04 March 2013

Should our Focus be ONLY on what makes vocations distinct from one another?

[[Dear Sister, if espousal to Christ is an icon of the Church it seems to me that married couples would also serve in this way. But if this is true, then how does the witness they give differ from that of religious and consecrated virgins? I am trying to understand what distinguishes these vocations. If EVERYONE'S vocation represents an instance of the spousal bond with Christ, then doesn't the vocation of the CV lose its distinctiveness? You quoted one CV a few weeks back who said if the vocation didn't have its own mission and identity she hoped it would simply be suppressed. Doesn't your theology empty this vocation of distinctness? Doesn't it lead to the very situation this CV outlined?]]

First let me quote the passage you are referring to just so it will be available: [[ 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.]]

Regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, it is true that it represents an icon of the Church and of the spousal bond with Christ shared by everyone in the Church. Remember that Pope Benedict wrote: [[This means that Christ and the Church are one body in the sense in which man and woman are one flesh, that is, in such a way that in their indissoluble spiritual-bodily union, they nonetheless remain unconfused and unmingled. The Church does not simply become Christ, she is ever the handmaid whom he lovingly raises to be his Bride and who seeks his face throughout these latter days.]] (Called to Communion) While Benedict was writing here in part to establish the Trinitarian nature of espousal it follows clearly that married couples are icons of the Church as spouse or Bride of Christ. Further, it is important to note that both males and females serve in this way.

Again, all of the vocations mentioned serve as icons of the Church as Bride of Christ, and some symbolize mainly the this-worldly character of that identity. Thus the Sacrament of Matrimony. Others point to the eschatological nature of this identity; that is, some point to a union with Christ which is eternal and which is the perfection or fulfillment of any this-worldly reality. They point to a spousal bond which is present proleptically here and now in the midst of the worldly reality we know so well but whose fullness and perfection is identified as heaven or "the Kingdom" --- the realm where God is truly all in all and no one is given in marriage. Religious vocations and the vocation of consecrated virginity are examples of this latter witness with CV's called upon to make this imagery and reality explicitly present in the "things of the spirit and the things of the world". For Religious the spousal bond is the presupposition to and foundation for everything else they are and do but for most it is usually less explicit in their ministry, charisms, or commissions than in those of CV's. In any case, the question is not one of distinctiveness so much as it is of significance or meaningfulness I think. CV's are called to make explicit a call shared by all Christians.

Every vocation reminds us of dimensions of what we are ALL called to. There is NO vocation which is merely distinct or meant to point to the specialness of the one called. In other words there will always be overlaps in the nature of each vocation because each one images and witnesses to Christ and the Trinity. Ordained priesthood makes explicit and paradigmatic dimensions of the priesthood of all believers and the call to be Christ for others as Christ was given for others. Similarly Religious life makes explicit and paradigmatic lives of prayer, service, and the evangelical counsels rooted in a spousal relationship with Christ all are called to in some way. Consecrated virgins are called to make explicit the spousal bond every Christian is called to and to live out the gifts of spousal, maternal, and virginal love which are the perfection of every act of Christian ministry and care; some (those living in the world) are called to do so in a way which summons anyone living a secular life to such authentically human ways of being. Others do so as persons separated from "the world" by vows and cloister and also call all to authentically human being.

While the things that distinguish vocations from one another are important, focus on them need not blind us to the deep similarities and foundations they share. Only as we are aware of and honor these can we truly esteem the one who is their source rather than the one who is gifted by him. Vocations' diversity and special charisma are important because the Body has different functions and needs but there is a universality about these as well.  For instance, every life can and should witness to the nature and place of solitude in the redemption of isolation but few can do so as effectively as hermits. This is part of the gift all eremitical lives are to the whole church and world --- not because only hermits are called to authentic solitude, but because we ALL are. 

Beyond this, lay hermits may be able to speak more powerfully about this to many people who will never have standing of any kind than will a diocesan hermit who has been given standing in law. On the other hand, the diocesan hermit may (and only may) be able to witness more effectively to others about the history of the eremitical vocation in the church as well as to its ecclesial nature and its normative characteristics and significance by virtue of her standing in law.  Though there are meaningful differences, the two vocations are essentially the same; where they differ is in graces, charisms, and mission. It would be a terrible mistake to argue that these qualitative differences are necessarily the same as differences in essence. The challenge is to honor BOTH commonalities and differences. The result of failing in this is elitism and an inability to truly witness in the ways the Church calls on us to do. Remember that martyrdom refers to witnessing with one's life to the love of God for us in Christ. That love is a covenantal or spousal love offered to all and meant to turn this world and its values on their heads.