24 January 2014

Denying the Uniqueness of the CV vocation lived in the World??

[[Dear Sister, do you think the vocation to consecrated virginity lived in the world is valid? Do you think it is unique or special? Sometimes I wonder if you do because you seem like you would like to take away the thing which makes it special. CV's are Brides of Christ really, not just symbolically like Religious women. They are married, not just engaged. They are consecrated by God, not by themselves making vows as is true for religious and they are consecrated as individuals not as part of a community. I think their uniqueness in these things is a gift to the Church. It is what makes their vocation valid. You seem to deny all this. . . .[repetitive bits omitted]]]

First, thank you for your questions. I do believe the vocation to consecrated virginity lived in the world is a valid vocation and, like all vocations, I believe it has a special place in the Church. In fact, I am coming to believe that it is one of the most significant vocations existing in the Church today. (All vocations are more or less timely.) However, I also sincerely believe that like every vocation in the Church it is a gift only insofar as it is iconic of something all persons are called to in some way. It is charismatic only to the extent it meets needs which other Christians (and non Christians as well) have and yearn to be fulfilled --- and too, only to the extent that the Holy Spirit uses it to meet these needs in some focused way. Vocations are charismatic because they are gifts of God which people receive with joy as a way to God --- and not for themselves alone, but for others!! Two often when CV's or would-be CV's speak in the terms you have, the sense I have is that canon 604 and the consecration it provides for is a gift to the virgins themselves which they seem to expect folks to set up on a shelf and admire as precious and wonderfully wrapped, but not really useful or relevant to the lives of non CV's.

I remember that one CV once responded to a comment I made about the charism of CV's living in the world by essentially saying she would be quite surprised to find the pastoral need for a strongly secular AND consecrated witness to be present, much less relevant to the vocation. (The sticking point here was secularity.) But the simple fact is that determining whether something is charismatic, that is, whether it is a gift of the Holy Spirit or not involves determining whether there is a pastoral need or not.  What makes icons really iconic is not that they can be gazed at like a work of art, but instead that they are capable of drawing others into the world shared by both the icon and the one reading it and empowering them to serve similarly. For that matter, the really beautiful is only beautiful to the degree it grabs hold of and resonates with something shared by the one experiencing it. CV's are icons of a universal vocation and the identity of the Church herself. It should not surprise CV's then that to serve in this way means they must reflect characteristics all Christians share and are called eschatologically to share perfectly while also empowering others to take hold of this vocation with an ultimate seriousness.

It would be refreshing to see CV's writing about virginity and its place in our world, especially in terms of quality of commitments, trivialization of sex, the fraudulent and distorted nature of so much that passes for love today, etc. It would be wonderful to hear CV's speaking of the universal call to spousal union with God and the way in which their own vocations are iconic of this and complementary to the iconographic nature of marriage in this regard. It would be refreshing to hear CV's writing about the maternal nature of their vocations and how their virginity allows this to be lived out in a world  which is often so desperately in need of real maternal figures --- women who set aside their own needs, ambitions, personal prestige, etc for the sake of the life of others. It would be wonderful; to hear CV's writing about their place in the new theologies of secularity and mission which affect the way we see the Church and live out our Christianity. But, in the main, I do not hear that. Instead, the dominant topic is how CV's are Brides of Christ while others (Religious women and men) are not REALLY that or "only symbolically" that, etc.

On the use of the term Symbol:

Well, let's get a couple of things clear theologically and philosophically. First, it is not accurate to contrast symbolically with really. I know that Catholics are used to doing this in regard to Protestant notions of Eucharist but it has been almost 150 years since theologians articulated clearly that Symbols are the way the really real is made present; symbols participate in the reality they symbolize. Symbols are not merely arbitrarily agreed upon signs. They are living realities which are born, have a life span, and eventually die. They are not created by human beings but are instead recognized in the same way we always recognize participation in the transcendent and mysterious. They take hold of us with their power and we surrender to that. Thus, we do not say that something is "merely a symbol" anymore than we say a women is "partly" or "sort of pregnant." With regard to the Eucharist, saying that the bread and wine symbolize the risen and ascended Christ is not to say the species are not REALLY the Christ. Instead it is to say that this is one of the true and powerful expressions of his presence amongst us; it also suggests that it is capable of grasping everyone with its universality. To suggest one person is "only symbolically espoused" to God in Christ whereas another is "really espoused" is theologically and philosophically naive and wrong.

Secondly, to the degree something is made utterly unique (and thus robbed of its universal or symbolic value), that thing becomes more and more irrelevant and incapable of truly speaking to or empowering people. If the only way CV's consecrated under c 604 can take seriously their own consecration is by denying the very real spousal vocation of every person, the more iconic and eschatological espousal of Religious, and so forth, they ought not be surprised when people respond to the statement, "I am a Bride of Christ" with looks of incomprehension or shrugs amounting to a "so what?" attitude which is an appropriate comment on the irrelevance of the vocation. My own immediate (and entirely tacit) response to most of the writing I see by CV's (I know a couple of CV bloggers whose work is quite fine) is ordinarily a combination of "So what?" and "Oh, get over yourself!" My secondary response is something like, "No wonder people in the Church generally say this vocation makes no sense, is too precious, or simply lacks relevancy!! When will you say something about what this vocation means for the rest of us? For our world in need? For the Church's decision to renew it now when she is recovering a sense of the importance of the secular, the universal call to holiness, and the nature of the Church as missionary?"

Watch out for Assertions Which Absolutize Uniqueness!

I am not denying the need to reflect on the vocation, of course. But part of this reflection means looking carefully and prayerfully at the theological underpinnings of the call and at what the Church and the Holy Spirit are doing in renewing (or reprising) it now. It means adopting a necessary humility in regard to the vocation's specialness and uniqueness and appreciating that these MUST serve others and lead them to understand the similarity of call and dignity which they share. Vocations are never absolutely unique; instead they are like facets on a gem where each is both unique and yet possesses and underscores a similarity to and identity with the others while thus contributing to the overall beauty of the gem. Each facet catches and reflects the light differently at different times and places but they do so without depriving other facets of the same characteristics. In fact, a gem where one facet was utterly unique would be a seriously flawed gem. It might be worth something as a curiosity but not as a work of art with balance, complex inner relatedness, or complementarity and harmony.

I would thus disagree with your assertion that it is the uniqueness of the vocation which makes it valid. It is the Holy Spirit's impulse and the Church's discernment of the vocation's pastoral significance which make it valid. For instance, even with the eremitical vocation it is not enough to have the sense that some few individuals are perhaps inspired to this way of living by the Spirit. There must also be a sense that this call serves the Church and world in some significant pastoral way. Even the Desert Fathers and Mothers reflected a profoundly pastoral sense in withdrawing to the desert. Certainly it served their own personal holiness, but it also had a strongly prophetic quality which said to the Church:"You are too strongly allied with the world. You are called to be counter cultural! Leave this behind!!"

Today, in a world which is often too individualistic the strongly pastoral nature of the eremitical call to "the silence of solitude" and a life "lived for the salvation of others" is undoubted if ironic -- or if paradoxically expressed. I think there is no doubt that hermits say to everyone, "You too are called to this foundational relationship with God; this union or covenant with God is who you are most fundamentally. You too need silence and solitude; you too need less "friending" and a focus on true friendships instead." Consecrated Virgins, especially those living out their consecration in the world and in the things of the world as well as in and of the spirit and things of the spirit, will find the vocation's validity not only in its uniqueness but in its ability to call for its commonalities with others. Most often in Christianity it is the latter quality which makes something really special!

Regarding your other assertions about Religious, the way they are consecrated, supposed engagement vs marriage, etc, I have already responded to these notions several times and refer you to other posts which discuss the nature of religious profession, consecration, and espousal. If those raise questions for you or you disagree in some substantive way, please write again and I will be more than happy to respond.