Wednesday, 30 December 2009

"This is So Me"

How do you know you've found your vocation?

Your head and heard sort of implode with the feeling of "This is so me!"

Here's (->a link) to the story of a Consecrated Virgin who had this experience in her mid-twenties.

Update: Here's the story of an American one.


a newly consecrated virgin said...

Dear Seraphic,

I appreciate the good work you’re doing with this blog, so I truly don’t want to sound critical, but I would really hesitate to classify consecrated virgins as “single” in the strong sense of the term.

Consecrated virginity is a public state of consecrated life in the Roman Catholic Church, and it involves a free, deliberate, and permanent commitment to a spousal relationship with Christ. Because of this, consecrated virginity is actually much closer theologically to religious life than it is to any kind of single lay life.

Also, I think identifying consecrated virginity as a form of “the single life” has the potential to cause serious problems for women discerning this vocation. Among other things, it tends to obscure the fact that living a consecrated life implies much more than simply being unmarried. And a woman who aspires to this vocation due to a lack of success in seeking a mortal spouse is likely to be severely disappointed—in my experience, the joy of this vocation springs from its sacrificial element. But I’m not sure that consecrated virginity can be readily understood as “offering everything to God” if it’s promoted as just another way of being single (even if it were a way to be “seriously single”).

But with all this being said, once again I applaud your efforts to write about a topic which deserves more attention.

Seraphic said...

Welcome to the blog! As you may see later, I cast a wide net when I talk about Singles: for me, they even include non-married priests.

I include C.V.s but not members of religious orders because, on paper at least, men and women in religious orders "belong" to each other and live in community. Two of the sorrows Single people--including many secular priests--are loneliness and lack of outside financial support. I am sure C.V.s must have their moments of loneliness and fear-of-poverty, too, no matter how sure they are in their vocation.

I would never, ever suggest that a woman become a C.V. because she had given up on marriage. That was certainly not the theme of this article, which is about a woman who heard her call to be a C.V. in her mid-twenties.

C.V.s, who live firmly in the world, are in a place to offer fellowship and spiritual advice to other Single women, so I would be disappointed if C.V.s chose to emphasize their differences. So many Single people (especially the Searching) feel marginalized and despised already

a newly consecrated virgin said...

You do have a good point that consecrated virgins and celibate secular priests, because they do not have community life as an essential element of their vocation, have more things in common with single lay people than do religious. You’re also right that, like single lay people, consecrated virgins do need to be concerned with maintaining financial stability and with finding healthy and constructive ways to cope with loneliness.

Still, I admit that personally, I find it discouraging when people say that my vocation is a form of “the single life.” To me, this is totally overlooking the fact that consecrated virginity is a major, life-altering commitment to Christ and the Church. (And although there are even some consecrated virgins who see their vocation as being outwardly very similar to the lay state, I very strongly believe that consecrated virgins are called to live in a demonstrable spirit of the evangelical councils.)

Also, I think it actually is important to recognize the differences between consecrated virginity and single lay life (just as it’s important to recognize the differences between the ordained ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all the faithful). This is not coming from a lack of respect or sympathy for single lay women, who of course deserve our encouragement. But, if the differences between consecrated virginity and single lay life were truly minimal, then what point would there be in becoming a consecrated virgin?

Seraphic said...

Now these are certainly questions to raise with your spiritual director. My answer (as a humble M.Div.) would be that God calls everyone to a specific state in life, and sometimes He reveals that Call to people when they are 18 and sometimes not until they are elderly! You are blessed, like nun and priest friends of mine, to have received your call (what I call "marching orders") so soon! And you are blessed that you had the grace to respond in joy.

It is traditional in the Church that virginity is superior to marriage and that vowed life is superior to unvowed life. So it looks like you were called, like Mary in Bethany, to the better part!

Your life of prayer and vowed perpetual virgintiy certainly set you apart from most Searching Singles. There is not as much uncertainty in your life: you've received your Call, and God and you have thus determined the shape of your adult life. You also have also had your Big Day and a special anniversary to celebrate every year--things many Searching Singles long for.

So I am certainly not denying that your single state (which, in my own personal scale, places you firmly among the Serious Singles) is different from that of a virgin who wishes to marry or join a religious community, or that of a widow. But I am suggesting that by emphasizing this difference instead of finding commmonalities with other Single women, opportunites to minister to and find fellowship with other Single women may be lost.

I'm a bit old-fashioned: many other Catholics argue that all our vocations are of equal value. Where I meet them is by suggesting that the most important thing re: vocation is to discern the state in life God is truly calling us to, and then obeying Him.

If one is made deliriously happy by hanging out with Dominican nuns and reading the Dominican Rule, one might not be called to married life. But someone who never gets along with nuns and is secretly in love with her best male buddy might not be called to become a Mother Superior! Of course, the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, and friends have a big shock when the girl they thought was a born flirt takes the veil, or the guy they saw as a future CEO becomes a parish priest.

At the end of the day, we're all called by our baptismal vows to follow the Counsels of Perfection. And among these is obedience to God.

Seraphic said...

I had a brainwave! Google "Mulier Fortis", a blog kept by a consecrated virgin in London called Mac McLernon. She's a pillar of her parish, and I bet she'd have great reflections on c.v.'s and the single life. Tell her Seraphic sent you!

a newly consecrated virgin said...

Actually, I am familiar with this blog, although I’ve never left a comment to introduce myself (perhaps now I should!).

Mulier Fortis is a laywoman who has made a private vow of celibacy, and not a consecrated virgin properly speaking. Although the two vocations might seem similar in many respects, they are theologically and canonically quite different. When a woman receives the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, she enters into a public state of consecrated life and is technically no longer a lay person. The Rite has to be conferred by a bishop according to the approved liturgical framework, with the express permission of the local Ordinary, and reception of the Rite is noted on a consecrated virgin’s baptismal certificate. For a vocation to canonical consecrated virginity, the institutional Church is formally involved in every step of the way.

A private vow, on the other hand, is primarily between an individual and God. While someone considering a private vow should discuss it with her spiritual director, and is allowed to profess her vow in the presence of other people (including perhaps her pastor and her parish community), this does not make her a publicly or canonically consecrated person because a private vow is by definition one which is not formally accepted in the name of the Church.

Hopefully, it goes without saying that someone who has made a private vow is not necessarily any less holy (or any less of a benefit to her community) than a canonically consecrated person, and can still be living what we could call a de facto consecrated life. I think a woman in private vows can also legitimately consider herself called to a spousal relationship with Christ—however, this call, while real, is not one which has been officially confirmed by the Church. Because of this, a private vow concerns a woman’s personal spiritual life more than it concerns the outward life of the institutional Church.

Because people who have made private vows are fully lay people, I think this vocation might be a better example of a call to “the dedicated single life.” I don’t think it helps anyone if consecrated virgins forget or make light of their identity as publicly consecrated persons (i.e., persons fully recognized by the Church as being “set apart” exclusively for God), any more than the modern trend towards “the laicization of the clergy and the clericalization of the laity” helps the Church.

Sorry to be so long winded! I’m actually writing my M.A. thesis on a related topic.

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seraphic said...

Well, you are certainly excited about your call! All the best in 2010.

Alisha said...

@newly consecrated virgin - I appreciate the distinctions made, as it helps me better understand things from an identity point of view, that consecrated life is public recognized in the church and spousal, where as dedicated single life is not. I would, however, like to see dedicated single life more formally recognized by the church for what it is, in and of itself. Right now, practically speaking (the way the church treats it, from a pastoral standpoint) it is a "pending" or worse, "nothing" category, which makes it that much harder to live purposefully. Dedicated non consecrated singles need pastoral guidance geared towards their particular circumstances just as consecrated singles and married people do.

Seraphic said...

Alisha, by talking of a "Single" vocation at all, the church does recognize that there is one. Does there need to be more pastoral attention to Singles? Yes, I really think so, which is why I have been submitting more stuff for Singles to my paper.

I'm afraid this comment stream is turning into "Battle of the Vocations". What the ANCV wants to stress is that CVs do not really belong to the "Single" category but to the "Religious" category.

The problem I have with her approach (ome more suited for academia than for polite conversation) is that it emphasizes the honours of those in religious (or quasi-religious) life over fellowship with ordinary, rank-and-file Singles, e.g. you.

Now, making such distinctions is important in an academic thesis, but it is not such a great idea in general conversation.

From rereading this stream, I have the impression that this blog wouldn't really be of much help or use or fellowship to CVs like ANCV, who want to emphasize their rank over other unmarried people. I don't think all CVs are like that--the ones I've met haven't done so--at least not to me.

I don't think what someone's vocation is, is as important as that person's willingness to obey God. And, finally, I think Singles should have a kind of pride in the fact that they are the underdogs of a narrow "vocation" class-ranking. The last shall be first.

a newly consecrated virgin said...

Okay, I promise this is my last post.

Alisha: I agree that right now the Church could probably do a lot more in terms of providing resources to Searching Singles (one reason why I think this blog is a good idea—it helps fill that void). But if the Church were formally to recognize the un-consecrated, dedicated single life, then this recognition itself would make “the dedicated single life” into something like a de facto form of consecrated life.

For people who feel called to live a dedicated single life while retaining a fully lay lifestyle, the Church does provide recognition and support through the existence of Secular Institutes and some lay movements like Opus Dei.

And if an individual chooses to make private vows outside of a Secular Institute, there is still support available, although you do have to know where to look for it. Often, women in private vows find a very supportive community in their parish, or in a Third Order. Also, I know that the priest who is the Archbishop’s delegate for consecrated virgins in my archdiocese keeps in touch with and continues to provide encouragement to women who considered a vocation to consecrated virginity, but decided to make private vows instead.

And for any sort of private dedication to chastity as a single person, there is no rule saying that you can’t celebrate the occasion with your family and friends, or do something special to remember your anniversary each year!

Seraphic: When I said it was important to be aware of the differences between consecrated virginity and the single lay life, I was referring the differences in IDENTITY rather than rank. Although these distinctions might seem excessively theoretical, they have HUGE practical implications for anyone who is discerning their vocation. And because most discerners these days turn to the internet for a great deal of their information, I think it’s important to clarify misconceptions.

For example, even though single lay people and consecrated virgins (or secular clergy) might appear to face many of the same problems, the deeper spiritual meaning of these challenges and the appropriate ways of responding will be different for the lay and the consecrated/ordained. (E.g., it would be good advice to tell a consecrated virgin facing loneliness to spend more time in prayer and solitude in order to reflect more deeply on her spousal relationship with Christ; but this might not always be the right thing to tell a lay Serious Single, and I doubt it would be helpful to a Searching Single.)

Also, lay singles and the consecrated/ordained should be planning their lives differently. It’s a good thing to encourage a lay single to enjoy her personal freedom, to travel, to do things for personal enrichment, ect., But, I think it would be very wrong for a consecrated virgin—who should be striving towards a life of self-emptying in the spirit of the evangelical counsels—to have the same mindset.

The bottom line of my concern is that a woman who discerns a vocation to consecrated virginity because she seeks the personal fulfillment and freedoms which are proper to (and legitimate and wholesome for!) a lay single will have a difficult time living a life readily identifiable as being “consecrated.” For the sake of the Church as well as the Order of Virgins, I truly do not want this misunderstanding to be perpetuated.

Seraphic said...

Thanks for the clarification. The one thought I'll have, to end the conversation, is that I don't think pain necessarily means gain when it comes to embracing God's call, even/especially for women in religious life.