18 January 2013

Eschatological Secularity, What do you mean by this?

[Dear Sister,
      thank you for answering my last question [why you are personally interested in the vocation of CV's]. You have written about CV's embracing a consecrated or sacred secularity and I understand that. But you have also begun using the term eschatological secularity. I get it has to do with the Kingdom and end times, but why do you use it here and not in reference to other vocations?]]

Sure. I am using the term specifically to qualify and connect the secularity of the vocation with the Kingdom of God in which all things will be perfected and transformed and God will be all in all. Other terms (sacred secularity, consecrated secularity) don't do so nearly as well. They carry the idea of being made a sacred person and somehow being set apart from God but what they also do too often is suggest this has to be distinct from the saeculum rather than consistently embedded in it. (N.B., embeddedness and enmeshment are not the same things!) They tend to see consecrated lives as proleptic of heaven but that is a heaven which is wholly distinct from this world and has nothing to do with interpenetrating it, transfiguring, or ultimately perfecting it into the realm it is meant to be because God is truly and wholly sovereign there.

To link secularity closely with the word eschatological seems to me to do three things: 1) it immediately indicates the locus of God's transforming, reconciling, and hallowing power and presence, namely THIS world of space and time,  2) it underscores the incredible dignity and challenge of secular vocations --- but especially the vocation of CV's living in the world, and 3) it demands that CV's reflection on the specific graces of their vocation (spousal, virginal, maternal, and apostolic love) be spelled out in terms of the needs of heaven AND the needs of earth, the needs or yearnings of the Spirit and the needs or yearnings of the world. In other words it makes clear this vocation is a very profoundly pastoral one. It also suggests that systematically this is an avenue theologians would do well to pursue in thinking through the nature and implications of this ancient AND very new vocation.

I don't use this term with other vocations because it doesn't actually fit them as well. It may come close to an aspect of what secular institutes witness to, but there we are not dealing with a consecrated state of life; members are either in the lay or ordained states depending upon their state of life when they made semi-public vows. Thus I think the paradoxical vocation I have been speaking about is most sharply indicated in the term "eschatological secularity."  As importantly, I think this term charts a course for reflecting on and living out the vocation which focuses on its RADICAL secular and ultimately pastoral nature. Last year I was truly stunned to hear a CV suggest that she could see no pastoral need for a vocation which was specifically secular. I admit I am still a bit amazed by its lack of theological or pastoral acumen or sensitivity, but I believe it is actually a very common impression held by the majority in the world who see heaven as freeing us from or as an escape from this world rather than being the ultimate state of its transfiguration and perfection in God. It certainly helps explain why these particular CV's tend to want to be recognized, not as secular, but as quasi-religious. As part of this it seems clear to me that our world is yearning for models of secularity which are sacred rather than profane and which are radically informed and transformed by the values and ideals of the Kingdom of God rather than of all that opposes God.

Thus, one of the things I found missing in some CV's statements about their vocation was any significant reflection on or explanation of either the charism or the mission of the vocation. In other words, they spent no time reflecting on or articulating the gift quality of this vocation to OTHERS or why the Holy Spirit would have brought it forward again at this point in history, nor did they do anything similar with the idea of to whom they were specifically sent and in what way or why. Clearly consecration as a virgin was a personal gift to them, but that really seemed about all --- except perhaps that it added some to persons doing volunteer work for charities and the church.

To deny a profound pastoral need for a secular vocation which was at once also and radically eschatological was the most extreme example I could point to regarding this lack. It is one thing to say "I am a Bride of Christ" or "I am consecrated and called to be an apostle" or "I am an icon of the Church as Bride of Christ", but it is something else entirely to then articulate a theology of those things which is a gift to the Church and World because it gives hope and challenges others to see the ultimate significance of their own calls and lives. My almost immediate reaction to any of these affirmations is, "So what?" and then, "Why is that important pastorally?" or "Why is that a gift of the Holy Spirit?" Others I have heard have said something dismissive like, "Well, that's nice, but [followed by a shrug of one shoulder and a quizzical look]?" To draw attention to the eschatologically secular nature of the vocation is provocative and challenges CV's to do the required reflection on the import of their uniquely qualified (consecrated) and radically secular vocations which exist for the sake of the Church and World.

 If you have read this blog apart from the posts I have written on consecrated virginity of women living in the world you know that I believe eremitical life has a tremendous charism ("the silence of solitude") which is a gift specifically to the millions and millions of socially isolated in our world who are looking and hungering for ways to redeem and transform isolation. As our societies become increasingly media-dominated the isolation grows and varies in forms and intensity while it expands in universality. The need for people who can speak to this with their lives grows exponentially. Hermits, lay or consecrated and rare as we are, are among those who speak most vividly to this situation. So are monastics more generally. Thus, at the heart of what often can seem to outsiders to be a very selfish vocation is a profound charismatic element which makes  it God's gift to a very thirsty world. Consecrated virgins MUST discover and articulate their own vision of the charismatic and, thus, the profoundly consecrated AND secular nature of their vocation. They must discover the mission they are called to embrace by God through the mediation of the Church. Otherwise, the vocation of CV's living in the world remains an irrelevant, anachronistic, and somewhat elitist bit of preciousness which speaks effectively or prophetically to no one. I believe the term "eschatological secularity" will help some CV's and theologians more generally to do this.