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Being Christ’s bride in the world
I first heard the term “consecrated virgin” when I was in college. There was a faith-filled woman serving on our campus who had left her religious community and was later consecrated as virgin living in the world. In my home diocese, I discovered another woman who had taken the same path. At the time I didn’t consider it for myself, as it seemed the next step for women who had formerly been religious sisters. It wasn’t until my mid-30s amid consistent spiritual direction that the thought of consecrated virginity returned, together with an understanding of its essence. And when it did, it came with the peaceful clarity that the Lord was calling me to himself in precisely this way.
Many people ask how a consecrated virgin is similar and different to a religious sister. I explain that both consecrated virgins and religious sisters are called to live in a spiritual marriage with the Lord. Yet, we are different in that I do not share their vocation to live in community within a specific religious order, sharing their charism and apostolate (work).
Often that is where the conversation ends. To many, it seems like a loss of the goods of marriage and family life. Nothing could be further from the truth — an espousal to Jesus Christ is a marriage that endures even in heaven, and spiritual motherhood means an ever-expanding family, welcoming and nurturing the spiritual lives of many. I have said that one of the mysteries of a spiritual mother is that she is never done giving birth! She is always engaged in the often laborious process of forming others in the path of discipleship, and she experiences great joy with each new sign of life. Her motherhood must grow to include all those whom the Lord loves, in her daily interactions with others and her prayer for those throughout the world.
In the first year of my consecrated life, I was asked to give talks about my vocation and discernment about every month. In the course of that year, the question that arose most often was about loneliness. Now I am grateful that I accepted so many invitations, because the last time I was asked, I discovered the painful truth that lurked behind the question — they ask, because they don’t know Jesus is real. I am espoused to Jesus Christ, a living person who knows and loves me, who has chosen me as his own to share this life and the next as his bride. He is the one to whom I turn first in joy and sorrow, in confusion and fear. I am not lonely because he remains with me and refuses to leave me as I am.
I also have discovered in these four years of my consecrated life that it is as different from my single life as is the contrast between the married and single state. A couple that marries has decided not to part as friends and keep looking for another, but to rest in one another, to order their lives around the other and to make a public profession of their lifelong commitment. Married couples still appear the same as before; it is their identity that changes, their focus. Much of their shared life, the intimacy of their relationship, is hidden from the world. To live with the Lord as his bride is similar: I desire to give myself to him completely, and receive him completely in return. And I want the whole world to know him whom I love!
One of the many blessings that has come from this public profession is the increase in young women seeking assistance in their own discernment. I advise that they immerse themselves in the Gospels and the sacramental life of the Church, and to note the response of their hearts to these things. If she finds her joy in prayer, in being with Jesus, and seeks to know him through continued study of the Faith and service to her parish community, the Lord may reveal that her love and the openness of her life to others is to be given to him in formal consecration as his bride.
Jessica Hayes writes from Indiana.