In my former community, we would comment–in a somewhat light-hearted way–about the age of thirty-three being the “year of crucifixion.” Perhaps those community sisters of mine who had already passed that age spoke with more truth than I realized. While there are certain moments of more intense suffering and offering at different stages of life, independent of age, the “year of crucifixion” didn’t pass by without reminding me very clearly of the cross.
At thirty-one, I said goodbye to my community family and embarked upon a new way of life. At thirty-two I met a knight in shining armor and seriously opened myself to the possibility of marriage. And not more than a day after my thirty-third birthday, my knight and I–after a long conversation and many tears–decided that we needed to step back from the relationship. God had not given me the peace I needed to move forward in that vocation.
In some ways it was more painful to end an eight-month relationship than it has been to leave my community of many years. Or perhaps the one was now compounding the other. I was working through not one loss but two. In spite of feeling peace in the rightness of the decision, the sadness continued for many months.
Providence would have it that I had already intended to renew my Marian Consecration on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The Consecration day itself had its share of crosses, not the least of which was my inability to attend Mass due to my “worldly duties.” Yet on the following day–the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows–I had a moment of heart-to-heart prayer with My Mother. The previous few months had been painful. I needed to be with her at the cross. I wrote this reflection:
“With Mary I stand at the foot of the cross. No…I don’t stand. I fall. It’s hard, so hard. It’s painful. Why? Because of love. Love can hurt. I may have to leave at the altar of the cross something that I love dearly. Why? Because the love of Christ is more, and if He is asking the sacrifice, I can’t refuse it.
But I really have nothing on Mary when it comes to pain, suffering, and loss. Talk about a broken heart! No…her heart was pierced but not broken. She knew suffering like no other yet was not driven to despair. She hoped against all hope. She offered, she loved. And it is with her that I walk through this valley of tears. I’ve renewed my consecration to her – and if I take this act seriously, how much more does she? She is my faithful companion. I know that she does not abandon her children.”
The tears didn’t magically disappear that day, my heart wasn’t healed in an instant,nor did the twists and turns suddenly make sense. But I had a new awareness of Mary’s presence in my life. If Mary could maintain faith and hope in the midst of unimaginable suffering, can she not help me to do the same in my sufferings, small by comparison? She accompanies me at the foot of the Cross, consoles me and reminds me that I have reason to hope. Because if thirty-three is the year of crucifixion, it is also the year of resurrection. We all have that to look forward to, my friends – in small ways in this life and a glorious way in the next.
Day One: Love that is Total and Unconditional
Opening Prayer: Almighty God and Father, we glory in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, your beloved Son, as we call to mind the great things his love has done for us. Fill us with the grace that flows in abundance from the Heart of Jesus, the source of heaven’s gifts. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 13: 1-13 Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous
Matt. 5:43-48 If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?
Reflection:Â St. Paul writes to the Corinthians and describes for them the qualities of love. Paul is really describing the qualities of the love that God revealed to us in the Heart of His Son. Paul is challenging us to love the way Jesus did. “Love is patient, kind, not jealous, not prone to anger, there is no limit to its trust, hope, and power to endure…” God wants to mold our heart so that it resembles the Heart of His Son. Let us generously and unconditionally accept that love, and then try to practice unconditional love in our relationship with our neighbor.
1. Pray daily the Prayer of St. Ignatius for Generosity:
Dear Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for reward, save that of knowing that I am doing your will. Amen.
2. At Mass, we see how Jesus gave himself completely for us. Every time you attend Mass, make an unconditional offering of yourself to God the Father, in union with the complete offering of Jesus.
This Novena in Honor of the Sacred Heart, written by Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J., is taken from Apostleship of Prayer/League of the Sacred Heart, can be found at: http://www.loyolajesuit.org/peter_schineller/resources/novena%20in%20honor%20of%20the%20Sacred%20Heart.doc
By Jenna Cooper, a consecrated virgin from the Archdiocese of New York.
Over the years, I’ve been privileged to be in touch with a number of women discerning vocations to consecrated virginity in the Catholic Church, with more than a few of these being former religious Sisters in the process of discerning their next step. Since consecrated virginity is not yet very well-known or well-understood, properly discerning a vocation to this particular form of consecrated life can be difficult for any woman. Yet I imagine it might present special challenges for those who have recently left a religious community.
Information and advice for former Sisters discerning consecrated virginity could fill several blog posts, but here are some basic points of consideration for anyone who finds herself in this position:
Not all women are called to be consecrated virgins.
While this may sound obvious and self-explanatory, I’ve heard of cases where a recent Sister is advised to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity by a priest, spiritual director, or former religious superior, even without anyone involved having much understanding of what the life and spirituality of a consecrated virgin actually entails. Other times, it seems women who have recently left convents consider becoming consecrated virgins almost reflexively, as though consecrated virginity were simply a sort of “catch all” category for unmarried women who needed to find a niche within the Church.
Yet consecrated virginity is not a general vocation which is categorically open to all the faithful, but is rather a relatively rare charism which results from a very specific call from God. Even a woman who meets all the canonical criteria to qualify for the consecration of virgins might not actually experience a true interior call to this way of life. And in some situations, there can be good pastoral reasons for advising women who are technically qualified to become consecrated virgins against discerning this vocation.
The upshot of all this is that no woman who has left a convent should feel in any way pressured or obligated to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity. As serious Catholics, we might sometimes be tempted to think that we should always be able to put ourselves into neat canonical boxes. But we need to remember that this is not the way that God thinks!
Our Lord loves and is pleased with everyone who sincerely seeks to do His will, regardless of whether or not one is settled into a permanent state in life. If a woman is truly called to be a consecrated virgin, this vocation will needed to be discerned on God’s time, and will come about solely as a result of His providential design and good pleasure.
Consecrated virginity is a distinct vocation in its own right.
Another common misunderstanding about consecrated virginity is that it is simply an “alternative vocation.” However, the charism of the Church’s ancient Order of Virgins is much more than simply “being dedicated to God, but without living in a convent.”
Consecrated virginity as a vocation actually pre-dates religious life by several centuries, and the spirituality of consecrated virginity is as unique as that of any religious family. For example, consecrated virginity as a form of consecrated life has a particular focus on the call to live as a bride of Christ, a special affinity with the Church’s early virgin-martyr saints, and a characteristic emphasis on the virtue of Christian virginity.
Consecrated virgins also have their own proper role and identity within the broader household of the Church. Through their consecration, consecrated virgins acquire a special bond with the local Church (and are therefore part of their home dioceses in a more “direct” way than religious, who are first and foremost members of their communities).
Likewise, consecrated virginity is also very different from simply making a private vow. A woman is consecrated as a virgin in a fully public liturgical rite, and from the day of their consecration consecrated virgins are called to bear a public evangelical witness.
Consecrated virginity has its own challenges
On the surface, a call to consecrated virginity might seem less demanding than a call to religious life, since consecrated virgins are not required to leave their homes and families or adhere to all the discipline inherent in community life. Still, my strong belief is that when a consecrated virgin is living out her consecrated life fully, this vocation is just as challenging as religious life, only in different specific ways.
One fairly obvious challenge inherent in the life of a consecrated virgin is the need for a great deal of self-motivation and self-discipline. Consecrated virgins are obligated to live serious lives of prayer (generally understood as the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass in regions where this is possible, and daily time for private prayer), and they must be faithful to this even without the support of a community or the direct supervision of a superior.
Another significant challenge which is perhaps less readily apparent is the need for continual ongoing discernment. While canon law and the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity call consecrated virgins to be dedicated to the service of the Church, the practical details of how this can be best lived out concretely are left to the discretion of an individual consecrated virgin and her bishop. On even a purely human level, this requires a great deal of prudence and personal maturity; spiritually, it also demands a certain kind of asceticism. Consecrated virgins need to cultivate a listening heart which is truly open to God’s will and sensitive to the actual needs of the local Church, which underscores the necessity of fostering a profound sense of interior detachment in order to serve God’s people generously and disinterestedly.
A general lack of understanding and support is another difficulty which, while not intrinsic to this vocation, is a hard reality for most consecrated virgins at this point in time. Very few dioceses have well-developed formation programs for those aspiring to consecrated virginity, and young consecrated virgins in many places often lack peers and role models. Additionally, today’s consecrated virgins are likely to encounter, at least occasionally, dismissive attitudes and insensitive comments from even good people within the Church.
Of course, a woman who truly has a vocation to consecrated virginity will be given the grace to cope with these challenges. Still, it is important for discerners to be aware of them.
To sum up:
Consecrated virginity, like any life-long commitment, is a decision which needs to be carefully and peacefully discerned. Many recent Sisters may find it helpful to learn more about consecrated virginity, while keeping in mind that not every former religious who inquires about becoming a consecrated virgin will find that this is where she is called. Yet at the same time, I would also imagine that some former Sisters may actually have been called to the charism of consecrated virginity all along, with their time in the convent serving as part of God’s providential plan for the discovery of their true vocation.
“Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”
When I read this passage from the second reading I stopped for a few minutes to try and absorb this truth of the Incarnation.
Jesus became one of us for our sake.
He was born of His Virgin Mother Mary for our sake.
His mission was revealed in the Temple, his mission to suffer for our sins for our sake.
He hid himself in a childhood of poverty and ordinariness for our sake.
He sanctified the waters of Baptism in his own Baptism, taking on our sins for our sake.
He was tempted in the desert for our sake.
He went out and brought the message of healing and forgiveness of sins for our sake
He suffered loneliness and persecution for our sake.
He suffered all of the effects of the human condition for our sake.
He endured the agony of all of the sins of the world for our sake.
He was scourged and beaten for our sake.
He was crowned with a crown of thorns and mocked for our sake.
He carried his cross to Calvary for our sake.
He was nailed to the cross and crucified for our sake.
He died and was laid in the tomb for three days for our sake.
And then He opened the gates of Heaven for our sake!
What more can we ask for in the sufferings of our life than a merciful God who wants to be united to us in those very sufferings? On the day of His Presentation, Jesus’ identity as Savior of the world was proclaimed by Simeon. Today, when we remember this canticle repeated so often in the quiet hours of night, let us remember the saving work accomplished in his 33 years of life, for our sake. Let us rejoice on the day of His consecration that enable each one of us to be consecrated to God for a specific mission and purpose, for His glory, for the joy of each soul, and for the salvation of the world.