11 September 2011

Consecrated Virgins and Increased External Requirements: A Matter of resisting the call to Sacred Secularity?

Because of my earlier posts, and because I have not been up on the conversations of those CV's desiring additional external requirements, I have been reading the blogs of Consecrated Virgins. In one of them I found a portion of a post which seems to me to justify the concerns I wrote about in my recent posts. This particular Consecrated Virgin writes:

[[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.]] Sponsa Christi, a blog by Jenna Cooper, Consecrated Virgin (Archdiocese of New York. Jenna asked that I credit her for this citation and for any references to her blog and I am happy to do so).

What More Could One Give?

I have emboldened the sections which raise serious questions for me, and which seem to support my earlier comments. I have to say how very surprised I am by these sections. When I first encountered Ms Cooper she was not yet consecrated under canon 604. I could then well have understood all the comments about longing to be called explicitly by God through the mediation of his Church to a life of complete and sacrificial self-giving --- though I would suggest this can seem to denigrate baptismal commitments to some extent so caution is needed. I could also then well have understood dividing reality into private spirituality and public responsibilities. But Ms Cooper is NOW, a Consecrated Virgin, one who has assumed a public vocation through consecration by God and is, no matter what activity she engages in, a representative of this public consecrated state; these statements of yearning were, as far as I can tell, written post-consecration. In other words she HAS ALREADY BEEN CALLED to everything she mentions in these passages and has been called to them by the formal and public mediation of the Church. Nothing is left unchanged by such a consecration, nothing unclaimed by Christ, nothing in terms of spirituality or identity remains purely personal or private. What I (I hope mistakenly!) hear her saying is, "I was called forth and consecrated, but I long for God to call me to a deeper more extensive consecration and dedication of self than I already entered into. Canon 604's rite is inadequate for this; there must be more!"

Thus, it is also quite hard for me to understand how one can consider herself a Bride of Christ with a public vocation and believe that anything the Holy Spirit prompted her to do as part of that vocation could be considered completely private. Further, if the Holy Spirit calls a consecrated person he does so because the consecration has opened the person in particular ways to this grace. While the Church does not explicitly say to the person: "pray this way" (for instance), it is hardly possible to treat a genuine call to do so because it is part of who one truly is, as a kind of whim, as merely "something one feels like doing at the moment," and which therefore requires a new specific public commitment or permission in order to be valid. Instead the Church commissions the Consecrated Virgin to listen carefully and to discern what the Holy Spirit DOES call her to; it consecrates and commissions her precisely so that she may do this as an ecclesial person and one who is mature enough to act in the name of the Church in ways the Church has not completely envisioned in detail. This is part of the nature of the public vocation --- to explore what it means and to live it out responsibly as one discerns that one is called by God to x, y, or z and to do so without having others spell things out or give continuing specific permissions.

(By the way, I do not mean one should never check with one's delegate, Bishop, or director, etc, but, for instance, for diocesan hermits whose legitimate superior IS the Bishop, we tend to see our delegates several (4-6) times a year to let them know what and how we are doing, discuss problem areas, etc, and we see our Bishops once a year or so to fill him in on the same. (We contact him in between times if we need something significant or have some personal problem we need to put before him.) In the mean time, with the assistance of our director, we discern as we can and are relatively free to do so --- which includes the freedom to make mistakes! Our vow of obedience obliges us to this careful and continuing discernment, not to seeking permission for every new or different practice or prayer form. Our Bishops can (and do) certainly say yay or nay to some things, but ordinarily, despite vows of obedience in his hands, in my experience, the relationship does not focus on this kind of thing.)

When one is consecrated, one gives (dedicates) one's entire life (what else could the gift of virginity symbolize, by the way?) and, that gift is accepted and rendered sacred (consecrated) by God. This gift is also required to be given to others (commissioned) in service. As already noted, nothing within that life is held back at one's dedication (or profession) nor untouched by one's consecration. The usual analogy to this is baptism where the person becomes a new creation, or Eucharistic consecration where ordinary bread and wine is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ --- external appearances (accidents) notwithstanding. The Church as mediator accepts the virgin's self gift in admitting her to the Rite of Consecration and consecrates her to service of God, his Church, and the world. The identity assumed is a public and ecclesial one. In general, no further call, no further new (formal) gift of self, no further validation is required. What is required is the assumption of the power of freedom in Christ, and the inspiration, creativity and courage of the Holy Spirit to explore and discover what this precise vocation calls for in terms of actual apostleship. The promise of these is given in the Rite of Consecration and the virgin commits her entire life as a vehicle for receiving and living these out.

In light of all this, I am reminded of the following text in the Rite of Consecration: [[They are to spend their time in works of penance and of mercy, in apostolic activity and in prayer, according to their state of life and spiritual gifts.]] While in the homily, it reads: [[Never forget that you are given over entirely to the service of the church and of all your brothers and sisters. You are apostles in the Church and in the world, in the things of the Spirit and in the things of the world. Let your light then shine before men and women, that your Father in heaven may be glorified, and his plan of making all things one in Christ come to perfection. Love everyone, especially those in need. Help the poor, care for the weak, teach the ignorant, protect the young, minister to the old, bring strength and comfort to widows and all in adversity.]] It is truly difficult to imagine a more explicit or comprehensive calling and commission!

Not a Second Class Vocation

The Church does not treat consecrated virginity as a second class vocation. Despite ignorant comments otherwise, the Church does not measure the gift of self in this vocation against the self-gift of the nun, or the diocesan hermit, or the ministerial religious, the diocesan priest, or the lay person --- whether married or dedicated single. Consecrated virgins should not do so either then. These vocations look and relate to dimensions of the institutional Church (and to the world) differently than one another, but this attests to the fact that they serve as leaven in different ways. For instance, I do not necessarily give more of my life than the privately (or the non-) vowed lay hermit, though I do so in a different way. I don't do nearly as much active ministry or work for the parish as most lay women in my parish, but that does not make my vocation second class to their's. I do not make a vow of stability as my Camaldolese brothers and sisters do, but that does not make me committed to stability any less than they are. (Stability is a value I embrace in a number of ways even though I am not vowed to it. Do I need to make such a vow to be truly committed to it? No. My eremitical life itself demands it and, as I have discerned this, I am expected to work that out without additional vows, etc. At the same time is stability simply a private bit of spirituality for me? No. I live it and do so as part of my public vocation. It is part of the gift eremitical life gives to church and world.)

It does seem to me that one thing in particular could establish Consecrated Virginity as a second class vocation despite the fact that the Church does not regard it as such, and that is the post-consecration addition of requirements like visible garb, promises of obedience, responsibility for praying the entire Liturgy of the Hours (the documents re the vocation encourage the praying of Lauds and Vespers), full time direct Church service, and the like. If one has to legislate these kinds of things for all CV's then it suggests that the Church has been mistaken for the past 28 years and should never have consecrated anyone without them. It also suggests that, for some at least, this vocation really is still in search of itself and is uncomfortable with consecrated secularity. I know that is NOT the message we want to give, especially in a world where profane secularity and secularism are rampant and which so very desperately needs apostles who speak directly and prophetically to it. The demand for additional requirements, separating garb, promises of obedience, and full-time direct service to (and in) the institutional church (all made in similar posts) narrows our definition of Church and ministry and limits the action of the Holy Spirit in this vocation to parochial institutions, positions, and ministries. Above all then, it seems to me, it suggests that the Church has not called sacred apostles to move out of the temple precincts and even into Cana or amongst the gentiles, when in fact, this is precisely one of the things she has done with Canon 604.

Consecrated Virgins have been given a tremendous gift and far-reaching permission (commission) to carry out their vocation in whatever way the Holy Spirit moves them. Presumably Consecrated Virgins have been given every grace in and through their consecration to do so as well without additional commitments, promises, garb, etc. It is certainly a vocation of the freedom of Christ, demanding as such freedom always is. I hope Consecrated Virgins demonstrate the adequacy and the incredible significance of their vocations in and of themselves precisely in the world where they were commissioned to serve as apostles!