14 May 2013

The Eschatological Nature of the CV's Betrothal

[[Dear Sister, are you saying that consecrated virgins are not married to Christ? Also you claim to have a spousal relationship with Christ. Can you truly say your first experience of being with Christ once you were espoused to Him was not a unique experience for you? How can you say this was not dependent on your own virginity? My impression is that women DO image the relationship of bride better than men. I think the Church teaches this, doesn't she? Women are receptive and a CV images the receptivity required by the Church as a whole. Plus we DO refer to the Church as "she" don't we?]] (Questions culled from longer email)

Mary Magdalene
Thanks for your questions. First, in Notes From Stillsong: On Consecrated Virginity and the Nature of this Espousal I am not saying CV's are not espoused to Christ. Instead I am saying it is the risen and ascended Christ to whom they are espoused, not to the historical Jesus. For this reason I am also saying that we cannot speak of an "experience" which is directly analogous to the consummation of a human, historical marriage. The Christ to whom Religious men and women as well as CV's are espoused is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father and whose bodiliness is qualitatively distinct from anything we have known or can describe. We do not experience it in the same way as did the disciples who were privileged to experience the risen but unascended Christ, much less the historical Jesus. One clue to this is found in the Gospels themselves when Jesus warns Mary Magdalene not to cling to (or touch) him for he is not yet ascended to his Father. I believe this is applicable to each of us in our faith journey and reminds us that the Lord we put first in our lives is completely consistent with the Jewish Jesus of history, but that he is also very different than that; it therefore occurs to me that it just might have a particular application to CV's today who speak as the CV in the passage the questioner last quoted and I responded to. In other words, we who are espoused to Christ as Religious or CV's must not cling to the unascended Jesus and our espousals must not reflect such a temptation.

What I have therefore argued is that the CV's espousal is eschatological. It is real, of course, but it must not be narrowed or trivialized by romantic or sentimental notions of what such an espousal will be like in an overly-simplistic similarity to the historical marriage of man and woman. Remember that the CV is supposed to serve as an icon of the Church as Bride of Christ. The CV lives this out in space and time, but this does not lessen the transcendent nature of the ascended (and cosmic) Christ or the espousal itself. Every person is meant to assume a place in the very life of God. Every person is meant ultimately to live a spousal union with God. The Church as (literal!!) Body of Christ reminds us of this destiny, where her true life is in God and God is in her. Consecrated Virgins are a special gift to the Church because they remind us all of this eschatological destiny and call. They are paradigms of it and reflect the graces which are especially characteristic of such a Church, namely, that it is maternal, virginal, and spousal. that its Lord is Jesus Christ and that it lives these realities out proleptically here in space and time. For a single vocation to be an icon of such a calling I think is pretty awesome.

Because the Church is not really female, because throughout her history male as well as female religious have also  been espoused to Christ, because God is the source and model of both Fatherhood and Motherhood (God's Fatherhood is maternal as well as paternal), and because this espousal is eschatalogical and reminds us of a "time" beyond time when men and women will not be given in marriage nor be embodied as they are historically, I can't agree that women image this identity as "Bride of Christ" better than men. It is not that CV's represent human marriage pushed to the nth degree; rather it is that human marriage is a more or less limited reflection of the Divine espousal and fecundity in God which all are called to. We risk getting this all backwards if we start speaking of women as imaging the Bridal identity of the Church better than men do.  There have certainly been statements about the special fitness of women to image this Bridal identity better than men but my own sense is this does not rise to the level of Church teaching.  Again, the Church is not female, nor is the Kingdom of God, while Brides of Christ (or those espoused to Christ) are both male AND female.

Finally then, as far as my own experience of espousal goes, I honestly don't know how to speak of my "first being with Christ" after consecration (espousal) being any more unique than any other experience of Christ. This is partly because there is always newness about this relationship; it always brings me in contact with the eternal and ever-new (kainotes) God. Similarly, I gave my entire self to God in Christ and continue to grow in that giving. There was certainly a moment of definitive profession and consecration. Still, in this perpetual profession and consecration I gave myself to Christ as I had done in preparing for this moment and he gave himself to me in the same way he had always done so that together we might be a continuing gift to the Church and world. In fact I have to say that it is Christ's self gift to me that enabled my own profession; that self-gift did not only come after definitive commitment. None of this, I don't think, would have been different if I had once been married or once lived in a public state of unchastity. What differed significantly was the public nature of the mutual gift, the assumption of new rights and obligations, the establishment of other life and legal relationships which would guide and govern my vocation. In other words, I had been given and accepted a new ecclesial identity which colored the way I related to everyone and everything. Though part of that "everything" is the Body of Christ (the Church), of course, my own  personal experience of Christ was the more familiar still point in all of this.

I sincerely hope this is helpful.