28 August 2009

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

Today's Gospel is one of the "parables of judgment." And in this context it is judgment in the uniguely and interrelated Christian senses of 1) harvest, and therefore 2) something which is not punitive, but merely involves a recognition of and commitment by God to the truth of what is. Evenso, as a story of an awful judgment, it is chilling too, for at the end the bridegroom will not unlock the door for those knocking NOW to be allowed in, but responds instead, "No, I did not know you." We have heard similar stories of course: apostles are sent out to proclaim, "The Kingdom of God is at hand," and are told to shake the dust from their sandals and leave the town, still saying, "The Kingdom of God is at hand." What was a tremendous opportunity becomes an awful judgment and moment of failure for those addressed by them. Similarly then, in today's parable what is meant to be the wedding feast becomes a moment of rejection, exclusion, and terrible judgment for some even while it is one of great rejoicing for others.

Where is it the foolish virgins fail in this parable? What is it they cease doing, for instance, which causes them to come under such a chilling judgment? At first it looks like they are guilty merely of failing to be prudent; they have lamps with insufficient supplies of oil to refill them should the bridegroom be delayed. But one might also ask "what kind of wedding is held at midnight" or "why should virgins be prepared for ANY eventuality, no matter how remote?" No, simple prudence is not their failing eventhough the wise virgins were MORE prudent than the foolish ones. Next it looks like perhaps they are guilty of falling asleep while the wise ones stay awake, but no, ALL the virgins, wise and foolish, fall asleep, so that is not the failing either. Instead, as far as I can tell, the foolish virgins really fail to wait for the Lord and the wise virgins continue to wait for him no matter the time or season. While it is unclear what the foolish virgins have begun to do instead, it is clear to me that they fail to wait for him.

If I am correct about this it opens to way to understanding "waiting" -- and particularly waiting for the Lord -- as something tremendously active and demanding, not passive or lacking in challenge. I suspect it is also something most of us are not very good at, especially in terms of the coming of the Lord! So what does waiting mean and involve? According to today's parable waiting involves the orientation of our whole selves towards a reality which is still to be fulfilled in some way. It means the ordering of our lives in terms of promise, not merely of possibility, and it means the constant reordering of our lives accordingly as time goes on. Waiting involves the acceptance of both presence and absence, reality and unreality, already and not yet, and the subordination of our lives to the dynamics these poles point to or define.

For those of us living in California we understand this kind of waiting because we live in earthquake country. At our parish school for instance we have supplies for all the students, et al, and these are stored away for the time when they WILL be needed. This is not merely a possibility, but an eventuality. Further, it is not enough to simply lay the supplies by and forget about them. They must be changed periodically, updated, modified, and so forth so that they reflect genuine preparedness. Families often do the same thing in their own homes --- and of course, some simply allow their supplies to expire or never get around to taking care of the need for such things at all. Real waiting is an active process of attentiveness and orientation. Filling our lamps, bringing extra flasks of oil, trimming the wicks, and all these actions symbolize the ongoing and ever-new ordering of our lives to the coming of the Lord.

Unfortunately, I suspect that most people's spiritual lives (and I include myself here!) are similar to either those foolish Californians who never set aside or fail to update necessary supplies for the eventuality of the "Big One", or to those foolish virgins who were unprepared to enter into the wedding feast with their bridegroom when he arrived. We may be baptized, confirmed, etc and consider that "that is enough." We may try to get by on prayer lives that were sufficient for us 20 years ago, but no longer. We may attend Mass once a week, and lull ourselves into believing that we have really ordered our lives in a way which is truly prepared for "the coming of the Lord." Similarly we may say to ourselves, "I prayed the night before last; I can skip it tonight!" -- or something like this with regard to quiet prayer, journaling, or other spiritual practices until without even realizing it we have failed to pray much at all for a week or two (or more)! And we may be comfortable letting things slide in this way --- as some are wont to do in their own marriages or other "significant" relationships, for instance! Until, that is, we find ourselves being told (with its exaggerated semitic emphasis), "I never knew you!" and have to recognize that indeed, yesterday's prayer prepared us for yesterday and was a response to yesterday's love. Yesterday's relationship with Jesus prepared us for yesterday's coming of the Lord. What is required is the active and complete ordering of our lives TODAY in a way which allows us to really say, "I am waiting for the Lord!" and allows Jesus to say, "Yes, you are my bride; I know you well. Welcome!"

Some commentators have remarked about the apparent "unChristian" (read selfish and even cruel) attitude of those virgins labelled "wise" in today's Gospel. Afterall, shouldn't they have lent the oil to those without? How silly (and even dangerous!) to expect the others to travel abroad to buy oil from merchants at midnight, especially just when the bridegroom is arriving! But the wisdom at work here is simple. Some things can only be done by us. No one can do them for us. Allowing the establishment and growth of a relationship with Christ is one of those things. Christ will always take the initiative, the Holy Spirit will always empower our assent to such a relationship, but no one can take on this responsibility for us. Only we ourselves through and in the grace of God can truly "wait on the Lord" as today's parable calls upon us to do. And only we can embrace a relationship which is vital and expectant, or succumb to one which stagnates and fails in hope and genuine love. Only we can become the human beings whose lives are centered on Christ today and provide a welcome place for him in this world; no one can do this for us.

May we each truly learn to wait on the Lord as the wisest of virgins, day by day and moment by moment! Only then will God's judgment be the harvesting of rich and abundant fruit rather than the rejection of something that withered on the vine days, weeks, months, or even years ago.

25 August 2009

Question: Are Sisters (or Diocesan Hermits, etc) Part of the Laity?

[[Dear Sister, you write about the diocesan hermit and the consecrated state and also about lay hermits, but aren't Sisters (I assume that includes hermits) members of the laity? My understanding was that Vatican II said there were just two groups, clergy and laity and that if one was not a priest, then one was laity. Doesn't this addition of the consecrated state suggest that this is a different and higher state than laity, including lay hermits? Seems elitist.]]

Thanks for your questions. They are actually quite important because the state of the discussion is pretty muddled today, not least by religious who consider and assert they are only part of the laity as though their state of life is in no way also distinct. I hear a lot from both religious and laity that religious are laypersons (this is completely true) and I have made the same statement myself in the past based (accurately) on just the two-fold hierarchical division from Vatican II which you mention. But this is only one division; another, for instance, is in terms of theological or vocational states of life and when this division is the one governing the discussion, religious (or diocesan hermits) are not laypersons though they are very much part of the people of God. Unfortunately this often means that when a Sister writes about the consecrated state they DO belong to and compares it to the lay
state (which includes lay eremitism) in some way, they are almost inevitably accused of elitism. This absolutely need not be the case.

First what Vatican II said. Vatican II affirmed the hierarchical nature of the church and did so by distinguishing those who were ordained (clergy) from those who were not (laity). In terms of hierarchicalization or "class distinctions" in the church these are the only divisions affirmed by the Council. Thus, in terms of THIS DIVISION ONLY, religious women and non-ordained male religious are laity because they are not clergy.

However, this fundamental division is not the only one the Church uses. There are two others which overlap one another: Canonical standing and theological (states of life). When looked at from a canonical perspective religious women and men, and those who are consecrated virgins or diocesan hermits, clearly have rights and obligations which flow neither from clerical standing (if they are men) nor from the lay condition. With regard to life in the church then, when defined in terms of canonical rights and obligations, religious life (or consecrated virginity and diocesan eremitism) do not belong to either laity or clergy. Yet, neither are they hierarchically distinguished as some sort of middle ground between clergy and laity --- though given the strong hierarchical perspective even of VII and the church in general, it is very hard to keep this in mind. Vocationally they are a distinct group from laity, and in THIS SENSE, neither lay nor clerical. As Canon Law clearly states: Canon 588: the state of consecrated life by its very nature is neither clerical nor lay.

When approached from the theological perspective there is a third but related and also overlapping way of looking at life in the church which is also non-hierarchical. Through the Church's mediation some vocations initiate one into or admit one to the consecrated state where state refers to a stable form of life with canonical rights and obligations. (You can see how this overlaps or even coincides with what I have said thus far.) Here God himself sets the person apart for himself and his service in a special way through this mediation. The person dedicates herself to God (ordinarily with public vows), but God consecrates the person both in the very calling, in the acceptance of vows (etc), and in the prayer of consecration (with solemn or perpetual profession, or in the Rite of consecration of Virgins). Again, this distinct setting apart and constitution in a new state of life is not part of the hierarchical division of the church (clerical or lay) and therefore does not mark the consecrated state as a third way standing hierarchically between clergy and laity. Evenso, it remains the case that religious men and women, consecrated hermits, or consecrated virgins are not laypersons when viewed from this perspective either.

Because the consecrated state is not part of the hierarchical division of the church, affirming that one is called to the consecrated state or comparing it to the lay state does not constitute elitism (or at least it SHOULD not!). Instead, for instance, with regard to diocesan hermits in comparison with lay hermits, it points to a different way of living the same fundamental elements (e.g., silence of solitude, stricter separation from the world, and so forth) and especially the same foundational consecration of baptism. Neither way of doing so is better than the other, but they differ nonetheless.

I hope this helps.

22 August 2009

Married Diocesan Hermits?

[[ Dear Sister, Recently I read a book on "contemporary eremitical life" and it mentioned the existence of married hermits several times. I also heard of a married couple who are seeking to become canonical or diocesan hermits according to Canon 603. Is this possible? Hermits can live in communities, so presumably they could be married.]]

There is a recent new book out on contemporary hermit life which does this, yes. I read it in July. The problem however is that the book, which is quite good in some ways and problematical in others -- especially the following -- relies mainly on anecdotal descriptions taken from a survey of many who are self-described lay hermits. It therefore does not address or really attend to the theology of either marriage or eremitical life and how these apply to the notion of married hermits per se. The book is descriptive of any number of people who consider themselves hermits, but it is not always adequately prescriptive (normative) of eremitical life or indicative of what it entails or disallows. In my estimation, it especially fails in regard to the notion of "married hermits". Thus, while some married couples may consider themselves hermits I think that serious questions about eremitical solitude in particular, not to mention those around eremitical poverty, and chastity (celibacy or continence), have to be raised and adequately answered before lay persons in such circumstances can be called lay hermits. The situation is even more dificult with the second situation you describe because here there is a couple, both of whom are seeking to become consecrated or diocesan hermits.

It is my own opinion that married couples cannot live the same kind of solitude hermits are called to live. They are one flesh and they come to God together through their marriage, not in the way a hermit actually does. This means that even if they build in a good deal of physical solitude, they remain sacramentally ONE with each other, and because of this, they simply cannot live the kind of inner solitude, much less the silence of solitude a hermit must come to live, cultivate and witness to. It is hard for me to describe this, but an example from this Summer's retreat might help you to see what I am trying to convey.

A Desert Day and a Gesture of Affection from One's Spouse

During the latter part of the week we had a desert day, just as would happen in a monastic setting. Everyone went off for more solitude during the majority of the day and returned to celebrate Vespers and dinner together in silence. As we gathered there were a number of nods and smiles to one another, but one couple took each other's hand as they approached the refectory and the wife rested her head on her husband's shoulder very briefly. No one broke the silence, but it was very clear to me that despite the fact the these two (a truly lovely couple!) had spent their day physically apart from one another and in prayer, etc, their solitude was of a different quality than mine or others there who were unmarried -- much less than that of professed hermits, monks, or nuns. No one broke silence, but the silence of solitude (more about this below) was another matter.

Now let me be clear. This is AS IT SHOULD BE, and the brief physical gesture was apropriate and lovely to see. It was touching and inspiring. I doubt anyone who attends this retreat regularly does not feel blessed by this couple's love for one another. But, were they to start calling themselves hermits because of a certain degree of physical solitude built into their lives together, I think they would be deluding themselves and forgetting the experience of solitude which is characteristic of genuine hermits and how it differs from their own, even if those hermits exist in community. Consider, for instance, the import of the brief physical gesture I mentioned. Wasn't it the reestablishment or confirmation of a profound and sacramental link that exists all the time? Isn't it likely to have mirrored the gestures offered one another as they went their separate ways on this desert day? Both persons have profound prayer lives, I have absolutely no doubt of that, but despite its depth and the existential aloneness with God they may each find in that prayer, they do not go to prayer --- or anywhere else --- truly alone really unless the marriage fails in some critical way. With whom does a solitary or religious hermit share such a bond? God alone.

Solitude is a state of Communion and for the hermit it is a state of communion with God alone. This does not mean that the hermit does not carry others (often MANY others) in her heart within her solitude, but it does mean that she approaches this relationship without the bond (or the comfort of that bond) which married persons have. If prayer is, at times, marked not only by peace but by darkness or loneliness (something which can happen despite a continuing knowledge that God is there) or longing for a physical touch or an audible word, there is simply no way such a hermit can mitigate or soften this by remembering or looking forward to her later time with her husband --- at a mutual meal or when both come together and greet and share with each other after their own prayer periods, for instance. No, this Communion is sometimes marked by such darkness, etc and it calls for even greater faith and trust, and -- paradoxically -- greater physical solitude. Further, for the hermit there is no sharing of this prayer as there might be for married persons who come together after such a period. One moves from the prayer period to (perhaps) a silent meal fixed for oneself alone and shares even the darkness and loneliness (and all else that is in one's heart) with the One whose silent presence both comforts and sometimes exacerbates that darkness and loneliness. This is part of the meaning of Canon 603's phrase, "the silence of solitude" which is foundational to the eremitical life. It is far more profound and disturbing at times than simply refraining from turning on some music or filling the silence with some other distracting noise.

Eremitical Loneliness is the Loneliness of  Communion

It is also really important to realize that I am not describing some terrible or malignant loneliness here. Instead I am describing an aspect of communion and eremitical solitude itself, a dimension of the relationship with a transcendent God for one who still lives apart from him in many ways and gradually grows closer and closer even in and through such periods. Eremitical solitude includes darkness and loneliness not only because of yearnings for touch or audible communication, but because there is a longing for greater communion with God as well. Since God is the one the hermit is vowed to love as she would someone in marriage, and because she does indeed love others only THROUGH this love, even moments of darkness and loneliness are expressions of a call to ever greater Communion with God and ever greater solitude (and the silence of same) --- sometimes to the point of actual reclusion. Though their love and commitment are wonderful things which open a world of life and family to one another, a married couple are constrained by their commitment to one another and the demands of sexual/marital love from responding to or realizing this natural and inner dynamism of the solitary eremitical life.

Mission Impossible: A Couple Seeking Profession Under Canon 603

Regarding your second question, and the couple who were each seeking to become diocesan hermits, one must take all that I have just said and add to that the obstacles existing because Canon 603 eremitical life is an ecclesial vocation which must be carefully discerned by both individual and church over a relatively long period of time. Significantly it also involves public profession of the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity or consecrated celibacy, obedience) BECAUSE it is one way of achieving admission to the consecrated state.

Let's start with this last element: admission to the consecrated state. The consecrated state is, by definition, characterized by consecrated celibacy. It celebrates a life of celibate love, NOT a life of sexual love and, as just mentioned, married love is ALWAYS a celebration of sexual love, even if the couple no longer has sexual intercourse; married love recalls this ultimate expression of total self-gift, is always an extension of it, always tends towards and anticipates it. While in the not-so recent past some persons were allowed to live as sister and brother (or to leave a marriage for religious life of some sort), this generally occurred during a period when the nature of married love was simply not so highly esteemed as it is today. Married life is a consecration of a life of this kind of love. In terms of church teaching and theology, it is mutually exclusive with admission to the consecrated state marked by celibate love. Today the Church does not encourage married couples to forego the highest gift and expression of the married state to live together as sister and brother; similarly, she does not admit married persons to profession and consecration under canon 603. Instead marriage --- even one marked by divorce but not annulled --- is ordinarily considered an impediment to such consecration just as it would ordinarily be an impediment to another marriage.

But this aside for the moment (and the vows of poverty and obedience as well!), consider the difficulties of a married couple trying to both become diocesan hermits. The discernment process is individual AND ECCLESIAL meaning the individual him/herself alone does not discern such a vocation. There is simply no way the Church can automatically admit both (or either) to profession and consecration on the basis of them announcing what is in their hearts. It is not, after all, a package deal. How would the church even begin to openly discern one spouse's vocation while the other spouse goes through a separate and equally honest (and often lengthy) discernment process --- either of which may end in the individual's determination as unsuited to or simply not called to this vocation? Does one spouse (or both) say to their diocese -- even implicitly -- "Don't consider professing me unless you agree to profess my spouse"? And yet, in coming to a diocese as they have, this is actually one message they probably DO give. Or, could a diocese admit one to temporary or even perpetual vows while making the other wait another several years or even eventually finding the other unsuited to such vows? No, it is a completely unworkable situation and I admit I don't see how any diocese would even begin to consider it precisely because neither person is truly solitary or free to discern the matter alone (individually) with the Church. Once we add back in the definition of the consecrated state or the content of the vows themselves and consider the church's responsibility with regard to sacramental marriages the whole notion becomes completely impossible.

I personally wonder what motivates the couple you mention or why they would seek such profession and consecration. They have their marriage vows and consecration. They are already called to this by God and it is a critically important and worthy vocation. Married people need to realize this and also realize that they are called to come to God together in the married state, through married love. If this means building in more physical solitude at some point, then they should do this, but not because they are called to be hermits. While every couple is called to prayer and penance, they are NOT called to the silence of solitude in an eremitical sense, or to celibacy, etc. And yet, these things DEFINE the hermit, whether lay or consecrated and whether the hermit is a solitary one or lives in community.

19 August 2009

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

Today's Gospel is one of my all-time favorite parables, that of the laborers in the vineyard. The story is simple --- deceptively so in fact: workers come to work in the vineyard at various parts of the day all having contracted with the master of the vineyard to work for a day's wages. Some therefore work the whole day, some are brought in to work only half a day, and some are hired only when the master comes for them at the end of the day. When time comes to pay everyone what they are owed those who came in to work last are paid first and receive a full day's wages. Those who came in to work first expect to be paid more than these, but are disappointed and begin complaining when they are given the same wage as those paid first. The response of the master reminds them that he has paid them what they contracted for, nothing less, and then asks if they are envious that he is generous with his own money. A saying is added: [in the Kingdom of God] the first shall be last and the last first.

Now, it is important to remember what the word parable means in appreciating what Jesus is actually doing with this story and seeing how it challenges us today. The word parable, as I have written before, comes from two Greek words, para meaning alongside of and balein, meaning to throw down. What Jesus does is to throw down first one set of values -- one well-understood or common-perspective --- and allow people to get comfortable with that. (It is one they understand best so often Jesus merely needs to suggest it while his hearers fill in the rest. For instance he mentions a sower, or a vineyard and people fill in the details. Today he might well speak of a a CEO in an office, or a mother on a run to pick up kids from a swim meet or soccer practice.) Then, he throws down a second set of values or a second way of seeing reality which disorients and gets his hearers off-balance. This second set of values or new perspective is that of the Kingdom of God. Those who listen have to make a decision. (The purpose of the parable is not only to present the choice, but to engage the reader/hearer and shake them up or disorient them a bit so that a choice for something new can (and hopefully will) be made.) Either Jesus' hearers will reaffirm the common values or perspective or they will choose the values and perspective of the Kingdom of God. The second perspective, that of the Kingdom is often counterintuitive, ostensibly foolish or offensive, and never a matter of "common sense". To choose it --- and therefore to choose Jesus and the God he reveals --- ordinarily puts one in a place which is countercultural and often apparently ridiculous.

So what happens in today's Gospel? Again, Jesus tells a story about a vineyard and a master hiring workers. His readers know this world well and despite Jesus stating specifically that each man hired contracts for the same wage, common sense says that is unfair and the master MUST pay the later workers less than he pays those who came early to the fields and worked through the heat of the noonday sun. And of course, this is precisely what the early workers complain about to the master. It is precisely what most of US would complain about in our own workplaces if someone hired after us got more money, for instance, or if someone with a high school diploma got the same pay and benefit package as someone with a doctorate --- never mind that we agreed to this package! The same is true in terms of religion: "I spent my WHOLE life serving the Lord. I was baptized as an infant and went to Catholic schools from grade school through college and this upstart convert who has never done anything at all at the parish gets the Pastoral Associate job? No Way!! No FAIR!!" From our everyday perspective this would be a cogent objection and Jesus' insistence that all receive the same wage, not to mention that he seems to rub it in by calling the last hired to be paid first (i.e., the normal order of the Kingdom), is simply shocking.

And yet the master brings up two points which turn everything around: 1) he has paid everyone exactly what they contracted for --- a point which stops the complaints for the time being, and 2) he asks if they are envious that he is generous with his own gifts or money. He then reminds his hearers that the first shall be last, and the last first in the Kingdom of God. If someone was making these remarks to you in response to cries of "unfair" it would bring you up short, wouldn't it? If you were already a bit disoriented by a pay master who changed the rules of commonsense this would no doubt underscore the situation. It might also cause you to take a long look at yourself and the values by which you live your life. You might ask yourself if the values and standards of the Kingdom are really SO different than those you operate by everyday of your life, not to mention, do you really want to "buy into" this Kingdom if the rewards are really parcelled out in this way, even for people less "gifted" and less "committed" than you consider yourself! Of course, you might not phrase things so bluntly. If you are honest, you will begin to see more than your own brilliance, giftedness, or commitedness; You might begin to see these along with a deep neediness, a persistent and genuine fear at the cost involved in accepting this "Kingdom" instead of the world you know and have accommodated yourself to so well.

You might consider too, and carefully, that the Kingdom is not an otherwordly heaven, but that it is the realm of God's sovereignty which, especially in Christ, interpenetrates this world, and is actually the goal and perfection of this world; when you do, the dilemma before you gets even sharper. There is no real room for opting for this world's values now in the hope that those "other Kingdomly values" only kick in after death! All that render to Caesar stuff is actually a bit of a joke if we think we can divvy things up neatly and comfortably (I am sure Jesus was asking for the gift of one's whole self and nothing less when he made this statement!), because after all, what REALLY belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? No, no compromises are really allowed with today's parable, no easy blending of the vast discrepancy between the realm of God's sovereignty and the world which is ordered to greed, competition, self-aggrandizement and hypocrisy, nor therefore, to the choice Jesus puts before us.

So, what side will we come down on after all this disorientation and shaking up? I know that every time I hear this parable it touches a place in me (yet another one!!) that resents the values and standards of the Kingdom and that desires I measure things VERY differently indeed. It may be a part of me that resists the idea that everything I have and am is God's gift, even if I worked hard in cooperating with that (my very capacity and willingness to cooperate are ALSO gifts of God!). It may be a part of me that looks down my nose at this person or that and considers myself better in some way (smarter, more gifted, a harder worker, stronger, more faithful, born to a better class of parents, etc, etc). It may be part of me that resents another's wage or benefits despite the fact that I am not really in need of more myself. It may even be a part of me that resents my own weakness and inabilities, my own illness and incapacities which lead me to despise the preciousness and value of my life and his own way of valuing it which is God's gift to me and to the world. I am socialized in this first-world-culture and there is no doubt that it resides deeply and pervasively within me contending always for the Kingdom of God's sovereignty in my heart and living. I suspect this is true for most of us, and that today's Gospel challenges us to make a renewed choice for the Kingdom in yet another way or to another more profound or extensive degree.

For Christians every day is gift and we are given precisely what we need to live fully and with real integrity if only we will choose to accept it. We are precious to God, and this is often hard to really accept, but neither more nor less precious than the person standing in the grocery store line ahead of us or folded dirty and dishelveled behind a begging sign on the street corner near our bank or outside our favorite coffee shop. The wage we have agreed to (or been offered) is the gift of God's very self along with his judgment that we are indeed precious, and so, the free and abundant but cruciform life of a shared history and destiny with that same God whose characteristic way of being is kenotic. He pours himself out with equal abandon for each of us whether we have served him our whole lives or only just met him this afternoon. He does so whether we are well and whole, or broken and feeble. And he asks us to do the same, to pour ourselves out similarly both for his own sake and for the sake of his creation-made-to-be God's Kingdom.

To do so means to decide for his reign now and tomorrow and the day after that; it means to accept his gift of Self as fully as he wills to give it, and it therefore means to listen to him and his Word so that we MAY be able to decide and order our lives appropriately in his gratuitous love and mercy. The parable in today's Gospel is a gift which makes this possible --- if only we would allow it to work as Jesus empowers and wills it!

15 August 2009

Congratulations, Therese Ivers, Consecrated Virgin!!

Today, on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Bishop Paul J Swain, Ordinary of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, consecrated Therese Ivers (JCL) according to Canon 604.

Dressed in a white wedding dress and carrying a small gold lamp, symbolic of the Matthean Gospel passage regarding the wise virgins keeping awake and their lamps ready for the coming of the Bridegroom, Therese was accompanied by several other Consecrated Virgins including Judith Stegman, president of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.

Therese was given a wedding ring marking her new standing as Bride of Christ and a volume of the Liturgy of Hours. As noted in the post regarding the consecration of Catherine Wright, consecrated virgins as such do not make vows and are not nuns or Sisters,nor do they use initials like OCV after their names. They resolve in a formal way to remain virgins and give their lives to Christ as members of the consecrated state. The Rite by which they are consecrated marks one of the oldest vocations in the Church and is rich in bridal symbolism; it can be used either for nuns after/at solemn profession (Carthusian nuns use this routinely) or for women living in the world. Consecrated virgins living in the world have a unique and warm relationship with their Bishop, though they are not bound by a vow of obedience nor is he their legitimate superior.

Therese and other consecrated virgins

Bishop Swain Blessing the book of the Liturgy of the Hours

Therese, as noted above, is a Canon Lawyer (JCL) and she works for the diocese of Sioux Falls both in this capacity and as vocations promoter. Her specialty as a canonist is consecrated life. She will continue this ministry as a consecrated virgin. I ask for your prayers for Therese and extend congratulations both on the gift of consecration she has received, and the gift of self she has made.

Therese prostrates herself before the altar during the Litany of Saints in preparation for the actual consecration.

12 August 2009

Creature of God by Jessica Powers (Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD)

That God stands tall, incomprehensible,
infinite and immutable and free,
I know. Yet more I marvel that His call
trickels and thunders down through space to me;

that far from His eternities He shouts
to me, one small inconsequence of day.
I kneel down in the vastness of His love,
cover myself with creaturehood and pray.

God likes me covered with my creaturehood
and with my limits spread across His face,
He likes to see me lifting to His eyes
even wretchedness that dropped His grace.

I make no guess what greatness took me in.
I only know, and relish it as good,
that I am gathered more to God's embrace
the more I greet Him through my creaturehood.

06 August 2009

Feast of the Transfiguration

Throughout the past few weeks the daily readings, especially in the Gospel of Matthew have echoed the refrain: "And there is something greater here than (Solomon, the Temple, Moses, Elijah, etc). . ." whenever Jesus speaks of himself. In today's Gospel we have an illustration of this refrain when Jesus is transfigured in front of some of his disciples (Peter, James, and John). Following this Elijah and Moses appear and converse with Jesus. Peter, terrified and "hardly knowing what to say" exclaims, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here!" and then suggests that they make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Following this suggestion the mountain is covered by cloud, and there is a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him." Moses and Elijah have disappeared and we are told that the disciples "no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them." They are warned to say nothing of these events until after the resurrection from the dead, and though they do not really understand what resurrection means --- or even who Jesus really is in all its implications, they do indeed understand that right here with them in One who, though continuous with the rest of their history, is greater than Solomon, the Temple, Elijah, Moses, etc.

The ability to see what is really present despite outward appearance is a challenge to all of us. To see Christ in the neighbor, sometimes to see Christ in ourselves, to see the presence of God in a world it is much easier to castigate as evil or profane, to find that ours is a creation where heaven and earth interpenetrate one another in a significant way especially in light of Christ --- all of these are parts of the challenge today's Gospel puts before us. Further, to see that our God comes to us in weakness and ordinariness is part of that same challenge. And yet, we are a people called to recognize and embody this presence wherever we go. These are the two sides of the command to obedience: recognize (hear, see, taste, etc) and embody this for others. Rooted deeply within us by virtue of our baptism, there is something greater here than Solomon, Moses, or the Temple or the Decalogue --- a Wisdom and Love which transcends them all and marks us as disciples. If we can take seriously the vocation to live this out in a way which allows our more prosaic existence and being to be transfigured in the power and presence of God, we will begin to understand the challenge and imagery of today's Gospel: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!"

My best wishes especially to my Camaldolese Sisters at Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor, NY. on this Feast Day. As Benedictines they take seriously the call to obedience as the challenge to recognize and embody God in the ordinariness of every day which epitomizes Christian Life.