30 January 2013

Eschatological Secularity and CV's Living in the World

[[Hello Sister O'Neal, I have appreciated what you have written about secularity and non-secularity. It seems to move us away from ways of seeing these vocations which leads to evaluating them as second-rate or called to a less than exhaustive holiness. Am I right in thinking that besides the influence of Gaudium et Spes and the call to universal holiness from Vatican II the key issue is the way we look at the relation of heaven and earth and the coming of God's Reign in fullness? Also, have you read the Phatmass comments of one CV who wrote she cannot see how the universal call to holiness is really pertinent to the discussion on the sacred secularity of the vocation to consecrated virginity of women living in the world? She calls the two things "distinct ideas."]]

Hi there. Thanks for your patience in waiting for my answer to your question.  As you know, I have been sick for the past couple of weeks and am just now beginning to feel better and catch up with some of the emails I received regarding this discussion. (Being sick was a kind of gift in that it allowed me to participate in the Phatmass discussion by freeing me from other obligations, but it also kept me from doing everything I would have liked to do in a more timely way.) In particular I have your own email and two others to respond to publicly. The others have really already been addressed in what I have already written and in brief private replies, but your own and the remaining two require some public clarification and  perhaps even some more careful thinking through things I have already said.

Yes, I think you have two of the key issues I have mentioned exactly right. Because of the interrelated nature of these issues and my own desire to more clearly stress the integral relationship between heaven and this world in the secular call to holiness, I have also referred in this recent series of posts to eschatological secularity rather than my older terms from a year ago, sacred or consecrated secularity.  Both of these key issues are raised in the comments you also allude to so I am going to cite those here and respond to all of this as a piece. In the discussion on Phatmass, Sponsa Christi (Jenna Cooper) wrote: [[Writing in a spirit of respectful discussion...I’m not sure that the Church’s teachings on the universal call to holiness can be directly identified with Sr. Laurel’s concept of “sacred secularity.” To me, these would actually seem to be two distinct ideas. As I am understanding it, “sacred secularity” would seem to be the idea of relating to God primarily in and through mundane things; whereas the universal call to holiness is the teaching that every Christian, regardless of his or her state in life, is called to be holy.]]

Because two ideas can be distinguished does not necessarily make them completely distinct from one another. Meanwhile, sometimes insisting ideas are entirely distinct can, even unintentionally, also be a way of rendering them "safe" and refusing to allow them to effect the radical change they are meant to bring or proclaim the Gospel message in the powerfully transfiguring way it needs to be heard. My own sense is that Vatican II's "universal call to holiness" is intimately related to the Church's reevaluation of the secular in our vocational schemata. Every person I have read or spoken with about this has appreciated this almost instinctively. After all, the call to universal holiness is not simply a call to individual holiness regardless of state of life. It is also a call to participate exhaustively in the Reign of God and to further implicate that Reign via whatever state of life the person is called to. Beyond this, it is not simply a notion that one can become holy in spite of  or regardless of whatever state of life one occupies, but more, that one can both become holy and transform the world IN and through that specific state of life. It includes the notion, therefore that  the secular itself mediates God's call to holiness and thus to exhaustive participation in God's Kingdom --- in this case because essentially the secular is and is meant to BE the Sacrament of God's exhaustive Lordship and presence. 

As Sponsa Christi (Jenna Cooper) rightly says,  part of my speaking of a call to "sacred (or consecrated) secularity" affirms that one can relate to God through the mundane, but it goes much further as well. It says that a life which is really,  formally, and canonically "set aside" by and for God, and which is an icon of the eschatological Reign of God, can realize its ultimate potential within the secular; similarly it says that the secular is an entirely appropriate context for lives which are truly set aside by and for God. More it says that vocations to an eschatological or sacred secularity are significant for the realization not only of the individual's call to holiness, but for the world's realization of its own potential as well. Such persons are called to be secular because the secular is called to be the ultimate realm of God's exhaustive holiness and dominion.  Until Vatican II it was simply not possible to say most of this. Prior to Vatican II and her emphasis on the "universal call to holiness" a call to secularity was not only a second-rate vocation, but the secular itself was unworthy to serve either as an adequate context for holiness (or, in particular, for vocations to the consecrated state); neither was it understood to be worthy or capable of being the raw material for the Kingdom of heaven --- the bread and wine which can, should, and will become the Body and Blood of Christ.

My own sense in all of this is that last year my thought (and so my posts) did not go far enough. They rightly reflected the truth that CV's living in the world are called to a secular vocation, and assuredly one which is significantly qualified by the virgin's consecration. That was necessary not only to honor what the Church clearly teaches about this vocation in historical terms,  or in her liturgy, theology, and praxis, but also to make sense of it and it's imagery as things which were compelling in contemporary terms. This year, I think linking the idea that heaven is not merely pie in the sky by and by, but that it involves the ultimate transfiguration of this world here and now deepens or radicalizes the ideas I dealt with last year. At the same time it allows this vocation to appropriately witness to a theology of the eschaton very few Catholics are sufficiently familiar with and to underscore the whole of VII's teaching on the universal call to holiness and essential goodness and goal, the sacramentality of creation.

 Beyond these things, linking these ideas helps provide a systematic theological underpinning which demands we no longer use canon 604 as a charismatically, theologically, and pastorally insignificant "fallback vocation" which women (or dioceses!!) automatically turn to when another vocation fails or, for instance, they simply cannot accept that a lay vocation is a radical call to discipleship. Instead this linkage underscores the fact that the call of CV's living in the world is significant in all of these ways and, in its character as both eschatological and  truly secular, is a more radical gift to Church and world than any quasi-religious (etc) vocation can ever be. Consequently, those discerning and being professed (via propositum) and consecrated into this vocation must be able to appreciate and honor both dimensions of the call, the eschatological and the secular. Otherwise there is significant reason for believing they should be discerning a different vocation or that they have merely embraced this call as a stopgap or fallback vocation --- just as the Province of LA was so concerned about after the promulgation of canon 604 that they refused to consecrate anyone accordingly.