Wednesday, June 25, 2008

“Diocesan” Spirituality, As Illustrated By a Joke

The delineation of a specifically “diocesan” spirituality is sort of a hot topic right now—even if only among the secular clergy and seminarians. But this issue is also very near to my own heart, as I am deliberately choosing to become a “diocesan” consecrated person. I have been meaning to write a more serious explanation of this concept as I see it, but then I remembered this joke and figured that it probably wouldn’t be the worst way to start the discussion.

In case anyone takes issue with my sense of humor, I maintain that I at least thought this was funny. But I did learn it from a seminarian, and I have to admit that seminarian-humor can be something of an acquired taste! So here’s the joke:

Six different priests were on retreat together. They were celebrating the Office of Compline (Night Prayer), when suddenly the lights went out. So what did they do?

The Benedictine priest continued on with the liturgy as though nothing had happened, since he had the breviary memorized;

The Franciscan priest assumed the power was cut off because the retreat house was unable to pay its electrical bill, and he rejoiced that they shared his love of evangelical poverty;

The Carmelite priest had a profound mystical insight as he connected the lack of exterior light with his own interior experience of darkness;

The Dominican and the Jesuit priests got into a heated debate about the theological implications of the lights going out…

…And the diocesan priest went downstairs and changed the fuse!

Obviously, part of what makes this a joke is its play on stereotypes. I think all the descriptions of the religious priests are fairly self-explanatory. But even though most people who “get” this joke laugh right away when they hear about the diocesan priest in the punch line, it takes some thought to articulate exactly why it makes sense.

I think we can assume that all of the religious priests at our fictional retreat house would have thought to change the blown fuse eventually, once they had completed their respective prayers/reflections/theological discussions. So the fact that the diocesan priest only changes the fuse, and does so right away, alludes to his focus on the essentials.

In general, the vocation of a religious priest is thought of primarily as the commitment to a community and a specific style of spirituality and way of life. For religious priests, the priesthood itself is a secondary (though very important) facet of their vocation—a sort of “call within a call.” Even in specifically clerical orders like the Jesuits, men are only ordained after they have made their solemn or final profession.

In contrast, the vocation of diocesan priests consists solely in their participation in the ministerial priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Orders, grounded within the context of service to a particular diocese. But the simplicity of their spirituality does not denote a lack, as is commonly thought. Rather, it indicates a certain universality, as the priesthood is not defined by any one culture or historical period; as well as a more intense, “streamlined” focus on the awesome mystery of their Ordination. (For more information on the diocesan priesthood, the Vocation Office of the New York Archdiocese has an excellent website, “”)

Consecrated virginity in the world is of course very different form the diocesan priesthood, since consecration is not the sacrament of Holy Orders and consecrated virgins aren’t part of the hierarchy. Yet in many ways, the spirituality of a diocesan priest and the spirituality of a consecrated virgin in the world are analogous.

Similar to a diocesan priest, in not taking on the spiritual traditions and way of life of a specific religious community, a consecrated virgin is free to devote more attention to the “core” of her vocation as a consecrated woman: the call to be a spouse of Christ. (Interestingly, where the priesthood is the only vocation in the Church open only to men, solemn consecration to a life of virginity is the one vocation reserved exclusively to women.)

In my own discernment, I have often been asked by diocesan priests, “Why can’t you just become a nun?” I found that the best response was to ask (respectfully) in turn, “Father, why didn’t you become a religious?” More often then not, Father would give an answer along the lines of, “Well, I don’t know. I guess didn’t feel called to that. I just wanted to be a priest.” Usually, this was all it took for my point to be understood!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on setting a date for your consecration! I'm so glad that you'll be going to the information workshop this summer presented by the USACV. I went five years ago before my own consecration as a virgin, and it was such a marvelous experience! You'll greatly enjoy meeting some of the other consecrated virgins around the US -- all truly wonderful women and all so in love with our Beloved Spouse! And all the talks will be most insightful and helpful.

About "diocesan" spirituality for the consecrated virgin... My understanding of the spirituality of the consecrated virgin is that it's not specifically or necessarily "diocesan" spirituality as such. First and foremost, our spirituality is that of the daily liturgy of the Church -- i.e., the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Also, we are free to and encouraged to embrace whatever spirituality speaks to our heart and best leads us to our Lord Jesus -- e.g., Franciscan, desert, Salesian, Carmelite, etc. Of course, the bond we consecrated virgins have with our local ordinary is a strong and unique one that we dearly treasure. Also, "diocesan" spirituality may be just the right thing for you personally, and I look forward to reading more about it in your blog.

Rejoicing with you in God's wondrous love for us,

Alice Claire Mansfield
Consecrated Virgin
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Sponsa Christi said...

Dear Alice Claire,

Many, many thanks for your supportive comment! I am looking forward to meeting other consecrated virgins and those discerning the vocation—and it has been a real joy hearing from consecrated virgins on this blog. (At first, I wasn't sure that anyone besides my Vocation Director and a few college friends would ever read this!)

I actually thought a lot about the spirituality proper to consecrated virgins during my discernment. I try to share my own interpretations of what this means here, but as this is a blog and not my dissertation, I admit that I’m probably not as articulate as I could be! I’ll probably write more later about my thoughts on diocesan spirituality, but for the time being I am grateful for your feedback.