Saturday, March 20, 2010

“Being” versus “Doing”

Sorry for the slow posting—I’m on the “home stretch” of writing my Master’s thesis!

Here is a comment I received on my last post, which discussed the appropriate apostolates for consecrated virgins vis-à-vis that of nuns and religious Sisters.

I did already respond to this comment at the bottom of the last post, but I thought I would reprint it here with a more detailed explanation. I’m guessing that it probably represents an area where I could have made myself clearer. But besides that, it also brings up some interesting points of discussion—something very much appreciated.

“The lives of cloistered nuns is not ‘limited’ in fact, the life embraces all that Christ loves!

In our Dominican way of life we are called to first be free for God alone. We are also called to be in the heart of the Order of Preachers, praying for the mission of the Order which is preaching and the salvation of souls which is hardly limited as it places us deeply within the heart of the Church.

Many contemplative nuns will tell you that they were attracted to this life because the active life is not ‘enough.’

The vocation of a contemplative nun is not about doing but about being.”


Dear Moniales,

I think understand what you mean, and I agree with you.

In this post I was NOT trying to say that cloistered religious life, or religious life in general, was “limited” in a full, univocal sense of the word—only that most religious communities are limited in the types of apostolates that correspond appropriately to their charism. Here, I was not using “limited” to comment on the objective worth or “effectiveness” of any one form of consecrated life, but rather as a reference to the set parameters which allows a community to be clear on its own proper identity.

Conversely, I was also not trying to say that the apostolate of religious communities were somehow “limited” in contrast with a supposedly “unlimited” apostolate of consecrated virgins. Instead, I was trying to explain that BOTH consecrated virgins and religious are limited in what they can do in terms of apostolate, but in different ways. I.e., whereas religious communities are usually “limited” to a specific kind of apostolate, I see consecrated virgins as ordinarily being limited by the boundaries of their home diocese. To put it roughly, religious are (usually) called to one type of apostolate, which can be done anywhere in the world; and consecrated virgins can be called to any type of apostolate for (usually) one specific place.

Certainly, cloistered contemplative religious life is “unlimited” in its scope or in its value for the Church. However, in terms of a concrete, practical understanding of apostolate, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that cloistered life is ordinarily “limited” to prayer.*

The Church teaches that prayer is the most universal apostolate of them all. But, full-time, formal prayer it is still not exactly the same thing as teaching, nursing, catechizing, ect. If a cloistered contemplative community were to take on this kind of active apostolate, my thought is that this would fundamentally change the charism of that community.

Incidentally, this is something that actually did happen to a lot of Benedictines in the earlier history of the Catholic Church in the United States. Solemnly professed, contemplative nuns would come to America to found what they thought would be enclosed monastic communities. But due to the various active apostolates they were asked to take on in response to American pastoral needs, these communities were no longer allowed to have solemn profession. And so potential monasteries of nuns instead turned into congregations of active or semi-active Sisters.

Of course, considering various religious communities or forms of consecrated life solely according to their tangible apostolate—i.e., what they “do”—is very two-dimensional, and ultimately inadequate. But here, it seemed like a regrettable but necessary “short cut” in order to express my point in a blog post of reasonable length.

I do believe that cloistered life, and consecrated virginity as well, are more about “being” than “doing.” However, because as temporally-bound human beings we cannot NOT do things, it is important that the things we do “do” be in accord with who it is that we are called to be. We can be concerned with properly expressing our vocation though our deeds WITHOUT thereby equating our active work with our vocation per se, or without regarding our apostolate as the totality of our consecrated lives.

However, my intention in writing my series of post on what it means to be “dedicated to the service of the Church,” is NOT to comment on any form of religious life, but rather to discuss the need for consecrated virgins living “in the world” to express their vocation in concrete ways throughout the course of their daily lives.

Although I myself have never been a member of a cloistered community, my thought is that, if there was (hypothetically!) a situation where a cloistered nun never engaged in any formal prayer, despite her religious profession she would not be living the fullness of the contemplative life.

Likewise, for consecrated virgins, I don’t think that it is truly “enough” for us to have simply received the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity one day at a Mass (as important as this is), without letting the reality of our consecration influence our day-to-day actions in clearly demonstrable ways. It does not seem to me that canonical status as a “bride of Christ” in and of itself ensures that we are living a life that is really “consecrated” in the strongest sense of the term. Similarly, I’m not sure that it is really possible to be “dedicated to the service of the Church” in a primarily “spiritual,” abstract, and indirect sense—as I see it, dedication to the service of the Church would necessarily involve at least some sort of major commitment to visibly obvious, literal, and direct furtherance of the Church’s mission.**

So while the aspect of “being” in one’s vocation by far takes precedence over the element of “doing,” one’s actions are not at all irrelevant to one’s central identity. In some ways, “doing” is the full flowering of our “being.” While a tree is much more important than its individual fruits, you can still tell a tree by the fruit it bears.

*Although there are some notable exceptions to this, for the most part such communities only prove the rule.

**This is actually also the topic of my M.A. thesis, in case anyone was wondering.


Anonymous said...

Dear Friend,
This post has come as an answer to my own search for the identity of the vocation of a consecrated virgin living in the world.THANK YOU!
Glad to know that the topic of your M.A. thesis is based on this.God Bless you in this effort!I'm sure the Holy Spirit is guiding you.

I agree that the call to 'Be' and to 'Do' are interlinked.Let me put some practical situations before you for further reflection.

1] In Early Christianity there were no monasteries or convents.The Order of Virgins consisted of women usually converts,several of whom were martyred for their faith, commitment to remain virgins for Christ and service of the Church's mission/ Christian calling.Their single-mindedness and love in the following of Christ and His mission itself gave their witness to the world as consecrated virgins 'married to Christ'.The Christian communities were small in numbers.Local churches could be compared to small or medium sized parishes today.

2]The essential identity of a consecrated virgin according to the ancient rite is that of a virgin,a bride,a mother.I imagine it must have been easier in the early Church for a consecrated virgin to visibly become an image of the Church's love for Christ.Her identity was similar/same as the identity of the local church that was a people who were persecuted converts to Christ and were fervent followers of Christ with a mission.The call of the local church 'to Be' and 'to Do' was the call of the consecrated virgin'to Be' and 'to Do'.

It is in this sense that the vocation of a consecrated virgin is closely knit with the life of the local church and 'limited' to it because it then reflects the image of the local people's love for Christ and their mission to serve the world.

3]From the above perspective of the consecrated virgin as an image of the local church, it would be fitting for her to focus not so much on serving the church [ herself],but instead to reach out to the world that Jesus loves too.However she is called as a Bride of Christ,to be a Mother to raise up her christian family[to serve the church ?].

4]Christian life and the local churches are different today.The very meaning of consecrated life based on the committment to celibacy is being questioned.In some countries religious life is still flourishing,in others it is diminishing in numbers.Once again the Order of Consecrated virgins is becoming an option.

Can the OCV really live the same call 'to Be' and 'to Do' in today's Post-christian context in some and Multi-religious context in other parts of the world?

5]In the Early Church the various orders like catechumens,virgins,widows,clerics etc. were a response to the need of some structure in the local churches.

In today's context, in churches where there are still a sizeable number of church goers, other structures have emerged like Basic Christian Communities, various Associations, cells- with their own pastoral workers.The laity [even married christians]are taking up pastoral roles which were once limited to deacons/ virgins/ widows etc in the early church.The Holy Spirit is giving a new image to the local churches.The empowerment of the laity for the mission of Christ is a wonderful transformation that is happening and is unavoidable.

In this situation,does not the revival of OCV according to the spirituality it had in the early church, reflect a movement towards the more traditional past? How does one see significant meaning in the spirituality as mentioned in the homily/ prayer of consecration in the Rite ?

on the other hand,in local churches that are struggling to survive,can a consecrated virgin be an image of its call 'to be' and 'to do'?

Awaiting a prayerful answer,
With Thanks,

Sponsa Christi said...


Thank you for your comment, and I'm happy that you found this post helpful. Unfortunatly, because of my impending thesis deadline, I really won't have any time for blog writing over the next few weeks. But I will discuss your points after Easter.

By the way, if you (or anyone else) would like to read a copy of my thesis when it's done, send me an e-mail:[at]gmail[dot]com

and I'll see what I can do about getting a copy to you.

Anonymous said...

I'm eager to read your thesis when it's done.Shall write to your email address after a few days.