22 February 2013

Misunderstandings Revisited

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, I wrote you the post about CV's as brides and religious as engaged and about your not esteeming the CV vocation and calling it secular because of that. I think you understood my questions. Could you please answer them for me? Is this direct enough? I don't understand what you mean by "passive aggressive nonsense." Thank you.]]

First, thanks for trying again. I appreciate the fact that you dropped the assumptions you were making about my motivations and attitudes. Thank you for that.

 According to the post I put up a couple of weeks ago, the questions I outlined were as follows: [[ 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?]] I also want to briefly add something about Religious tending the eschew the spousal imagery and identification because your post referred to that.

First, is there a difference between CV's as Brides of Christ and Religious as Brides of Christ? Are they Brides or espoused in a different sense from one another?  Is one a Bride and the other not? To begin with then, I think we have to understand that the spousal language and imagery in both the Rite of Consecration and the Rite of (Perpetual) Religious Profession is strong and rooted in Baptism. Both speak of Christ as the person's only Bridegroom and there is no sense given that one reference is metaphorical while the other is literal. Further, both rites include a prayer of consecration and the giving of a ring; there are other elements of the rite which have specifically nuptial significance as well. Thus, in the case of nuns ALSO being consecrated as virgins all of these specific elements are omitted from the Rite of Perpetual profession so that they are not duplicated. (cf. Rites, v. II, Chapter III, Consecration to a Life of Virginity, par 7.) This signals to me that the spousal nature of these elements is explicit and identical in both Rites. Were they different in significance duplication would not be a problem and the Church's caution about doing so would be unnecessary. (This is especially true were the spousal elements to indicate "engagement to Christ" in the (prior) Rite of Perpetual Religious Profession and actual marriage in the (subsequent) Rite of Consecration of Virginity, as one CV has mistakenly argued in her blog.)

From all of this two things seem clear to me then. First, the Church does not allow a duplication of consecrations (thus, there is ONLY one prayer of solemn blessing or consecration used, even when the two Rites are separated in time) which suggests they do not differ essentially. Neither, then, does she treat the Religious' profession of solemn vows as the equivalent of the prayer of consecration as though "Religious consecrate themselves" with the vow formula itself. She clearly expects the effective (mediatory) prayer of consecration to be included in some way which "completes" the dual movement we identify as dedication/consecration in the Rite of  Perpetual Profession itself --- whether with the additional use of the Rite of Consecration of Virgins or without it.  Thus, if the nun is not receiving the consecration of virgins, the prayer of solemn blessing or consecration (the meaning is the same for these terms) as well as the giving of the ring, and all of the nuptial language throughout the Rite, are definitely used during her liturgy of solemn/perpetual profession. Secondly then, it seems clear to me that the nuptial imagery and language are similarly significant and essential  in both Rites;  for that reason, while they are not to be duplicated, neither are they to be ultimately omitted; that is, they are only omitted temporarily in anticipation of their use in the additional Rite when it is used.

Because of this I would have to argue there is no essential  or fundamental difference in the senses in which Religious and CV's are espoused to Christ. Where there may be some qualitative differences however, are in the graces and charisms of the two vocations --- at least in the directness and explicitness of these. For instance, it is the call of CV's to live out the graces of spousal, maternal, and virginal love and to do so recognizably and explicitly. The CV is graced in ways which allow these forms of love to be specifically fruitful in her life and, I would think, explicit in her ministry; doing so is the distinct gift she brings the Church and world --- but not because she is wed to Christ and Religious are not. In living these forms of love out explicitly she serves not only as an icon of the Church (which is Bride of Christ) but of the generosity of Mary in regard to God and those he loves, as well as a witness to the Kingdom of God in which we each and all live in unbroken union with God so that no one will be given in marriage.

Religious are also called to live out spousal, maternal, and, if not also virginal, then celibate love. (In the early Church the term virginity did NOT refer only or even primarily to physical intactness. Instead it referred to a kind of wholeness and undividedness of person which allowed the virgin to dispose of herself according to her own free choice. Note well that we still call St Perpetua a virgin martyr despite her marriage and childbearing.) Throughout the history of religious life the vow one made was one of viginity and the spousal theme was "elaborately developed" (Schneiders, Selling All, 121). The recovery of the Rite of consecration of virgins living in the world does not change this part of the Church's Tradition nor does it deprive Religious Profession of this character. Rather, it extends it explicitly into the secular realm and underscores the value of physical virginity (as well as purity of heart) in a sex-saturated world. Today we find that despite this history most Religious today prefer the language of chasity or consecrated celibacy and tend to accent remaining "unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom" rather than "marriage to Christ"  in part because this accent expresses their availability and the charism of their vocation better than the term marriage.)

Even so, as Sister Sandra Schneiders writes: [[The life option expressed by profession is the commitment to love Jesus Christ totally, absolutely and forever, and to express and embody that love (which is the calling, of course, of all the baptized) in the complete and exclusive self-gift of consecrated celibacy (which is not the calling of all the baptized).]] and again, [[The commitment to religious life is a commitment to a person, Jesus Christ, in irrevocable love expressed in a particular form, namely, lifelong consecrated celibacy analogous to marriage, which is a commitment to the spouse in irrevocable love expressed in the particular form of lifelong and total monogamy. This commitment is a total self-gift that has an absolute priority in one's life and begins with no qualifications or loopholes or "ifs" and "only ifs". ]].

Thus, Religious too are graced in ways which make their relationship/union with Christ primary and model Mary's own obedience and fecundity. They too live lives which are icons of the Church's relationship with Christ the Bridegroom (the Rite of Religious Profession makes this clear). However, ordinarily they are commissioned to live these graces out differently and oftentimes less explicitly than CV's. (Obviously some Religious feel called to live these out in more explicit ways than others so this is not a distinction carved in stone. It is merely generally so.) Still,  the bottom line seems to me to be that CV's living in the world are called to live these graces out in a life of eschatological secularity while Religious are not. Again, I have to say both Religious and CV's are similarly espoused to the Christ as Bridegroom but the variety of graces, commissions, and charisms attached to this foundational identity differ.

Your second question is based on a misconception I already addressed both above and in the earlier post. It is NOT THE CASE that Religious are "engaged" while CV's are "really married." Certainly the Church has NEVER held this to be so. It may be based on a misunderstanding of the two stages of Jewish marriage in which betrothal means marriage already. (cf other posts on this.) Beyond this, my own relationship with Christ is subjectively nuptial, that is, I experience myself completed by Christ both as a person generally and as a woman more specifically in a relationship which has a singular (or, better, what seems to me to be an amazing or literally awesome) mutuality about it. This relationship is presupposed in all I am and do. So no, no sour grapes here.

However, what is also the case is that I do not feel any call to identify myself primarily or publicly as a "Bride of Christ". Instead, despite the fact that this status is both objectively and subjectively real for and precious to me, I feel a call to allow this to be foundational to my identity but to remain mainly implicit in my vocation.  What is explicit is my call to solitary eremitical life, the life of the vows, and my service to the Church and world through these. There is nothing I do or am that is not profoundly affected and qualified  by my nuptial relationship with Christ or the graces of spousal, maternal, and virginal love which stem from and accompany it (some, I think, more than others and at different times of course), but I do not feel called to identify these graces explicitly or publicly as the essence of my vocation nor are they the specific or explicit gift or charism I am called on to bring the Church and World.  For my own vocation they are ordinarily an entirely private intimacy I share with God alone. So, once again, no sour grapes here.

Regarding your third question, I have absolutely NOT suggested that the vocation of the CV living in the world is somehow unworthy by referring to its secularity.  As I have noted before, I sincerely believe that it is ONLY in accepting this vocation's secularity that it can be properly understood and esteemed by the entire People of God. Otherwise it can come across to people as half-baked ("why didn't you go 'all the way' and become a nun?") badly motivated, ("is this just for nun wannabe's who were unsuited to religious life or who simply were unable to embrace  a call to sexual intimacy and "real" marriage?") or anachronistic ("Why is reprising this vocation important for the contemporary Church? It seems irrelevant and a step backwards.").

I also sincerely believe that the vocation is esteemed by the Church (though it remains less than understood by the majority of Catholics whose only or at least primary experience of consecrated life is Religious life) and the only thing which could turn it into a second class vocation is the belated imposition of requirements which make the vocation quasi but not fully Religious and which therefore, minimizes, mitigates, or even wholly rejects its secularity. Doing this would ensure the vocation continues to be misunderstood as half-hearted or half-baked and invite seeing it as a stopgap or fallback vocation  just as some (e.g., the LA Province) were originally concerned would be the case.

P.S., there are several significant reasons Religious generally eschew the spousal imagery so long exclusively associated with their vocations. (Obviously for some this imagery is as central and explicit as it is for the CV living in the world.) All of these reasons are significant, but for the time being I want to leave this matter with the reason I mentioned above, namely, the sense that linguistically the phrase "unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom" better expresses their availability and call to a non-exclusive love for all of God's own than does the term "Bride of Christ." I am not arguing whether this is the case or not; I am merely stating a well-established general sense of the matter among contemporary women Religious.