she is, her being as a Bride of Christ and I'd image that everyone would agree with this, even if they come down differently about how this "looks" concretely. After all, canon law states that consecrated virgins are "dedicated to the service of the Church". The word service suggests "doing" or the active element of living this out. So of course there should be no conflict in who a consecrated virgin is and what she does, the latter flows out of the former. The former of course has primacy and the latter is contingent upon it. The question is how is this "dedication to the service of the Church" to be interpreted.

Now, it is clear to me where Jenna stands. She lays it out pretty clearly in her writing, on her blog and more thorougly in her MA Thesis which she'll send you if you ask her.

Another thing that is clear is that a lot of people disagree with her on this particular point.

What has not been clearly laid out for me is a clear, explicit, internally consistent counter-argument to Jenna's position which seriously engages and addresses the points she has brought up. What I want to see is a clear thesis that head on directly gets at the core of the matter and the reasons behind a contrary view. I have not gotten a satisfying response. I feel that I have only gotten vague, partial responses; responses that seem to dance around the question or are at least partially evasive. Also, I have seen multiple times reading comments on this blog that suggest to me that Jenna isn't being "heard out".

I am very interested in seeing someone seriously engaging Jenna on this question. As a young woman discerning consecrated virginity I feel it is important for me to accurately understand how this vocation is to be lived out. Seeing as how this form of consecrated life has been recenlty reintroduced into the life of the Church I feel that it is very valid for people to flesh out arguments and counter-arguments for aspects about this vocation that are "open to interpretation". If a clear counter-argument to Jenna's on this point could be presented I feel that would be very elucidating. This is how positions are purified and how we will approach a more accurate understanding on this.

Right now I feel that in order to be intellectually honest I have to agree with Jenna on this point as I feel that she has articulated her position well and backed it up convincingly. I'd be open to modifying where I come down if I could be presented with a clear laying out of a different interpretation (or interpretations plural).

This is my appeal to stay on task and really press into this. That's what Jenna is longing for as expressed in her previous post. I'd be very interested to see it as well!

This is my appeal.

P.S. Dear Therese, I just noticed your newly approved comment as I was typing this comment and I'm looking forward to your book! I think it may be a helpful contribution to this discussion if it addresses this issue.

Anonymous said...

Dear Shana,

Yeah, it looks like Jenna isn't being 'heard out'.

I can see where she comes from and her points are not baseless.However they will acquire depth only with time and discussions like this.

Since you are a young woman discerning this vocation- do INSIST you have a clear picture of the direction in which OCV is moving in general [Otherwise it will mean 'marry in haste and repent at leisure'!

I'm seriously concerned about the lives of 'young' CVs who live through the pain Jenna is experiencing .

Dear Therese,

Thanks for your sharing on the practical aspects of the Spousal vocation of CVs.

I think very little has been written on this in today's context.

From what you mention about maturity in discerning daily activities with ones Spouse- it struck me that consecrated virginity in today's context can be a highly evolved and deep vocation if understood by every CV.

I apologise for comparing this level of maturity with the maturity seen among most religious in developing countries. Among religious the regimentation can be so rigid in the name of obedience that it becomes childish ,blind obedience. Of course some religious are trying to grow out of it.

Sponsa Christi said...

Anonymous #1: Your virtual hug made my day! :)

Everybody to whom this applies:

As I devoted practically the first half of this post to trying to explain, I really do not see my views on consecrated virginity as calling for anything like a “regimented” lifestyle. I do think we should live a somewhat more structured lifestyle, but “more structured” isn’t the same thing as “regimented.”

The verb “to regiment” means: “to manage or treat in a rigid, uniform manner; subject to strict discipline.” It does NOT mean: “to have any objective guidelines or standards whatsoever.”

If you think the idea of observing any structure or external standards at all is totally antithetical to the charism of consecrated virginity, that’s fine. (You have a right to your opinion.) But, please, PLEASE don’t keep saying that I’m advocating a strict “regimentation”—I feel that this is misrepresenting my views and is misleading to participants in the discussion.

Alice Claire:

No offence, but I think you might have missed the point of this post. I was NOT trying to argue that consecrated virgins are spiritually lukewarm, badly intentioned, or lacking a solid interior relationship with Jesus.

What I was trying to do was ask the question of whether fervent and devout consecrated virgins might be fervent and devout in a way which is more proper to laywomen than to women in a public state of consecrated life.

There is a very important sense in which all of the baptized are called to be totally surrendered to God’s will and wholly given over to Christ. However, consecrated life by its very nature requires a more radical and explicit dedication to Christ and His Church.

I do believe you when you say that the consecrated virgins you know allow their vocation to influence “their lives, their prayer, their schedules and activities.” However, my question for you is: in what ways is this different from the way in which my Mom’s baptismal vocation is reflected in her life, prayer, and activities? What do consecrated virgins do that devout laywomen don’t do? Does virginal consecration have any concrete, observable, distinct effect on one’s day-to-day exterior life?

And if consecrated life does not in fact involve something “more” or something distinct from lay life, then in your mind, what would be the point of the Church having consecrated life in the first place?


I really don’t see myself as advocating an excessive activism. If anything, I feel like I’m cautioning against the unwitting adoption of a kind of spiritual Cartesian dualism (i.e., where one’s interior and exterior lives are regarded as wholly separate entities).

Consequently, I don’t think it’s “activism” to say that a spousal relationship with Christ should have some observable exterior manifestations. This isn’t undermining the primacy of the spiritual and spousal dimension of consecrated virginity; rather, it’s emphasizing the truly all-encompassing nature of a call to a spousal relationship with Christ.

In other words, I’m trying to say that vocation to consecrated virginity demands a life of direct, literal service to the Church precisely BECAUSE it is spousal.

Kieran said...

I agree with you, Jenna, that the life of a consecrated virgin should be structured to show congruence of interior and exterior life. Most people’s lives are structured to some extent, whether or not they have formally acknowledged it. Most married women could tell you quite readily how their lives are structured around their families- feed husband, dress children, drive children to school, drive children to socceer practice, drive children to dance lessons, drive children to sleepover, bang head on steering wheel wishing that I had a social life as broad as that of my children, water the garden, do the laundry. Just because these women haven’t sat down and written these items in a Rule of Life doesn’t mean that their lives aren’t governed by their families.

In the same way the life of a consecrated virgin is governed by her family- the Church, especially her diocese. I think that people baulk at the idea of structure in the life of a consecrated virgin because it is not a vocation governed by an external source such as the Rule of St Benedict or some other religious Rule and there is a level of fear that structure will lead to absorption of the vocation into religious life.

I don’t agree that the only way a consecrated virgin can serve is in direct full time diocesan ministry- in fact, I’m not sure that there are all that many positions in direct diocesan service. I think it would be equally appropriate for a consecrated virgin to be engaged in some kind of work for the church (as the Body of Christ) such as nursing, teaching, social work or justice as to engage in work for the church as a bureaucratic body. That wasn’t said very elegantly- I’m sure there are better ways to describe the temporal functioning of the church but I’m not so eloquent as some. I would say instead that whatever work a consecrated virgin does should be one that could accurately be described as an apostolate or mission- after all, the Rite calls us to be apostles, doesn’t it?

I myself don’t have the requirements to be a Canon Lawyer. It isn’t my vocation. (Congratulations, by the way, on being called to such wonderful work! God is doing wonderful things with your life.) However as God gives me strength I can do a hard day’s work and still find compassion for the sick, I can be patient with those who are suffering and give support to families at a very vulnerable time. Isn’t this direct service of the church? When someone is at their lowest, dirty, vomiting, sweating, isn’t it an act of love to hold them, clean their face and offer comfort? This is my service and sometimes your posts make me feel a little inferior, because my calling, as a virgin who dearly wants to serve her church, is not as direct as yours. It makes me think that perhaps the life of a consecrated virgin must not be for me because this is all I know how to do.

May God bless you in Rome, Jenna, as you embark on this wonderful opportunity, and in all that you do.

Mariabosco said...

Thanks for sharing. I very much agree with you that the call to be a consecrated virgin is a very high calling, where one is called to give their all to Christ as Bridegroom, allowing all else to flow from this spousal union.
And, yes, a structured life of fostering this communion with our Bridegroom is primary, however that plays out individually. And this includes immersion in the Sacramental life of the Church.
Blessings to you!
Thanks for sharing the fire and zeal in your heart! :)

Ali said...

Dear Jenna,

I know this post is from quite a long time ago now, but I just want to say how much I appreciate your vulnerability about this topic, as well as your clear, cogent, and logical reasoning for all of it.

I am currently discerning consecrated virginity (and religious life as part of the discernment), and I share pretty much all of your opinions through learning about the vocation (also now that ESI has been published), praying about it, and most of all in this whole journey of falling in love with Christ. It makes total sense to live in a manner that is concretely different from a solely private devotion. Not that there is anything wrong with a private devotion alone, but, as you say, one is a public and canonically weighted (maybe that's not the proper terminology) vocation vs. the other is a private devotion/vocation as the title suggests.

Your decisions and convictions about the general life of a consecrated virgin seem based on your deep love for Christ and spousal relationship with Him :)

You are so brave for having shared all of this and subjecting yourself to the opinions of others, hurtful as they sometimes can be. Your love for Christ is evident, and I am very grateful for your dedication to elucidating this vocation to others, myself included. I feel more drawn to this vocation because of these posts!

In Christ,