31 January 2013

Are all called to spousal love of or a spousal bond with God?

I am including here a response to one of the emails I received last week regarding posts on the vocation of CV's living in the world. At issue is my assertion that all persons (not just Israel itself or the Church as a whole) are ultimately called to a spousal relationship with God and thus to spousal love.

The response I received read as follows:  [[Hi Sister Laurel, Once again, I've read your latest post related to consecrated virginity with great interest and appreciation. I agree with almost everything that you've said but I'm confused about one aspect of what you've written.

My problem is with your statement that "everyone in the Church is called to the spousal love which marks God's love for Israel and the Church." It's the use of the word "spousal" that I question. I understand that the use of "spousal" as you present it is entirely biblical. (Considering the first reading on Sunday, I could hardly argue otherwise. Nor would I want to!) The way it's used in the Bible, though, is commonly understood to speak of God's love for a community, i.e. Israel or the Church. You say as much in your post. 

In writing these posts about consecrated virginity, however, your intent is to clarify what you think about a particular vocation embodied by individual women. Given this context, when you say "everyone in the Church is called to the spousal love which marks ..." it sounds to me as though you're implying that the only way to describe any personal relationship that an individual has with God is in spousal terms. I'm quite sure that you didn't mean to leave this impression, but the bells really went off for me in a later paragraph when you refer to a summons to"all persons to recognize their call to spousal love in this world."

 I personally don't think that every person is called to a specifically spousal love in the world but I suspect that I simply don't understand what you're trying to say here. I most definitely would agree that God seeks an intimate relationship with each and every person. Indeed, for me, part of embodying Christ's spousal love for the Church as a CV is to act as a sign of this intimate love that Christ seeks with every individual. In a world where the love of Christ is more often experienced as an abstract idea rather than a living reality, CV's have a powerful pastoral role to play in embodying the possibility of a real relationship with Christ. I hope sending this query will be helpful to you in some way.]]


So, first, thanks for your patience with my lack of substantive response over the last 10 days or so. In fact, I do believe that every person is called to spousal love of God. Each person is ultimately called to a love which is all-consuming, covenantal,  fruitful, exclusive (though this does not mean exclusionary or exclusivistic), which completes them as persons, involves an exhaustive self-gift and similar reception of the other, and is freely entered into. The only word I know for such a relationship is spousal. At the same time I would argue that this relationship is only achieved partially, fragmentarily, and proleptically this side of the realization of God's Kingdom. In other words, the full realization of the spousal relationship with God is eschatological, integral to a "time" and "space" when God will be all in all and no one is given or taken in marriage. It is an eschatological relationship which we all witness to (and prepare for!) in our own ways.

Thus, I think CV's are called to witness to (and prepare for) this universal call here as a special and even paradigmatic gift to the Church and world. This is another reason I think the term "eschatological virginity" is especially apt for CV's. As I said earlier, you are called to live here and now a relationship which reveals  the very nature of the Kingdom of God. You are publicly commissioned to witness to something all are ultimately called to and, unfortunately, very few even begin to imagine. (Further, if we treat, or continue to treat, these vocations as elitist and therefore, as something other than paradigmatic, neither will people ever begin to imagine they are called to this kind of relationship with God.) At the same time I can't think of any vocation which does not reveal some dimension of this kind of relationship especially vividly. That is true whether we are speaking of married people, hermits, religious, priests, or lay life  in any form when these are well-lived. In this life we are indeed called not just to intimacy with God but to union with him and some of us are graced to experience this intimacy here and now as nuptial. But each experience of intimacy, each experience of union points us toward that all-encompassing spousal intimacy and union where we are fully welcomed into the very life of God and become One with him. What differs is the charism and mission attached to the vocation. I am publicly consecrated in a spousal relationship with Christ, but witnessing to this relationship is not the specific or primary gift (charisma) or mission of my life. It IS the gift and specific mission of your own life, however.


What I especially think we have to avoid is the notion that while all are called to intimacy with God, SOME are chosen for an even greater intimacy, a more exhaustive and exclusive intimacy which is somehow reflective of  differences in "chosenness" or even of status or roles which will be maintained within the Kingdom of God itself. Instead, I think we have to witness to an exhaustive union ALL are completed  in and an exhaustive marriage all are ultimately called to. I do that here and now as a hermit in the silence of solitude --- an essentially dialogical or communal form of intimacy fulfilled in union with God. You do that by having become a CV and icon of the Church as Bride of Christ. Married persons reflect this same relationship sacramentally and bring each other to the only One who can truly complete them as human beings. Religious men and women may or may not explicitly witness to Jesus-as-spouse as they remind us of the unitive bond and the community all are made for. Again what differs is the charism and mission of the vocation in question. But in every case I think the bottom line is that in the Kingdom of God we are all called to be participants in a spousal union with God; we are all called to be primary participants in the wedding feast of and WITH the Lamb.

30 January 2013

On Charges that I am Changing the Charism of the vocation to Consecrated Virginity lived in the world.


[[Dear Sister, I think that what some CV's meant by changing the charism of the vocation had to do with suggesting that CV's were mandated to embrace political roles. For instance, one CV wrote the following in response to comments you made about openness to participating in the political, economic, and so forth.

[[Canon 604 speaks of a vocation that has a clear Hallmark [distinguishing characteristic or trait ] as follows :
Consecration to God, Mystical Espousal to Jesus Christ , Son of God, Dedication to the Service of the Church. All the CVs posting on this thread , the writings of All the Fathers of the Church, all the Popes , the response from the CICLSAL to me on this question , all the resource material on websites of Associations of CV all over the world in all languages agree that CV is compatible with living in the world and is indeed lived in the world in its original form and post Vat II form by most CV , without being set apart or consecrated to politics, economics , in the world. . No one has said that secularity is the Hallmark of the virginal consecration.

There is a big difference between saying that - a CV can / or is not stopped from-- involvement in politics, economics - saying that all CVs all over the world SHOULD involve themselves in politics, economics as a special vocation . This is actually changing the Charism itself.
]] I don't think you actually said any specific CV SHOULD involve themselves in politics, etc on Phatmass. I saw that you recently spoke about the freedom to do so however.]]

Thanks for sending this on to me. It was another statement I missed or paid insufficient attention to in the last couple of weeks. I have now responded to it on the forum and am posting my response here as well. (Note there are a couple of  minor redactions in this version)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Church goes further than an assertion of CV's and living in the world being "compatible" with one another. She does not hesitate to say that the non-cloistered expression of this vocation IS secular. The homily during the Rite of Consecration says very clearly that CV's are to be given to the service of the Church and all their brothers and sisters in the things of the Spirit and the things of the world. This is much more than telling a CV she is okay if she does not live in a monastery but instead in an urban dwelling. It says she is sent as an Apostle and Bride of Christ graced in all the ways anyone in such a vocation is graced and is commissioned to act out this role (ordo) and mediate those graces in every sphere of secular life. This would include the political, corporate, academic, domestic, economic, etc etc --- the realms and spheres characteristic of the secular, the spheres which (through the grace of God or its rejection) transform that world into either the Kingdom of God or that of the anti-Christ.

Of course this does not mean that EVERY CV MUST do all of these things herself. I don't think anyone here has said it does; neither has anyone spoken of being "consecrated to politics, etc". One is consecrated BY God to serve his needs and those of the church and world he holds as precious. They are called especially to live an incarnational love that does justice --- as God's love always does. Most CV's will discern they are called to serve according to their own unique gifts and interests in less uncommon ways. But the bottom line is that ANY CV living in the world is FREE and, in fact, commissioned to carry our her vocation in whatever secular realm or venue she feels called and competent to serve. The homily also says, [[Help the poor, care for the weak, teach the ignorant, protect the young, minister to the old, bring strength and comfort to widows and all in adversity.]] and again, [[Sing a new song as you follow the Lamb of God wherever he leads you.]] It would be hard not to see how such a commission might necessarily include a call for some CV's to political activism or participation beyond simply voting in elections. It would be difficult not to imagine a CV using her freedom, her eschatological perspective and graces, and her various gifts in the economic sphere to acquire and even to amass wealth which was then used to ease the situations of so many in need today, or her education in law to do something similar in a project like Network, etc.

There are two expressions of the CV vocation today. The first is cloistered (and so, a hallmark or defining characteristic of that expression is separation from the world supported and defined by vows, enclosure, Rule, constitutions, legitimate superiors, and Canon Law); to call it cloistered or Religious does NOT mean the CV merely lives a quasi-secular vocation but on monastery grounds. The second expression is lived "in the world" (and so a hallmark or defining characteristic of it is its secular character along with the fact that it is not constrained by vows, enclosure, Rule, constitutions, legitimate superiors, or canon law which moderate or mitigate this secularity); it certainly does not mean merely that the CV lives a quasi-religious life but off monastery grounds. WHEREVER the charism of this vocation is lived out the person witnesses to the Kingdom of God and the covenant relationship God is seeking to reconcile all creation to so that he might truly be all in all. If this occurs in the nun's cell, then well and good; if it occurs in the halls of the Capitol building, judiciary, board room or CFO's office, then equally well and good. No one is speaking of changing the charism or the graces of this vocation.

I am sorry to say that I get the impression sometimes that some CV's are okay with CV's living in the world having a "secular" vocation, so long as this does not mean they actually have to live their eschatologically graced lives of prayer and service in the ways an authentically secular life actually demands. (Hence my use of the term "quasi-religious" for such half-hearted, half-baked vocations.) We would not tolerate such half-heartedness or superficiality in a nun living in a cloister. Such an approach to the phrase "living in the world" seems to point to a "vocation" free of all the constraints of religious life and at the same time, too "holy" or "precious" or "consecrated" to actually, much less wholeheartedly give themselves to anyone "in the things of the world." The phrases "In the world" and "In the things of the world" contradicts this "secular-lite" stance towards reality. The parable of the talents comes to mind for me. A master called his lead workers to him as he was leaving on a trip. The first he gave a talent, the second five talents, and the third 10 talents. Two of the lead workers risked losing what they had been given and invested their talents using secular means and multiplied what they had been given. The third worker buried his talent, risked nothing, but achieved nothing either. It was a betrayal of the commission given him by his master. 


For CV's the talents they have been entrusted with include not only the graces and identity mentioned, but the FREEDOM and commission to serve the Church and world "in the things of the Spirit and the things of the World." After all, Charisms are given not merely so a person can swell with pride that they have been given such a gift or have others admire their new standing (Look, look! God chose ME to be Christ's Bride and an icon of the Church!), etc, but so the world can receive this gift through them in the innumerable ways it is TRULY needed. To do this means dirtying one's hands in something other than the soil used to bury the gift safely. It means investing in the structures of the secular simply so one may ultimately affect and transform these structures. The Church does not consecrate virgins living in the world to serve as plaster statues or gilded "icons" to be set in stands outside a monastery AND apart from the secular. She does so so that the saeculum can be transformed by someone uniquely graced by God and risking their very lives to bring the Kingdom to the halls and structures of secular influence and power.

Remember that another central shift in ecclesiology brought about by Vatican II was an end to the fortress mentality of the Church. Instead of being closed to the world, she opened to it, not merely to serve it, but to hear the Word of God it was actually capable of mediating to her as well. Suddenly the Church had to risk genuine engagement with and in the world in an attitude not of condemnation but of openness and even appropriate docility. The teaching Church had also to be a learning Church or betray her entire identity and mission.Those who truly wish to be icons of this post-Vatican II Church need to allow themselves to be secular in this demanding sense. Probably only a minority will have the courage or faith to be virgin martyrs in the arenas of politics, industry, etc, but those are certainly authentic vocations to the eschatological secularity canon 604 has reprised. In no way do they change the charism of this vocation any more than SS Perpetua and Thecla (for instance) changed the charism of this vocation by their highly politically influential  and Kingdom inspired deaths in the arena.

Eschatological Secularity and CV's Living in the World

[[Hello Sister O'Neal, I have appreciated what you have written about secularity and non-secularity. It seems to move us away from ways of seeing these vocations which leads to evaluating them as second-rate or called to a less than exhaustive holiness. Am I right in thinking that besides the influence of Gaudium et Spes and the call to universal holiness from Vatican II the key issue is the way we look at the relation of heaven and earth and the coming of God's Reign in fullness? Also, have you read the Phatmass comments of one CV who wrote she cannot see how the universal call to holiness is really pertinent to the discussion on the sacred secularity of the vocation to consecrated virginity of women living in the world? She calls the two things "distinct ideas."]]

Hi there. Thanks for your patience in waiting for my answer to your question.  As you know, I have been sick for the past couple of weeks and am just now beginning to feel better and catch up with some of the emails I received regarding this discussion. (Being sick was a kind of gift in that it allowed me to participate in the Phatmass discussion by freeing me from other obligations, but it also kept me from doing everything I would have liked to do in a more timely way.) In particular I have your own email and two others to respond to publicly. The others have really already been addressed in what I have already written and in brief private replies, but your own and the remaining two require some public clarification and  perhaps even some more careful thinking through things I have already said.

Yes, I think you have two of the key issues I have mentioned exactly right. Because of the interrelated nature of these issues and my own desire to more clearly stress the integral relationship between heaven and this world in the secular call to holiness, I have also referred in this recent series of posts to eschatological secularity rather than my older terms from a year ago, sacred or consecrated secularity.  Both of these key issues are raised in the comments you also allude to so I am going to cite those here and respond to all of this as a piece. In the discussion on Phatmass, Sponsa Christi (Jenna Cooper) wrote: [[Writing in a spirit of respectful discussion...I’m not sure that the Church’s teachings on the universal call to holiness can be directly identified with Sr. Laurel’s concept of “sacred secularity.” To me, these would actually seem to be two distinct ideas. As I am understanding it, “sacred secularity” would seem to be the idea of relating to God primarily in and through mundane things; whereas the universal call to holiness is the teaching that every Christian, regardless of his or her state in life, is called to be holy.]]


Because two ideas can be distinguished does not necessarily make them completely distinct from one another. Meanwhile, sometimes insisting ideas are entirely distinct can, even unintentionally, also be a way of rendering them "safe" and refusing to allow them to effect the radical change they are meant to bring or proclaim the Gospel message in the powerfully transfiguring way it needs to be heard. My own sense is that Vatican II's "universal call to holiness" is intimately related to the Church's reevaluation of the secular in our vocational schemata. Every person I have read or spoken with about this has appreciated this almost instinctively. After all, the call to universal holiness is not simply a call to individual holiness regardless of state of life. It is also a call to participate exhaustively in the Reign of God and to further implicate that Reign via whatever state of life the person is called to. Beyond this, it is not simply a notion that one can become holy in spite of  or regardless of whatever state of life one occupies, but more, that one can both become holy and transform the world IN and through that specific state of life. It includes the notion, therefore that  the secular itself mediates God's call to holiness and thus to exhaustive participation in God's Kingdom --- in this case because essentially the secular is and is meant to BE the Sacrament of God's exhaustive Lordship and presence. 

As Sponsa Christi (Jenna Cooper) rightly says,  part of my speaking of a call to "sacred (or consecrated) secularity" affirms that one can relate to God through the mundane, but it goes much further as well. It says that a life which is really,  formally, and canonically "set aside" by and for God, and which is an icon of the eschatological Reign of God, can realize its ultimate potential within the secular; similarly it says that the secular is an entirely appropriate context for lives which are truly set aside by and for God. More it says that vocations to an eschatological or sacred secularity are significant for the realization not only of the individual's call to holiness, but for the world's realization of its own potential as well. Such persons are called to be secular because the secular is called to be the ultimate realm of God's exhaustive holiness and dominion.  Until Vatican II it was simply not possible to say most of this. Prior to Vatican II and her emphasis on the "universal call to holiness" a call to secularity was not only a second-rate vocation, but the secular itself was unworthy to serve either as an adequate context for holiness (or, in particular, for vocations to the consecrated state); neither was it understood to be worthy or capable of being the raw material for the Kingdom of heaven --- the bread and wine which can, should, and will become the Body and Blood of Christ.

My own sense in all of this is that last year my thought (and so my posts) did not go far enough. They rightly reflected the truth that CV's living in the world are called to a secular vocation, and assuredly one which is significantly qualified by the virgin's consecration. That was necessary not only to honor what the Church clearly teaches about this vocation in historical terms,  or in her liturgy, theology, and praxis, but also to make sense of it and it's imagery as things which were compelling in contemporary terms. This year, I think linking the idea that heaven is not merely pie in the sky by and by, but that it involves the ultimate transfiguration of this world here and now deepens or radicalizes the ideas I dealt with last year. At the same time it allows this vocation to appropriately witness to a theology of the eschaton very few Catholics are sufficiently familiar with and to underscore the whole of VII's teaching on the universal call to holiness and essential goodness and goal, the sacramentality of creation.

 Beyond these things, linking these ideas helps provide a systematic theological underpinning which demands we no longer use canon 604 as a charismatically, theologically, and pastorally insignificant "fallback vocation" which women (or dioceses!!) automatically turn to when another vocation fails or, for instance, they simply cannot accept that a lay vocation is a radical call to discipleship. Instead this linkage underscores the fact that the call of CV's living in the world is significant in all of these ways and, in its character as both eschatological and  truly secular, is a more radical gift to Church and world than any quasi-religious (etc) vocation can ever be. Consequently, those discerning and being professed (via propositum) and consecrated into this vocation must be able to appreciate and honor both dimensions of the call, the eschatological and the secular. Otherwise there is significant reason for believing they should be discerning a different vocation or that they have merely embraced this call as a stopgap or fallback vocation --- just as the Province of LA was so concerned about after the promulgation of canon 604 that they refused to consecrate anyone accordingly.

28 January 2013

On Hermits and Secular Vocations once again

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I like the idea of hermits living in the desert of the world and ministering to it fulltime. Think of all the hermits we would have if everyone living alone and ministering in the world were hermits! I don't see the conflict between  secularity and hermits. It just seems like a wide open field of mission for hermits.]]

Sorry, but your post made me laugh -- both because of your enthusiasm and because of your reference to the "wide open field" for secularity and mission. Generally hermits are not hunting for ministerial or mission opportunities; their hermitage and the silence of solitude they live within it represents both a significant ministry and mission already. Please take the time to read my earlier post on this (cf. Should Hermits Live Secular Lives?)  I don't want to repeat what I said there but I would like to build on it.

Of course there is no doubt that hermits are all capable of doing many forms of ministry.  For instance, I could be working full time in a parish or parish school, teaching theology in a college or graduate school, doing full time spiritual direction, working as a chaplain in a hospital or hospice, writing full time, besides varied part time ministries wherever needed to supplement these. (I should note that I would be VERY happy to be doing any of these things were I called to that.) Similarly, there is no doubt all these and many many more are worthy and necessary ministries. The problem is that hermits by definition are not called on to be involved in the world to anywhere near this extent nor is this kind of ministry the primary gift they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring to the world. You can therefore have people doing full time ministry in the way you envision it, or you can have those same persons (hermits) living the silence of solitude with all that entails, but not both. In other words as soon as a hermit leaves the hermitage/cell in the way you describe, they cease being hermits.

Similarly, a call to desert solitude means significant withdrawal from the world in all of its dimensions. Vows of Religious poverty, religious obedience, and consecrated celibacy significantly marginalize the hermit in terms of the world just as they do every other Religious, but additionally, the hermit is called to stricter separation from the world because she is called to the silence of solitude in a desert vocation. A desert vocation means a call in which one is dependent upon God alone (as far as that is possible today!). In such a vocation one faces the poverty of one's own self apart from God as well as the richness of life when God is allowed to be one's sole source of meaning and validation. Thus, one does not build oneself into the various dimensions the world offers as avenues of productivity, meaning, service, value, and security but instead trusts in God and witnesses to the wisdom of such trust in stricter separation from the world and the silence of solitude. This is the essence of the life; it is not optional nor accidental to it.

Obviously every vocation is lived on this planet and is, to some extent, in contact with and influenced by what happens there. However, simply being on the planet, or even in the neighborhood does not make a life or vocation secular in character. The Church does not use the term secular in this way in describing such a vocation. Thus, a monastery situated in an urban setting remains monastic and Religious rather than secular --- even when the neighborhood is invited in for prayer occasionally. A hermitage or hermit's cell located in an apartment complex in the midst of San Francisco does not make the vocation a secular one either.  Secularity is not merely a function of  one's street address. A cloistered nun may speak to the world powerfully precisely in her life of separation and prayer, silence, solitude, stability, and community. There is, of course an aspect of ministry to such a life and also a prophetic quality. Still, the life is not essentially ministerial in the way we usually use that term, nor is it secular or, thus, called secular by the Church. Were a cloistered nun to leave her monastery in order to engage in what is becoming known as a ministerial religious life (and even mobile ministerial life), she would simply cease being a cloistered nun in the process. In order to remain one thing and embrace the freedom which is pertinent to that thing, the nun gives up the freedom to be or do another thing. So too with the hermit.


Similarly, a person who is free to buy into and build themselves and their faith lives into all the dimensions of the world (economy, political realm, family, business or industry, etc etc) does not cease having a secular vocation because they choose to live simply or according to Kingdom values and the love of God. It is the person's essential freedom in these matters which mark them as secular. You, for instance, as a baptized Catholic (I am assuming this, I admit) are free to live a secular vocation in whatever way you desire. You can live simply or you can acquire and amass wealth in order to spend it on the needy, influence the way decisions are made in industry, politics, etc (or use it for any other worthy thing you choose); you can work for causes, travel to the four corners of the world spreading Gospel values, run for political office, help build industries that are, for instance, eco friendly and contribute to responsible stewardship of the world and generally put your life and your resources to whatever use you should choose according to the values that govern your life. In other words, precisely because you are called by God to a life which is NOT constrained by the kinds of limits and relationships implied in public vows/Religious life, you are secular and free to exercise your Baptismal consecration in almost unlimited ways by virtue and in terms of the saeculum (the world and things pertaining to the world).

A hermit is simply NOT free in any of those ways. Instead, she is profoundly free to explore the relationship of the human being with God. She is free to plumb the depths of this relationship in a way few others are.  In fact, she is called and commissioned to do so. Her public vows create significant constraints and marginalize her from secularity, but so do her Rule of Life, her relationships to legitimate superiors, the requirements of canon law, and her commitment to the silence of solitude. Friendships, time or contact with family, ability to travel, ministerial options, and many other things mentioned just above are significantly limited or even curtailed for the hermit.  Her vocation is not only NOT a secular one, it is more strictly separated from the world (or "the things of the world") than the vocations of most Religious men and women. Thus, the Church is clear this is NOT a secular vocation --- even in the case of a lay hermit. Of course this is not to say that it is superior to a secular vocation; it is not. It is what it is and that is Religious and eremitical rather than secular.

I sincerely hope this helps.

26 January 2013

Question: Secular Vocations, Are they all that Bad???


Dear Sister O'Neal, is having a secular vocation all that bad a thing? I have been following the conversation you have been participating in on Phatmass and I have read a lot of what you have posted here. . . . It seems to me that some really just believe that having a secular vocation is not okay if they are "in the consecrated state." Are these two secular and consecrated states incompatible like oil and water? . . . Is the Church trying to change the charism of the vocation in claiming it is secular? . . . Is that why one person posted the following:

[[ 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.]]

Thanks for the questions. You are probably now aware of this, but I responded to the post containing this quotation last week. I may post parts of that response here as part of this response, but first let me take on your questions. The simple answer is no, there is nothing intrinsically incompatible about a secular and a consecrated vocation any more than Jesus' divinity is incompatible with his humanity or the Incarnation is contrary to the nature of  a transcendent God.  Incompatibility is a judgment we make when we refuse to allow God to act paradoxically or refuse to think that way ourselves.  Secular, in this case, refers first of all to the PLACE where the vocation is carried out and points to the context the person is (secondly) to wholly embrace and transform in whatever state of life and with whatever gifts they are called to do that. It therefore involves not just place but way of relating to place.

In other words one may be consecrated and be called to live that in the secular state. This is what Baptismal consecration means for the vast majority of Christians. Initiation into the consecrated state (which builds on Baptism) means that one is set apart by God as a sacred person and set apart FOR God and all that is precious to him. It may also mean that one is set apart from the world in various ways and degrees (as in the case of Religious in community and hermits), but the Church has made it clear that in the case of canon 604 consecrations of women living in the world, these women have been consecrated into a secular vocation. It is hard to see how the Church herself could affirm this through her Bishops and in the Rite of Consecration itself (an authoritative instance of doctrine since, as the saying goes, "as we pray, so we believe"), and also believe the two were incompatible.

It is equally hard to believe CV's could argue that the charism of their vocation is the same as a lay person's simply because it is also a secular one. Charisms are the result of the Holy Spirit's gifts (graces) given in response to the needs of the Church and world. In other words it is borne of a constellation of factors and often has a decided pastoral character even if this is not directly exercised. (Eremitical life is one of these charisms where the pastoral nature is not usually directly evident.) It may well be that in a world where the needs that exist are addressed by several different vocations with their own unique graces and perspectives there will be a similarity in charisms and missions but also significant differences. For instance in a Catholic school there may be lay teachers, Religious, and CV's. The mission is the same for all of them: to teach and form good Christian students. But each brings a different set of graces to the mission and each will be a distinct gift to the school and contribute uniquely to the school's own charismatic character.

After all,  if the Holy Spirit gives the Church a variety of graces which the HS desires be used to transform the secular world from within, for instance, and does so in different ways through different vocations, one cannot argue that because they are called to the consecrated state they cannot be called to a secular vocation any more than one might argue that a person in a secular institute cannot work directly for the Church.  The Church does not dictate to the Holy Spirit about where consecrated persons are called to live an exhaustive holiness and neither do CV's. The Holy Spirit can do what s/he will and the Church's job is to discern what this is and then implement it. CV's bring different graces to the secular world than either the laity or those in secular institutes; where this world is the new mission territory of the Church, and where the Church herself is embracing a new appreciation for this world (and for the complexity of the secular), CV's living in the world represent a new and rather unique vocation to eschatological secularity.

Changing the Charism of the Vocation?

Regarding a change in the charism of the vocation we DO need virgin martyrs today, but I am convinced that what that means is CV's living an exhaustive and prophetic witness to the transfiguration of the secular into the realm where God is truly sovereign and so, all in all. We won't be sent to arenas nor are we contending with the Roman Empire in the way the early Church was. Even so, the evil which must be confronted head on in a kind of guerrilla warfare worthy of Ss. Perpetua or Thecla (who lived thoroughly secular lives), et al is secularism. Just as early Christians lived a wholly countercultural life which witnessed to the freedom of Christians and turned Roman family and civil life on its head, and just as they did so in the midst of the world, so today CV's living in the world are called to a radically countercultural life which does somewhat the same. 

A  profane secularism marked by individualism, narcissism, consumerism, the trivialization of sex, naturalism without room for Christ, a media saturated culture which is gradually changing the very nature of humanity itself, etc, is contrasted with an eschatological secularity marked by covenantal (especially spousal and maternal) love and lives given wholly to the service of the Church's ministry to and in this world. So, by recognizing this vocation as a secular one I think the Church has really recovered the ancient gift quality of CV's. I don't think it is an essential change at all but the recovery of a vocation once usurped by cloistered religious, a vocation which existed side by side cloistered CV's until the 12th Century, a vocation with unique graces which is therefore called to inspire everyday Christians to live up to their own vocations in a new kind of martyrdom (that is, a new kind of witness with one's life).

And finally, what about this notion of suppressing the vocation if the Church continues to discern it is a secular life with a similar mission and charism to vocations held by the laity? I can understand feeling this way if the vocation really adds nothing unique or has no distinct charism or identity. However, something does not need to be wholly distinct from something else to have its own identity and charism. All Christians share a common Baptism and a common adoption as sons and daughters of God. All are called to assiduous prayer (including the LOH) and some form of the evangelical counsels. All are called to what  is ultimately a spousal union with God and a life which is truly eschatological. But CV's living in the world say these things are real right here and right now in their own consecrated lives. How can CV's only see the graces of their vocations or recognize the charism it brings if the vocation is quasi-religious? Why would a truly eschatological secularity marked by the graces of spousal love and covenant fulfillment and lived in a world of pervasive,  threatening, profane secularity NOT be a tremendous and unique charism of the Holy Spirit?

If this vocation is MERELY a reprise of an anachronistic way of living, then indeed it makes little sense and may be destructive. But at the same time unless this vocation corresponds to the secular one the Church discerned was necessary and ripe for recovery, and unless its graces really are pertinent in a freshly compelling way, I agree there is no reason for the vocation and would suggest the Church made a mistake in bringing it back. Perhaps it is important that those the Church admits to this consecration can REALLY appreciate what distinguishes this from a lay vocation even while taking joy in the values and dimensions of life and mission they share. Perhaps too the Church needs to add a profound appreciation of the vocation's eschatological secularity to the discernment criterion. Otherwise, I suspect some of these vocations are precisely what the province of Los Angeles feared they were when it refused to consecrated ANYONE according to either canon 603 or 604. LA thought these were merely fallback vocations for persons who really wanted to be religious and couldn't commit fully to the life, or for women who tried Religious life and were dismissed from discerning a vocation for any reason at all.

Still my own conclusion is that the secular expression of this consecrated vocation is not a change in charism, but a recovery of it. Had the vocation simply developed into a cloistered form and otherwise ceased to be my conclusion would be very different. Canon 604 reprised a secular vocation which stands side by side the cloistered expression in equal dignity. I can't see how one can say the Church changed the charism of the vocation in doing so. At the same time, she clearly says that consecrated and secular are not only NOT oil and water, but are brought together by God in a highly significant instance of the transfiguration of reality into the Kingdom of God.

In the early Church the world was the new and very challenging mission field; in the contemporary Church we are moving into a period of increased emphasis on mission and valuing of the secular as our missionary field. We have two "new" (and truly ancient) forms of consecrated life which remind us of this: 1) canon 603 consecrates hermits who remind us all of the foundational relationship which stands at the heart of everything else --- every ecclesial undertaking --- our relationship with God who is source,  ground, and also goal of existence, 2) canon 604 consecrates virgins living in the world who reflect in an explicit way here and now the eschatological goal of all human existence, namely, spousal union with God. Each of these vocations remind us that the Kingdom of God involves the transformation of reality. Each further says in its own way that  this transformation comes from appropriate engagement, whether this engagement is expressed in separation and prayer (canon 603) or in prayer and immersion (canon 604). In the case of canon 603 it is important for diocesan hermits to remember that separation does not mean isolation from the saeculum; in the case of canon 604 it is similarly important for CV's to remember that immersion does not mean enmeshment --- secularity (and especially consecrated secularity) is not secularism, something the Church especially needs dedicated vocations to express if her renewed missionary emphasis is to succeed..

25 January 2013

Feast of the Conversion of Paul (Reprise)


Today is the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, and my own feastday as well. We know Paul's story well. A good Jew, indeed, a scholar of the Law who saw the early Church as a distortion and danger to orthodoxy, one who understood that a crucified person was godless and shameful and could in no way be a faithful Jew or prophet, much less God's anointed one, persecuted the Church in the name of orthodoxy, a zeal for the integrity of Israel's covenant with God, and for the glory of the God who maintained that covenant. In sincere faithfulness to the covenant Paul hounded men, women and children, many of whom were his own neighbors. He sent them to prison and thence to their deaths. He, at least technically (according to Luke's version of things), colluded in the stoning of Stephen and sought to wipe Christians from the face of the earth.

While on a campaign to Damascus to root out and destroy more "apostates" Paul had a dramatic vision and heard someone call out to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Paul inquired who this voice was and was told, "I am Jesus whom you persecuteth." In that moment everything Paul knew, believed, and practiced, was turned upside down. God had vindicated the One whom Paul knew to be godless acording to the Law. He was alive rather than eternally dead, risen through the power of God as the Christians had claimed. For Paul nothing would ever be the same again. So it is with conversions.


Perhaps it is a matter of faulty perception on my part, and if so, I apologize, but it seems to me that conversion is not something most Catholics regard as pertinent to their lives. Conversion is something non-Catholics do when they become Catholics (or vice versa!). It is a onetime event that those "born into the faith" don't (it is thought) need to worry about! Those "born Catholic" may think in terms of "growing in their faith" or "becoming a better Catholic" (and there is certainly nothing wrong with thinking this way!) but "conversion" seems to be a word that is simply little-used for these processes. Somehow (perhaps because of the story of Paul!) conversion is too dramatic and messy a process it seems. It disrupts and is marked by difficult and abrupt discontinuities and conflicts or tensions. It demands a spiritual praxis which sets one apart from the norm, a prayer life which is central, engagement with the Word of God which is profound and more extensive than usual -- not minimal or nominal, and a faith life which does not tolerate compartmentalization. Growth, becoming, etc, are safer words --- demanding, yes, but somehow less total and more socially acceptable than references to "conversion."

In monastic life, and especially in Benedictine monastic life the primary vow is to conversion of life. This vow includes those ordinarily made in religious life, the vows of poverty and chastity. One commits oneself to continually allow God to remake one into the image of Christ (and into one's truest self). There is a sense that such conversion is a gradual and lifelong process of growth and maturation, yes, but there is also an openness to conversion as dramatic and all-consuming. Here conversion is something which does not allow the monastic to divide their lives into sacred and profane or to compartmentalize them into the spiritual and the non-spiritual. Here the Word of God is expected  and allowed to convict, challenge, transform, and empower. Here the Spirit of God is accepted as the spirit which moves within us enlivening, edifying, consolidating, and purifying --- the Spirit which humanizes and sanctifies us into the covenant reality we are most truly. It is a pattern which should be true of every Christian.

Paul's initial conversion experience was dramatic by any standards, but drama aside, it did for Paul what encounter and engagement with the Word of God is meant to do to any of us. It caused him to see his entire world and life in terms of the risen and Crucified Christ. It put law completely at the service of love and made compassion the way to accomplish justice. It made human weakness the counterpart of divine strength, mercy and forgiveness the way God's will is accomplished, and in every other way turned the values of this world on their head. May each of us open ourselves to the kind of conversion of life we celebrate today.

22 January 2013

If secularity is good for CV's, perhaps Diocesan Hermits Should Live Secular Lives

Dear Sister, one CV pointed out the following; [[I personally think Diocesan hermits who are not confined to Solitary life due to Illness , would be a gift to the Church and world by considering how to live the Silence of Solitude in the deserts of the world , by striving to be the only Christian Presence in atheistic or post-christian environments. IN FACT THE CHURCH AND THE DESERTS OF THE WORLD 'NEED' THE PRESENCE OF CHRISTIAN SOLITARIES AND DIOCESAN HERMITS. If CV who are an Image of the Entire Church who is the bride of Christ , ought to wholeheartedly embrace their secularity in the spirit of Vatican Council II , I'm sure that religious and hermits are also called to embrace a different form of separation from the world of power , economics etc. by living really among the poor of the world , incarnating themselves among the powerless and oppressed of the world.]] I am sure her point was that just serving others in the secular world does not mean CV's are secular themselves but I thought the post a bit snarky. Will you respond to it?

Thanks for emailing this to me. I don't know if the intention was to be snarky; I thought she could have been presenting an unnuanced or non-paradoxical version of the theology of eremitical life I have already laid out here many times in reference to Merton's talk of  redeeming the "unnatural solitudes" of modern slums, for instance. However, I have already responded to it. Here is the post I put up on Phatmass.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Your post points to a perennial temptation for hermits: the desire to exchange eremitical solitude for a kind of ministry folks recognize as fruitful when they fail to see the pastoral fruitfulness or ministerial capacity of solitude itself. The desert Fathers and Mothers have several stories about this temptation. It is always hard to discern between two goods --- in this case the need to leave one's solitude and minister to atheists more directly or publicly (here meaning out in the open) -- or to do this with anyone else, really --- vs the need to maintain custody of the cell, for instance. This temptation can be even more keen if one came to eremitical solitude by way of chronic illness or has education and training the world seems badly in need of. However, because something is beneficial does not mean it is beneficial in the way God wills nor is it the only way we determine a vocation's charism. At the same time, if we are trying to determine if and in what way a vocation is a gift to Church and World, we must look at the benefits it represents pastorally. This is certainly part of the equation  --- but only part. My own sense (and the sense of the Church) is that eremitical solitude is profoundly ministerial all by itself and the need for this ministry (which is NOT usually exercised directly, person to person) is at crisis proportions in today's world.

Inner AND Outer solitude:

Unfortunately, the call to the silence of solitude (eremitical solitude) requires not just an inner solitude of the heart, but an external one as well. In any case, most diocesan hermits ARE already living their vocations in what Merton called the "unnatural solitudes" of urban settings, etc. We are present in our separation and embrace both dimensions (separation and a paradoxical presence) so that separation might be redeemed not only in our own lives but especially in those of persons isolated for any reason whatever. Our lives say that authentic solitude is not mere isolation; they witness instead to the transfiguration and redemption of isolation through participation in God's love. For a multitude of people (the chronically ill, isolated elderly, bereaved, prisoners, etc) especially need the witness hermits provide by the redemption of physical separation and its transformation into inner solitude and presence precisely in one's separation. In other words hermits ARE profoundly present and related to others but it is a paradoxical presence and relatedness achieved in separation and symbolized by prayer. THAT is the primary way hermits are called to minister in the Church.

When I wrote earlier that no matter how good making the eremitical vocation a secular one might seem, it is still contrary to the essential nature of the life and cannot be embraced without betraying the very nature of the vocation, this is what I was referring to. My own vocation speaks to everyone about the need for authentic solitude (a unique form of dialogue or communion) in a balanced life but it speaks especially vividly to those who are physically and often psychologically isolated and need to know their situations can be redeemed and made meaningful --- even if the physical separation of those lives cannot be changed. What makes my own life ministerial is its separation --- but only as a transfigured separation which witnesses not only to the truth that God alone is enough for us, but to my own profound paradoxical relatedness to everything in God. Thus my life does not minister to the world in the way many others do, but it ministers profoundly and uniquely in its "silence of solitude". It speaks to the fear of solitude which is rampant today, to contemporary isolation, to our phobia for silence and our inability to find life meaningful unless it is productive in all the ways the world demands (including a kind of ministerial activism which many cannot participate in), and especially to the human fulfillment and relatedness to all of creation each person can only find in God.

The Church Defines Eremitical Life as non-secular and CV's living in the world as secular vocations

The point you are missing is that the Church very clearly defines the eremitical vocation as non-secular (and this is true whether we are speaking of lay or consecrated hermits) because this is its very nature. Not only does canon 603 state that non-negotiable foundational elements of the life include "stricter separation from the world" and "the silence of solitude," but in the Rite of Profession this is underscored by the Bishop's questions about readiness to embrace not merely an inner solitude but an external one as well. It is underscored by the vow formula which includes a statement that one earnestly desires to accept and live the grace of solitary eremitical life and it is underscored by clothing the hermit with the cowl besides the habit as a prayer garment which sets apart. It is framed by public vows which separate from the world of power, prestige, economics, and relationships along with a Rule of life which spells out the way this intense non-secularity is lived daily.

 It is underscored by an essential "hidden(ness) (CCC) from the eyes of men" and a process of discernment and personal formation which MUST include the transition from living merely as an isolated person to being a hermit living the silence of solitude itself BEFORE one is admitted to vows of any sort. Meanwhile CV's consecrated under canon 604 are women "living in the world", that is women living secular lives. This form of consecrated life eschews all the things which set such a woman apart from others also living secular lives except consecration which radically transfigures her secularity even as it calls for it. CV's living in the world are thus called to be apostles to the world in the things of the Spirit and the things of the world. Just as I cannot alter the nature of a vocation in which God makes my separation fruitful or calls hermits to live such a fruitful separation, CV's living in the world cannot change the way God makes their secularity distinctly fruitful or calls them to allow him to do so --- at least not without betraying the very call God has mediated to them via the Church.

No Hermit is "confined to solitude due to illness"

By the way, no diocesan hermit is "confined to solitude due to illness". That puts the cart before the horse and mistakes the defining element of the life as the isolation of illness rather than the relatedness of solitude. Chronic illness may be one of the reasons some of us find ourselves isolated from and out of sync with the world around us, but actual solitude is a good deal more than this and it is freely chosen. It is solitude which defines our lives, not illness, as you at least imply in this passage. Solitude is a living reality witnessing to the love of God made fruitful in isolation and to isolation transfigured and made fruitful in the love of God and of others. We may begin to consider that we are called to a life of eremitical solitude in part because of chronic illness (as I myself did), but that is only the very first part of discerning an actual call; a call to eremitical solitude is never merely the result of one's illness any more than living a relatively pious life alone is automatically the same as "the silence of solitude" or being a hermit.

21 January 2013

Is the term "Quasi-Religious" Respectful?

[[Dear Sister,
    is it fair or respectful to speak of Consecrated Virgins wanting to live a "quasi-religious" life? There are certain things held in common by all consecrated life. If a CV wants to live her consecration in a more radical way what is it to you?]]

Thanks for your questions. In the main, the term quasi-religious merely refers to something which is not really or fully a religious life in the technical sense of that term and not really or truly a secular life either. It does not touch on the matter of consecration per se and, while it is a critical term for me, it is not meant to be disrespectful. When we look at the various vocations in the Church there are essentially two ways of relating to the world: the first is Religious life (whether apostolic, ministerial,  cloistered, ordained, or eremitical, the relationship to the world is marked by degrees of separation, qualification, and mitigation);  the second is secular life (whether lay persons, members of secular institutes, secular priests, or CV's living in the world), the vocations are lived IN the world and are not marked by the forms or means of separation which mark Religious life. Thus, when I use the term "quasi-religious" is it an empirical term marking something as neither x nor y.

As I have noted before, Religious life qualifies and mitigates one's relationship with and in the world. While one may minister in and to it, community, vows, habit, Rule and constitutions mark one as non-secular. In every major area of life (power, finances or economics, and relationships) the Religious' participation in the secular world is limited. While she witnesses to Kingdom values she also witnesses to separation from the world as a value those called to secular vocations do not and cannot embrace in the same ways. There is implicit criticism of the saeculum and from those who live secular lives bound into some of the praxis characteristic of Religious life. This is why some (many) Religious choose to forego distinguishing garb, etc. They know this distinguishes and distances them from those living secular lives. While the non-secularity can be helpful as well, too often the distancing and implicit criticism implied by vows and garb makes Religious relatively inaccessible to others and makes them hard to relate to. When Religious do experiment with changes it tends to be in the direction of accessibility, more powerful witness. and communion with others, not distinction from them. In other words, they act to mitigate things which represent unnecessary barriers to ministry and witness. They do not multiply these.

Thus, when a vocation is secular rather than Religious, even as the vocation to Consecrated virginity for women living in the world is secular, it becomes even more important that this secularity be embraced wholeheartedly. The graces associated with Consecrated Virgins living in the world includes spousal love,  for instance, and unfortunately, most Catholics are only aware of this imagery applying to nuns. But actually everyone in the Church is called to the spousal love which marks God's love for Israel and for the Church -- the spousal love which, in other words, marks God's love for his entire People. Most contemporary Religious don't resonate with this dimension of the Gospel message and those that do tend to represent a perspective on it which separates it from  everyday life and sees it as relatively rare. But Consecrated Virgins living in the world live and model this love in a way which transforms their secularity into something specifically eschatological while it thus summons all persons to recognize their call to spousal love in this world. Only a vocation which is both radically consecrated and  exhaustively secular and therefore which is especially graced as the lives of CV's are could carry this off effectively.

It seems to me that the only way a consecrated virgin living in the world could consider secularity "in the weak" or mitigated sense to be a more radical form of her vocation is if she treats secularity and consecration as necessarily antithetical to one another. But it seems very clear to me that the Christ Event disallows this. The passion of Christ is marked by the rending of the veil between sacred and profane, secular and consecrated. Anyone truly participating in Christ's passion or the Kingdom it established among us cannot re-establish the divisions Jesus' death tore asunder! Real radicalness or radicality is a matter of following Jesus exhaustively ---wherever he calls one to do this. The discipleship of some peoples' secular lives is certainly more radical than the lives lived by some in the monastery while the contrary is also true. The mistake is in treating the consecrated state (which means a state in which one is set apart for God) as also necessarily meaning set apart FROM secularity.

A similar mistake I see CV's making is treating consecrated virginity as proto-religious and then linking this  conclusion to the notion that Religious life is somehow a more radical form of Christian discipleship than the original secular form of consecrated virginity. It is as though secular consecrated virginity was an undeveloped or superficial form of the life it was meant to be and that it only grew to maturity or deepened as Religious life. But this ignores history at several points. First, while CV's contributed to the development of religious life, so did the desert movement. Secondly, cenobitical or communal life was not understood as the maturation of the life of virgin martyrs or hermits (desert dwellers), but rather as a mitigated form of life meant for those who were either not called to solitary life, or who could not avoid the dangers of eremitical life. Thirdly, CV's did not simply develop into Religious (cloistered) life. Instead a secular form of it continued into the 12C. In no sense was it proto-religious. In no sense was it necessarily a less radical form of discipleship than the cloistered expression. The Church has specifically recovered THIS expression of the vocation with the Rite of Consecration of women living in the world. Fourthly, the original Virgin-martyrs lived a radical discipleship which could not have been deeper or more radical. St Perpetua was not a "proto-nun" nor was her life "quasi-religious"; she was a wife and mother who lived her faith in a distinctly secular arena.

Another and related mistake I hear CV's making links secularity exclusively with the laity. Vatican II certainly did point out that the laity were called to live their vocations as secular ones but she did so without simply identifying the two. It is not the case that a secular vocation is necessarily a lay vocation nor that in asking a CV living in the world to live a secular life the Church is somehow forgetting these women are in the consecrated state. Further, Vatican II tried very hard to be clear that secular vocations were significant ones. However,  remember that the council occurred prior to the renewal of the vocation of CV's living in the world and that in fact, it was Vatican II with its strong emphasis on the dignity of secular vocations which mandated the rewriting of the Rite of Consecration and the recovery of its secular expression.  The universal call to holiness certainly meant that ALL were called to an exhaustive holiness, but it ALSO meant that whether one lived in a monastery, a remote hermitage, an urban convent or apartment with other Sisters, or in the midst of the saeculum (and so, whether one lived as a Monastic, Eremite, Religious, or Secular person) the call was a radical and even exhaustive one which COULD be achieved in this specific context.

Thus, I am personally all for any person living their vocations as radically as they can and are called to live it. But CV's cannot define radical as "less secular" and pretend their consecration or the history of their vocation demands this. The consecrated state is NOT antithetical to secular life, and assuredly not to eschatological secularity. To begin adding in elements which, for Religious, mark the nun or Sister as separated from the world and called to something other than a secular vocation is not a radicalization of the CV's vocation, but a serious mitigation and compromise of its nature. In other words, CV's are not "proto-nuns" nor are they called to a quasi-religious life. They are called to live lives of prayer and service which witness to the reality of the Kingdom right in the midst of secular life. Moreover, the eschatological witness stems from graces freshly linked specifically to this vocation and given so that ALL might embrace (for instance) the spousal love of God.

So again, while the term "quasi-religious" is meant to disturb and is certainly a critical term (because I am critical of women trying to minimize the essential secularity of their vocations and believe it is theologically, historically, and pastorally unjustified and even destructive of the Church's vision and purpose in renewing this vocation) I don't believe it is disrespectful. It points to a compromised form of life which refuses to value the secular as an appropriate arena for consecrated life, while (as quasi religious) it is also free of many of  the limitations or constraints as well as the consistency or thoroughgoingness of Religious life. I could also call it "secular-lite" (or "religious-lite" for that matter) but these do seem to me to be disrespectful rather than merely descriptive of something which is and which seeks to be neither truly secular nor truly Religious.

18 January 2013

Eschatological Secularity, What do you mean by this?

[Dear Sister,
      thank you for answering my last question [why you are personally interested in the vocation of CV's]. You have written about CV's embracing a consecrated or sacred secularity and I understand that. But you have also begun using the term eschatological secularity. I get it has to do with the Kingdom and end times, but why do you use it here and not in reference to other vocations?]]

Sure. I am using the term specifically to qualify and connect the secularity of the vocation with the Kingdom of God in which all things will be perfected and transformed and God will be all in all. Other terms (sacred secularity, consecrated secularity) don't do so nearly as well. They carry the idea of being made a sacred person and somehow being set apart from God but what they also do too often is suggest this has to be distinct from the saeculum rather than consistently embedded in it. (N.B., embeddedness and enmeshment are not the same things!) They tend to see consecrated lives as proleptic of heaven but that is a heaven which is wholly distinct from this world and has nothing to do with interpenetrating it, transfiguring, or ultimately perfecting it into the realm it is meant to be because God is truly and wholly sovereign there.

To link secularity closely with the word eschatological seems to me to do three things: 1) it immediately indicates the locus of God's transforming, reconciling, and hallowing power and presence, namely THIS world of space and time,  2) it underscores the incredible dignity and challenge of secular vocations --- but especially the vocation of CV's living in the world, and 3) it demands that CV's reflection on the specific graces of their vocation (spousal, virginal, maternal, and apostolic love) be spelled out in terms of the needs of heaven AND the needs of earth, the needs or yearnings of the Spirit and the needs or yearnings of the world. In other words it makes clear this vocation is a very profoundly pastoral one. It also suggests that systematically this is an avenue theologians would do well to pursue in thinking through the nature and implications of this ancient AND very new vocation.

I don't use this term with other vocations because it doesn't actually fit them as well. It may come close to an aspect of what secular institutes witness to, but there we are not dealing with a consecrated state of life; members are either in the lay or ordained states depending upon their state of life when they made semi-public vows. Thus I think the paradoxical vocation I have been speaking about is most sharply indicated in the term "eschatological secularity."  As importantly, I think this term charts a course for reflecting on and living out the vocation which focuses on its RADICAL secular and ultimately pastoral nature. Last year I was truly stunned to hear a CV suggest that she could see no pastoral need for a vocation which was specifically secular. I admit I am still a bit amazed by its lack of theological or pastoral acumen or sensitivity, but I believe it is actually a very common impression held by the majority in the world who see heaven as freeing us from or as an escape from this world rather than being the ultimate state of its transfiguration and perfection in God. It certainly helps explain why these particular CV's tend to want to be recognized, not as secular, but as quasi-religious. As part of this it seems clear to me that our world is yearning for models of secularity which are sacred rather than profane and which are radically informed and transformed by the values and ideals of the Kingdom of God rather than of all that opposes God.

Thus, one of the things I found missing in some CV's statements about their vocation was any significant reflection on or explanation of either the charism or the mission of the vocation. In other words, they spent no time reflecting on or articulating the gift quality of this vocation to OTHERS or why the Holy Spirit would have brought it forward again at this point in history, nor did they do anything similar with the idea of to whom they were specifically sent and in what way or why. Clearly consecration as a virgin was a personal gift to them, but that really seemed about all --- except perhaps that it added some to persons doing volunteer work for charities and the church.

To deny a profound pastoral need for a secular vocation which was at once also and radically eschatological was the most extreme example I could point to regarding this lack. It is one thing to say "I am a Bride of Christ" or "I am consecrated and called to be an apostle" or "I am an icon of the Church as Bride of Christ", but it is something else entirely to then articulate a theology of those things which is a gift to the Church and World because it gives hope and challenges others to see the ultimate significance of their own calls and lives. My almost immediate reaction to any of these affirmations is, "So what?" and then, "Why is that important pastorally?" or "Why is that a gift of the Holy Spirit?" Others I have heard have said something dismissive like, "Well, that's nice, but [followed by a shrug of one shoulder and a quizzical look]?" To draw attention to the eschatologically secular nature of the vocation is provocative and challenges CV's to do the required reflection on the import of their uniquely qualified (consecrated) and radically secular vocations which exist for the sake of the Church and World.


 If you have read this blog apart from the posts I have written on consecrated virginity of women living in the world you know that I believe eremitical life has a tremendous charism ("the silence of solitude") which is a gift specifically to the millions and millions of socially isolated in our world who are looking and hungering for ways to redeem and transform isolation. As our societies become increasingly media-dominated the isolation grows and varies in forms and intensity while it expands in universality. The need for people who can speak to this with their lives grows exponentially. Hermits, lay or consecrated and rare as we are, are among those who speak most vividly to this situation. So are monastics more generally. Thus, at the heart of what often can seem to outsiders to be a very selfish vocation is a profound charismatic element which makes  it God's gift to a very thirsty world. Consecrated virgins MUST discover and articulate their own vision of the charismatic and, thus, the profoundly consecrated AND secular nature of their vocation. They must discover the mission they are called to embrace by God through the mediation of the Church. Otherwise, the vocation of CV's living in the world remains an irrelevant, anachronistic, and somewhat elitist bit of preciousness which speaks effectively or prophetically to no one. I believe the term "eschatological secularity" will help some CV's and theologians more generally to do this.

Sister, Why are you Personally Interested in the vocation of CV's living in the World?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, while I appreciate what you have written about canon 604 vocations, I wonder why it is of such interest to you. You are not a CV, nor discerning a vocation to this. Why are you continuing a conversation which does not personally interest you?]]

Thanks for your questions. I have written about this before a little more than a year ago so I would suggest you look at the posts on consecrated secularity and CV's from that time. Even so, I can summarize my concerns and interest for you. It begins with the fact that this vocation made NO sense to me either theologically or pastorally until I read Sister Sharon Holland,. IHM's essay on the place of the Consecrated Virgin in today's Church. As I wrote a year ago, before that I felt it was a reality "in search of a job description" or "raison d'etre", neither fish nor fowl --- rather like secular institutes sometimes seemed, but without the benefits of community life, vows, or a Rule of Life. It was the secularity, and especially the consecrated or eschatological secularity of the vocation which allowed its charismatic import as gift of the Holy Spirit to become theologically clear to me. Once this happened I could see this was not some half-hearted vocation for those unwilling or somehow unable to adopt the whole reality of religious life (what the LA Province called a "fallback vocation"), but instead a whole-hearted and very challenging call to a qualified (specifically, an eschatological) secularity the world is destined for. When I ask myself what allows me to understand this vocation as a gift of the Holy Spirit and to explain the vocation positively rather than in terms of what it is not, this is the primary element which allows me to do that.

So, to summarize the important elements of my PERSONAL interest:

1) Contrary to what some argue, consecrated secularity is hardly common or as natural as breathing. The Church has a long history of esteeming consecrated life but not so of secular vocations which have been seen as profane and hardly a way to holiness. This changed with Vatican II and the Church still needs a holiness which is modeled by those leading thoroughly or radically secular vocations which are ALSO radically and consciously consecrated. These vocations contrast belief in a God who ultimately makes a Sacrament of this world with secularism so we need people who embrace such vocations and make the distinction clear with their lives. I am completely committed to Vatican II and to its recovery of this  eschatologically secular vocation and the theology of a universal call to holiness.

2) Some are arguing that making this vocation a quasi-religious vocation (vows, distinctive garb, titles, post-nomial initials, etc) is actually a deepening of it and that younger CV's are thus doing this when older CV's have lived a mediocre consecrated secularity. I argue that this is instead a betrayal of the vocation as the Church clearly understands it, and that if these changes are made the vocation will cease to be meaningful, much less truly charismatic, and speak to no one. (These women will not speak to religious --- who would thus live a more radical religious life than CV's, nor would they speak to secular members of the Church who are called to embrace and witness to the Kingdom of God within the world in all of its everyday dimensions. Both the Church and the WORLD needs this  radically eschatological AND radically secular witness desperately because what VII called everyone to was an exhaustive holiness wherever their vocations were lived. This is still not well understood in terms of secularity.)

3) The arguments the Church uses are historical, theological, liturgical, pastoral, canonical, etc and because of this these reasons for calling the vocation a form of sacred secularity are interesting to and rightfully addressed by theologians. It is neither appropriate nor accurate to neglect the historical contexts pertinent to this vocation's nature and significance (Vatican II  and Centuries 1-12 especially, but also the reality of consecrated virginity as it existed BEFORE the Church hierarchy began to control it in the second century)  and then argue this is a "proto-religious" vocation or "more radical" than what women have lived for the past 30 years. Unfortunately, this is what I have heard some CV's without apparent theological, historical, or pastoral sophistication doing. (Part of this involves ignoring the variety of authoritative ways the Church teaches and only paying serious attention to de fide statements, for instance. Part of it involves suggesting a witness to sacred or eschatological secularity is not even needed by today's world. Someone with theological training and a personal acquaintance with consecrated and Religious life needs to counter these tendencies.)

4) Thus, I am concerned with this issue because the vocation was actually subverted in the past when it became associated with ONLY its religious (cloistered) expression and the original secular expression was wholly lost in 1139. This should not be allowed to happen again, especially when the vocation which reprises the original secularity of the call is only 30 years old. I am concerned with this because as a hermit I deal with world-hating (and world-demeaning) language all the time. I am in a unique position to reflect on the meaning of the term "the world" both exegetically, canonically, experientially,  and theologically and too, on the significance of secular vocations. Similarly, I am concerned with any notion of vocation which ignores the development of Vatican II and its universal call to exhaustive holiness along with the clear teaching that ALL the baptized are called to live some form of the evangelical counsels and are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of Hours.

Pastorally I have dealt often, and even regularly with the pain of those called to lay (and/or secular) vocations who mistakenly think they must make private vows to embrace a radical discipleship or aspire to authentic holiness. (Instead they need to specify the demands of their baptismal consecrations and/or marriage vows regularly. Too few have done this because they don't see Baptism as a call to radical discipleship.) It is a VERY common thing to hear lay people who are, almost by definition, usually called to secular vocations (lay hermits are different) to complain they feel called to a third class or entry-level vocation which makes them called but not really "chosen." It is similarly common to hear these same people asking the related question of whether the Church REALLY esteems secular vocations or has merely thrown them a few crumbs in revising their roles during liturgy. The theology supporting such notions is abhorrent.

5) Finally, I have the sense that SOME of the younger CV's are unclear on their own motivations in all of this. I think there is too much accent on NOT being mistaken for laity or members of secular institutes, or on separating oneself from them in visible ways. I believe some of these CV's have bought into a very worldy misunderstanding (worldly in the worst sense) of Thomas Aquinas' teaching on the objective superiority of religious vocations and that they demean or denigrate secular vocations in spite of VII or the call to a New Evangelization. I believe that some of these women are resistant to thinking paradoxically as the Gospel requires of us and therefore are fostering a way of thinking which is fundamentally Greek and pagan rather than truly Christian. I also believe that some of these women do not really understand the import or content of religious poverty or religious obedience and the very different freedom that issues from these as opposed to properly secular expressions of the evangelical counsels. Like others, I wonder why these women did not simply pursue religious life if they truly believe the secularity of the original call which persisted for more than 11 centuries side by side the religious expression was wrong or somehow immature and in need of deepening.

I hope this helps answer your questions.

17 January 2013

A Safeway shopping trip!

I have written several times here about the nature of  waiting and the difficulty people have with regard to doing so. Well, I just got a reminder regarding new lessons in not just our difficulty in waiting, but the prevalence of our refusal to do so and what seems like a sense that we SHOULD be first in line if we can just  figure out how to beat the poor schmucks who are waiting patiently and trying to create an orderly way of proceeding or, if we can push into the line and simply disregard the puzzled (not to mention irritated) looks others are casting our way! At the same time, at least a couple of people demonstrated a real sense of fairness, personal generosity, and a willingness to accommodate others which was wonderful to see! So, what happened?

Tonight I was at Safeway and for some reasons (probably including the prevalent flu which I also have) there were very few registers open and VERY long lines. There were two philosophies at work among those jockeying to check out: 1) let's find a way to make this work fairly for everyone so we all wait equally, and 2) Give me mine and to hell with anyone else! (Yes, nuns use that kind of language when it accurately describes the situation!) Those of us in the first school figured out that a single line which split off each time a regular register came open worked VERY well for everyone. (The express registers had their own line.) Not only were we able to leave a lane open for those pushing carts through the store still, but we knew who had been there first and it shortened the waiting time for those who were both patient and courteous. Those of us in this school talked to one another, commiserated about being tired, grumpy, fluey or having appointments it looked like we would be late for (or all or none of the above!) and generally were in it together.

Those in the second school were a revelation in impatience, entitlement, discourtesy, and solitary splendor (and no, not the eremitical kind of solitary splendor hermits are called to live!). They fell within a range of ages but the majority seemed younger or were male. I admit if I had been feeling better I might merely have laughed at how assiduously they pretended NOT to have pushed into the lines in front of at least two dozen fellow-shoppers or to be invisible and wholly unrelated to any other person in the store at that point. (Watching some folks look down at something just beyond the point of their own noses for 10 minutes until they got closer to the checkout stand and seized upon a magazine to immerse themselves in instead would ordinarily cause me to at least chuckle to myself. It was reminiscent of kids I have taught who look at the toes of their shoes while saying "No S'ter" or who stand amongst their classmates while "praying", "Please don't notice me S'ter;  O PLEASE don't notice me!!" I admit that had I felt better I would probably have been more amused at the man who was told he belonged at the end of the line, headed that way looking somewhat chastened, and then circled back around and down one of the aisles and up another so he could literally interject his cart in front of the rest of our carts.  I wonder if he lives his life this way. Unfortunately, for several reasons related to my trip around the store while shopping, I suspect he does. There were a number of others who pushed in and seemed to find the floor the most interesting thing they had seen in a long time!! Maybe they really did need my sympathy instead of my partly flu-inspired antipathy.


Meanwhile the cashier I checked out with and whom I know and like asked how I was --- and I, maybe not as convincingly as usually, said, "Excellent!" When she gave me a questioning (and sharply knowing) look I noted, "Well, better than I was 2 minutes ago!" She apologized for the wait and I explained, it was not the line, or the wait. It was the people that had me a bit more grumpy than the flu had made me. (I didn't get ALL that said explicitly unfortunately.) She smiled knowingly at the word "people" and we both felt the mood lighten I think. All I could think of at that point was the Charlie Brown cartoon that says "I love humanity; it's people I can't stand!" and I hoped she wasn't thinking, "Ah, so THAT is why Sister is a hermit!" --- though I think she knows me a little better than that!

So, there were both low AND high points. Some customers actually pulled themselves out of the chaos near the registers and moved to the end of the long single line when they discovered that some of us had been waiting longer than they --- despite the fact this added at least another 10 or 15 minutes to their trip. Another checker who is a friend gave me a careful hug (I resisted because of my "condition") and a "God Bless" as well. I came away feeling good and generally inspired by the majority of folks, but sad for many others. We don't wait well; our culture tells us we shouldn't need to --- instant gratification is the norm and we "deserve" it (WHATEVER it is) after all! But in fact, the really human living we do often happens during the waiting, during the time we see what is right there in front of us right now (no, not the floor --- though I guess that's better than seeing nothing and no one), when we join WITH others and make the best of a difficult situation, when we reaffirm that we are all equals and precious in God's eyes even as we wait to move on alone. Was I grateful I had to wait tonight? No, I wasn't and I failed in charity as well. Am I grateful now? Yes, I think I truly am.