18 February 2013

Misunderstandings re Distinctions Between Religious Profession and Consecration of Virginity

[[Sister O'Neal, I have read most of what you have written about CV's and it really seems to me that you don't believe they are Brides of Christ or should be esteemed for that identity. I know this may be because you are a religious who doesn't esteem the idea of a spousal relationship with Christ and don't like being called a Bride of Christ yourself. It seems to me most religious today do not accept that designation. But just because you don't accept it why knock it down as something secular rather than something religious which makes it truly wonderful and worthy of recognition? One CV points out in her blog that Religious profession only makes one engaged to Christ, not an actual Bride like consecration makes CV's. She says that the meaning [of the terms betrothed and/or espoused] in the Rite of consecration is different than that in the Rite of Religious [Profession]. Why not give up the sour grapes attitude for not being called to actual marriage?]]

Thank you for writing. As I read what you have written, gratuitous assumptions, conclusions, and tone aside for the moment, it seems to boil down to several questions, including: 1) Are CV's Brides of Christ in a sense different from Religious women and should they be esteemed for that identity? (In your post I think this boils down to the elitist, "Shouldn't we esteem them because they have been chosen for such a special identity?") 2) Am I reacting negatively to CV's living in the world either because they are REALLY Brides and I am "only engaged" to Christ (assuming this is even the case), or because I don't care for the bridal or spousal imagery attached to both vocations? and, 3) have I actually somehow said that the vocation of the CV living in the world is not wonderful and worthy of recognition because I consider it a secular vocation? If I am correct in my reading of your questions and you would like me to answer these,  please get back to me and ask them again in a direct and civil way. In the meantime the following seems important to me as the basis for further conversation and you need to consider it.

The Language of Marriage in the Scriptures:  Espousal and Betrothal

First, a bit about language. In the Scriptures (and Jewish tradition) Jewish marriages take place or are "completed" in two steps, 1) espousal (or betrothal --- the terms are essentially synonymous) which is NOT the same as the contemporary notion of engagement and 2) home-taking and consummation. Despite these two steps, the espousal/betrothal is much more than an engagement and is formally ended by divorce. (The equivalent of shunning also happens but incurs serious censure and fines.) In espousal/betrothal an actual exchange of marital consent occurs and the two persons are thereafter called husband and wife. If one person transgresses the covenant agreement by becoming intimate with another, it is considered adultery and the penalty is stoning. It is thus possible to speak of a non-consummated marriage as an espousal or an espousal as an unconsummated marriage--- but one is speaking of a marriage nonetheless.

In light of this language and because both the Rite of Religious Profession and the Rite of Consecration of Virgins refer to both espousal and betrothal with regard to the persons making their commitments, it is not accurate to say that Religious women are "engaged" (or "only engaged") whereas Consecrated Virgins are actually married to Christ. The use of "engagement" in this analysis is wholly anachronistic and untrue, especially when used to contrast with another's life commitment which is supposedly a true marriage. One example of a CV speaking this way (perhaps this is the blog you saw) reads: [[Another Latin term in the code is mystice desponsantur which has been translated as mystical betrothal / espousal in various English versions. However the term desponsantur is best translated as espousal meaning that it speaks of a Marriage and not an Engagement like it is in the Rite of Profession of Religious women.]] (emphasis added.)

I have both heard and read CV's making this specious as well as liturgically and theologically meaningless distinction; I admit it underscores my impression that the only way these persons conceive of doing justice to their own vocation is by attempting to demean or diminish the vocation of another. That is especially true when coupled with a resistance to the vocation's eschatological secularity. In particular it sounds like these CV's are trying to convince themselves (rightly of course) that the vocation to consecrated virginity is not of secondary value to Religious vocations and so (wrongly), denigrate the Religious vocation in the process. It is a variation on the, "I am a Bride of Christ and you are not" assertion I have spoken of before, but in this case it is made explicit and buttressed with naive linguistic and historical arguments rooted in bad scholarship. One should not need to misrepresent another vocation in order to demonstrate esteem for one's own.

Other Misunderstandings: Religious Consecrate Themselves

A similar misunderstanding which gives a similar impression regarding some CV's need to denigrate Religious life in order to esteem their own vocations is the notion that Religious use vows to consecrate themselves during the Rite of  (Perpetual) Profession while CV's are consecrated by God. In fact, while ordinarily Religious USE vows as essential to structuring and framing their consecrated lives, and while it is the form of dedication used in the Rite of  perpetual Profession they too are consecrated by God. The general or basic structure of the two Rites is the same: 1) call, homily and examination, 2) Litany of Saints (prostration) and profession of perpetual/solemn vows (Religious) or propositum (CV's living in the world reaffirm their resolution to remain virgins at this point), 3) solemn prayer of consecration, 4) granting of insigniae.  As I have said many times here, despite commonly misused language only God consecrates; that is, only God who is holy and the source of holiness makes holy or sets a person apart as a "sacred person" --- though this certainly occurs through the mediation of the Church. Human beings DEDICATE themselves to God, whether this occurs through vows, other sacred bonds (allowed by c 603), propositum or (solemn) act of resolution (as in the case of CV's living in the world), etc. In any case, if CV's are consecrated by God through a prayer of solemn consecration and not through their propositum, then so are Religious consecrated by God through the prayer of solemn consecration and not through their perpetual vows. Of course BOTH vows (or other sacred bonds, or propositum) and prayer of consecration are required for entrance into the consecrated state. They are integral parts of a single call/response event mediated by the Church.

The Basis for Esteem of Various Vocations:

There is one thing you have gotten exactly right and which I can respond to right now. I do not believe CV's (or hermits, cenobites, priests or married persons, etc) should be esteemed simply because they are called to live out their vocations to authentic humanity in one path rather than another. As I think I was very clear about in my post about Matthew 22:14-17, "chosenness" is more about response than it is some higher call, etc. Every vocation has an immeasurable dignity because every vocation is the gift of the infinite God who esteems each of us infinitely. If you are suggesting that we should esteem persons for responding wholeheartedly to the vocation they are gifted with, then I agree --- whatever the vocation. If you are suggesting that one should be esteemed or regarded for the degree of generosity they demonstrate in living out a vocation or the degree of responsibility they assume in Baptism, profession, ordination, marriage or consecration, then I agree. If, however, you are saying that someone should be esteemed simply because they are called to be a "Bride of Christ" (or priest, etc) and have gone through the Rite of consecration (etc.) without reference to the lives they live, then I emphatically disagree.

I esteem a person not only because they have accepted the gift of a vocation initially but because they have responded in a way which allows that vocation to make them truly loving, truly human, truly of Christ. I rejoice WITH them that they have been called in a way which enriches them and the faith community of the Church, but my regard is a function of  someone's continued responsiveness to their vocation. It is dependent on their integrity and growth in generosity, faithfulness, and love. Because vocations are not given once, responded to initially, and then treated as though one has accomplished all one needs. I am one of those who, when confronted by the statement, "I am a Bride of Christ!" sometimes thinks, "So what?" or "What exactly does that mean and for whom?" It is not that I do not esteem the vocation; actually I think I have shown here in the past year and more that I esteem it quite highly. Instead it is the case that I recognize a label, title, or statement of status is NOT identical with one's vocation and certainly not necessarily with one which is well-lived. I need to hear what the actual call is, what value it is pastorally, who will benefit from the conferral of this designation or title, and so forth.

In the past decades we have all seen more than our share of betrayed vocations and the parable of the vacant house in Luke should come to mind here.  Baptism, profession, consecration, ordination. matrimony, etc all effect a change in the persons involved, much as cleansing a house of demons effects a change and makes the house capable of something much much more than it was heretofore. Still, unless one subsequently continues to respond to that call and continues to give one's heart more and more completely to Christ and those he loves, one betrays one's vocation and gives one heart to other things (for instance, to status) or persons. I esteem well-lived vocations and I regard those who work assiduously to do so. Unfortunately, the title "Bride of Christ" is easily misunderstood, and more easily distorted into merely a matter of a privileged identity rather than the CV's actual call, charism, and mission. Your own question to me seemed that it did that very thing by demanding I regard CV's because they have a specific identity, rather than because of the lives they live in the power of God's love.

I hope this has been helpful. Again, if you have questions you would like me to respond to, please feel free to email again but directly and without the passive aggression.