26 January 2013

Question: Secular Vocations, Are they all that Bad???

Dear Sister O'Neal, is having a secular vocation all that bad a thing? I have been following the conversation you have been participating in on Phatmass and I have read a lot of what you have posted here. . . . It seems to me that some really just believe that having a secular vocation is not okay if they are "in the consecrated state." Are these two secular and consecrated states incompatible like oil and water? . . . Is the Church trying to change the charism of the vocation in claiming it is secular? . . . Is that why one person posted the following:

[[ I often think that it will be good if CV lives its own ancient charism like the virgin-martyrs in today's world . But if it is called to modify its charism and embrace what other vocations like secular inst and laity already are called to live, then I personally would prefer if CV is totally suppressed by the Church or used as a ceremony or rite available to all vocations of consecrated life but not as a vocation with its own identity and mission.]]

Thanks for the questions. You are probably now aware of this, but I responded to the post containing this quotation last week. I may post parts of that response here as part of this response, but first let me take on your questions. The simple answer is no, there is nothing intrinsically incompatible about a secular and a consecrated vocation any more than Jesus' divinity is incompatible with his humanity or the Incarnation is contrary to the nature of  a transcendent God.  Incompatibility is a judgment we make when we refuse to allow God to act paradoxically or refuse to think that way ourselves.  Secular, in this case, refers first of all to the PLACE where the vocation is carried out and points to the context the person is (secondly) to wholly embrace and transform in whatever state of life and with whatever gifts they are called to do that. It therefore involves not just place but way of relating to place.

In other words one may be consecrated and be called to live that in the secular state. This is what Baptismal consecration means for the vast majority of Christians. Initiation into the consecrated state (which builds on Baptism) means that one is set apart by God as a sacred person and set apart FOR God and all that is precious to him. It may also mean that one is set apart from the world in various ways and degrees (as in the case of Religious in community and hermits), but the Church has made it clear that in the case of canon 604 consecrations of women living in the world, these women have been consecrated into a secular vocation. It is hard to see how the Church herself could affirm this through her Bishops and in the Rite of Consecration itself (an authoritative instance of doctrine since, as the saying goes, "as we pray, so we believe"), and also believe the two were incompatible.

It is equally hard to believe CV's could argue that the charism of their vocation is the same as a lay person's simply because it is also a secular one. Charisms are the result of the Holy Spirit's gifts (graces) given in response to the needs of the Church and world. In other words it is borne of a constellation of factors and often has a decided pastoral character even if this is not directly exercised. (Eremitical life is one of these charisms where the pastoral nature is not usually directly evident.) It may well be that in a world where the needs that exist are addressed by several different vocations with their own unique graces and perspectives there will be a similarity in charisms and missions but also significant differences. For instance in a Catholic school there may be lay teachers, Religious, and CV's. The mission is the same for all of them: to teach and form good Christian students. But each brings a different set of graces to the mission and each will be a distinct gift to the school and contribute uniquely to the school's own charismatic character.

After all,  if the Holy Spirit gives the Church a variety of graces which the HS desires be used to transform the secular world from within, for instance, and does so in different ways through different vocations, one cannot argue that because they are called to the consecrated state they cannot be called to a secular vocation any more than one might argue that a person in a secular institute cannot work directly for the Church.  The Church does not dictate to the Holy Spirit about where consecrated persons are called to live an exhaustive holiness and neither do CV's. The Holy Spirit can do what s/he will and the Church's job is to discern what this is and then implement it. CV's bring different graces to the secular world than either the laity or those in secular institutes; where this world is the new mission territory of the Church, and where the Church herself is embracing a new appreciation for this world (and for the complexity of the secular), CV's living in the world represent a new and rather unique vocation to eschatological secularity.

Changing the Charism of the Vocation?

Regarding a change in the charism of the vocation we DO need virgin martyrs today, but I am convinced that what that means is CV's living an exhaustive and prophetic witness to the transfiguration of the secular into the realm where God is truly sovereign and so, all in all. We won't be sent to arenas nor are we contending with the Roman Empire in the way the early Church was. Even so, the evil which must be confronted head on in a kind of guerrilla warfare worthy of Ss. Perpetua or Thecla (who lived thoroughly secular lives), et al is secularism. Just as early Christians lived a wholly countercultural life which witnessed to the freedom of Christians and turned Roman family and civil life on its head, and just as they did so in the midst of the world, so today CV's living in the world are called to a radically countercultural life which does somewhat the same. 

A  profane secularism marked by individualism, narcissism, consumerism, the trivialization of sex, naturalism without room for Christ, a media saturated culture which is gradually changing the very nature of humanity itself, etc, is contrasted with an eschatological secularity marked by covenantal (especially spousal and maternal) love and lives given wholly to the service of the Church's ministry to and in this world. So, by recognizing this vocation as a secular one I think the Church has really recovered the ancient gift quality of CV's. I don't think it is an essential change at all but the recovery of a vocation once usurped by cloistered religious, a vocation which existed side by side cloistered CV's until the 12th Century, a vocation with unique graces which is therefore called to inspire everyday Christians to live up to their own vocations in a new kind of martyrdom (that is, a new kind of witness with one's life).

And finally, what about this notion of suppressing the vocation if the Church continues to discern it is a secular life with a similar mission and charism to vocations held by the laity? I can understand feeling this way if the vocation really adds nothing unique or has no distinct charism or identity. However, something does not need to be wholly distinct from something else to have its own identity and charism. All Christians share a common Baptism and a common adoption as sons and daughters of God. All are called to assiduous prayer (including the LOH) and some form of the evangelical counsels. All are called to what  is ultimately a spousal union with God and a life which is truly eschatological. But CV's living in the world say these things are real right here and right now in their own consecrated lives. How can CV's only see the graces of their vocations or recognize the charism it brings if the vocation is quasi-religious? Why would a truly eschatological secularity marked by the graces of spousal love and covenant fulfillment and lived in a world of pervasive,  threatening, profane secularity NOT be a tremendous and unique charism of the Holy Spirit?

If this vocation is MERELY a reprise of an anachronistic way of living, then indeed it makes little sense and may be destructive. But at the same time unless this vocation corresponds to the secular one the Church discerned was necessary and ripe for recovery, and unless its graces really are pertinent in a freshly compelling way, I agree there is no reason for the vocation and would suggest the Church made a mistake in bringing it back. Perhaps it is important that those the Church admits to this consecration can REALLY appreciate what distinguishes this from a lay vocation even while taking joy in the values and dimensions of life and mission they share. Perhaps too the Church needs to add a profound appreciation of the vocation's eschatological secularity to the discernment criterion. Otherwise, I suspect some of these vocations are precisely what the province of Los Angeles feared they were when it refused to consecrated ANYONE according to either canon 603 or 604. LA thought these were merely fallback vocations for persons who really wanted to be religious and couldn't commit fully to the life, or for women who tried Religious life and were dismissed from discerning a vocation for any reason at all.

Still my own conclusion is that the secular expression of this consecrated vocation is not a change in charism, but a recovery of it. Had the vocation simply developed into a cloistered form and otherwise ceased to be my conclusion would be very different. Canon 604 reprised a secular vocation which stands side by side the cloistered expression in equal dignity. I can't see how one can say the Church changed the charism of the vocation in doing so. At the same time, she clearly says that consecrated and secular are not only NOT oil and water, but are brought together by God in a highly significant instance of the transfiguration of reality into the Kingdom of God.

In the early Church the world was the new and very challenging mission field; in the contemporary Church we are moving into a period of increased emphasis on mission and valuing of the secular as our missionary field. We have two "new" (and truly ancient) forms of consecrated life which remind us of this: 1) canon 603 consecrates hermits who remind us all of the foundational relationship which stands at the heart of everything else --- every ecclesial undertaking --- our relationship with God who is source,  ground, and also goal of existence, 2) canon 604 consecrates virgins living in the world who reflect in an explicit way here and now the eschatological goal of all human existence, namely, spousal union with God. Each of these vocations remind us that the Kingdom of God involves the transformation of reality. Each further says in its own way that  this transformation comes from appropriate engagement, whether this engagement is expressed in separation and prayer (canon 603) or in prayer and immersion (canon 604). In the case of canon 603 it is important for diocesan hermits to remember that separation does not mean isolation from the saeculum; in the case of canon 604 it is similarly important for CV's to remember that immersion does not mean enmeshment --- secularity (and especially consecrated secularity) is not secularism, something the Church especially needs dedicated vocations to express if her renewed missionary emphasis is to succeed..