22 October 2013

Consecrated Virginity in the Face of a Conciliar Ecclesiology and Missiology

[[Hi Sister, could you respond to this excerpt from a blog I ran across? (It is called Sacramentality [Sacramentality] and is by Shana Smith.) I don't think you have done this even though the post was written 2 years ago. Thanks.]]

[[Though Sr. Laurel has definitely brought up some things for me to process, especially the phrase in the homily for the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity where the bishop says to the virgin (s) that they are "apostles in the Church and in the world, in the things of the spirit and the things of the world." I can see how this can be read as indicating a distinction between the Church or the the things of the spirit "the sacred" and the things of the world "the secular" and a consecrated virgins call to embrace both these dimensions of life, bringing them together. I need to grapple with this in relation to this gut feeling of mine that a consecrated virgin is called to be given over to prayer and work that directly and inherently forwards the Church's charitable and evangelical mission- in the world. 

For an example I can appreciate a difference between being the manager of a Sears store and being a missionary. It seems that a if a consecrated virgin were hypothetically a manager of Sears her evangelizing would have to be done along side her professional work and not directly through it whereas if she were to work as a missionary of sorts to the poor of her diocese that that work would intrinsically be forwarding the mission of the Church in a more direct way and therefore be more fitting to her vocation to a public form of consecrated life. It will take some time for me to work out how I see all these points relating and to test and hold fast to what I come to believe to be good and true.

Another interesting point to add which Sr. Laurel brought up, is in expressing her desire that "Ms. Cooper...address arguments rooted in Christology (for instance, the notion that Christ was paradigmatically secular in the life he lived even as he incarnated God exhaustively and thus witnessed to transcendence at every moment and mood of his life)." I think this is interesting, though what I would like to see is a treatment of how Christ's more secular work as a carpenter related to his following years of ministry and how this could possibly be significant to this discussion

Hi there! You are right. I never really responded to the blog entry from which you excerpted this. Time simply got away from me (as I recall, the original entry is more complicated than this excerpt and had some stuff about sacred vs profane art which I needed to spend greater time on); anyway time and discussions moved on.

I am honestly not sure what specifically you would like me to respond to in this excerpt that I have not already done indirectly in posts on the vocation to consecrated virginity but let me try to say something somewhat new by focusing on Miss Smith's concern with missiology. Recent events in the Church have underscored changes in the Church's approach to missiology which I have noted before, but it is on my mind not only because Shana mentions it but because a friend also spoke of it today during a conversation recalling what Francis is saying and doing regarding VII, the distinction between evangelizing and proselytizing, and so forth.

My own position on the contemporary vocation of Consecrated Virgin Living in the World is this: 1) the Church herself in her Rite of Consecration of CV's living in the World clearly and unambiguously refers to the vocation as both secular (done in the world and in or with the things of the world) and consecrated (given over to and in fact set apart by God for this secularity in a wholehearted and formal way). She calls CV's living in the world to be Apostles and thus too, to bring the Gospel into all of the nooks and crannies of our world as well as in the ways that nuns and priests cannot, and 2) this is PRECISELY the mission of the Church --- as, I think, we see Francis making so abundantly clear to us in every word and gesture. (Some who complain that he ought not be seen to eat and drink with others seem to ascribe to the notion that there is a separation between sacred and profane --- a position with which Francis apparently does not agree.) Further, it is a mission of the Church that has simply not been adequately undertaken and it is therefore important for consecrated persons living  unashamedly secular lives with the special grace of God to demonstrate how this is done.

What I am saying is that there is to be no artifical divide between Church and world, at least insofar as the Church is missioned to serve as leaven in the dough of the world.  Eventually the two are to be transformed into the Kingdom of God. When the dough has risen one cannot presume to cull out the yeast anymore than one can distinguish the bread and wine from the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Similarly the Incarnation destroyed the division between sacred and profane caused by sin but we have not worked hard enough to implicate this victory in our own world and lives. Too often we have strengthened it in the name of "protecting" the sacred from taint by the profane. This shows a profound misunderstanding of the power of holiness which transforms and sanctifies what it touches.

The paradox in all of this is that in being "set apart for God" the consecrated virgin is called to live out to this consecration in a way which is profoundly immersed in the world without being or becoming OF the world just as Jesus did in incarnating the Word exhaustively. Instead the world is itself to become consecrated and OF the Kingdom. She is called to transform the world with her presence --- as humble and apparently unremarkable or even relatively invisible as her presence there is. She is called to trust that her ministry produces profound changes and provides a profound witness precisely because and insofar she is both consecrated AND completely immersed.

You see, in my own vocation people do not always see a life of prayer as possible for them --- though of course it is. Instead they see I live the life of a religious and they still think that certain things they will never have or commit to are therefore necessary to live a life of true prayer and holiness, including vows of poverty, chastity and obedience which make my life something other than secular. While I value my vows and vocation more than I can say, and while I believe my vocation is incredibly important in today's world and church, I also understand that these elements of it represent a limitation on my ability to call people to the fullness of Christian secularity. Too often my standing as a religious is thought to suggest that whole-hearted commitment to Christ or the attainment of genuine holiness requires one BE a religious or otherwise separated from the world of ordinary reality (not, by the way, that anyone is accusing me of holiness of course!). On the other hand, the hiddenness of my vocation has sometimes left me tempted to undertake more visible and clearly-valuable ministries than one of  the silence of solitude. I must trust that God knows precisely what he is doing and precisely what  others need in calling me (or anyone else) to this vocation and because I HAVE trusted that I have come to understand the charism of this vocation in ways I never could have otherwise.

A New and Ancient Ecclesiology and Missiology to Which Consecrated Virgins are called to Witness

The Church, however is moving beyond this more exclusive notion of holiness and perfection. She sees and proclaims clearly now that holiness is the universal call of the WHOLE Church, the entire People of God, and that it is possible and necessary for those living secular lives. Further, she clearly says with canon 604 that one does not need to be a religious or quasi religious nor work for the institutional Church directly to fulfill a vocation to holiness. Secular vocations are not a kind of left-over calling for those without a "higher vocation" or direct employment in the church. They are, instead, a very high calling indeed, a calling to an exhaustive holiness --- so much so that some consecrated women are called to demonstrate and witness to this with their lives. The early Church knew this and the vocation of the consecrated virgin was profoundly counter cultural in the way it called the most marginalized to holiness in Christ. Gradually that sense was lost and, along with the ordained priesthood, Religious life became seen as the privileged way to holiness (a piece of this gradual usurpation included crowding out the vocation of secular consecrated virgins in the 12th Century or so; only CVs who were also solemnly vowed monastics remained).

The Church has recovered the universal call to holiness with Vatican II just as she is recovering the notion of catholicity as yeast within dough --- that is, just as she recovered and reclaimed the Greek rather than the Latin sense of catholicity. (cf Reforms Francis is Calling For) The canon 604 vocation is a piece of this reappropriation. Consecrated Virgins living in the world can actually call their lay brothers and sisters to accept their share in this new vision and mission in ways religious cannot do. In other words, it is a profoundly post-VII vocation which furthers the aims, ecclesiology, and missiology of the Council even while it reprises the earliest Church's experience. What it seems really important for CVs and candidates for this vocation to realize is the the Church's theology of secularity is a developing reality. It began with the recognition of the vocation of the laity and shifts in our sense of the meaning of missiology, but is actually developed and strengthened by the call to consecrated secularity with c 604. CV's living in the world represent an ecclesial vocation, not in the sense  that CV's are called to work directly for the Church as employees, nor even merely in the sense that their vocations are mutually discerned and mediated by the Church,  but also because they are persons whose very lives are the new icons of this Vatican II ecclesiology with its shifting sense of universality and a correlative missiology. They are icons of what it means to be yeast within the dough and evangelizing ecclesia pervasively and effectively present within the world.

One clarification, when I spoke of Jesus' life as profoundly secular (and wholly Divine too!), I was not speaking of his work as a carpenter as though some pieces of his life were secular and others were not or some were more secular than others. Neither am I doing so with CV's living in the world.  My point was simply that Jesus' most profound ministry was undertaken in a secular context (and apart from the specifically religious context of his day). He lived a life of complete union with God as he lived a wholly secular life, eating and drinking with sinners, overseeing the financial and other affairs of his band of disciples, moving from house to house, etc. Except that he routinely went apart to pray and was itinerant, his life was a secular one, that is, one lived in the world subject to all of its rules, etc. We simply cannot say he came down from the mountain occasionally. The opposite is true. We cannot call his carpentry more secular than his preaching and teaching either. Both were profoundly sacred aspects of his life sanctified by his union with the one he called Abba. Thus I am saying that these two dimensions of his life are so intimately intertwined in Jesus as to be wed in him. He is the one who makes all things holy with his presence. I believe CV's as icons of a similar espousal are called to this very thing. 

Another example who might be edifying to consecrated virgins living in the world is Saint Paul --- "the least of the Apostles" as he put it. Remember that he worked as a tent maker everywhere he went. Despite the fact that he was a mystic, an Apostle, a theologian and a founder of local Churches, Paul lived a secular life. He is very clear about this and in fact, it seems clear that he dislikes anyone who tries to divvy things up in artificial ways, whether by Enthusiasts, those expecting the parousia momentarily so that they neither worked nor contributed to the life of the community, or whomever! For Paul there was no conflict between being wholly consecrated to and by God and living an entirely secular existence where authentic mission was ALWAYS a central concern.