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July 17, 2011

Theology of the Body : Order of Consecrated Virgins

Recently I’ve been reflecting on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body .

In the above mentioned catechesis and commentaries on it, the emphasis is on the nuptial meaning of the body, the complementarity  of  male and female, in all dimensions of the human person.

How do we relate this theology of the body with the vocation of consecrated virgins who are mystically espoused to Jesus Christ according to canon #604 ?

The consecrated virgin is also called Sponsa Christi or bride of Christ. Central to the identity of this vocation is the nuptial  meaning of  virginity consecrated in all its dimensions to  God  who revealed  Himself  through the Incarnation of  Jesus Christ  His Son, and His Spirit poured out to make virginity fruitful for the Church and the world.

It is usually said that chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, is not focused on negation  of  sexual satisfaction, but  a  yes to love the whole world. To what extent does this apply to virgins consecrated according to canon #604 ?

A  consecrated virgin  accepts the call to love  Christ as her one and only  Spouse so that every  other relationship will begin from Him.  Her virginity  is a gift, so that  she should be united with Christ, in her body, mind, heart, spirit, all dimensions of her being. In a way the consecration  calls her to image the  mystical, Risen body of Christ, with whom she is legally espoused.

The consecrated virgin is an eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and the life to come when the Church will be fully united with Christ her Bridegroom. She makes present the fulfillment that humanity awaits through its redemption.

There is nothing that a married woman experiences in her relationship with her husband, which a consecrated virgin does not have  in her relationship with Christ although in a  different way, including the gift of sexuality in its femininity. However the nuptial dimension of the vocation does not end with romanticism.

Virginity is not only about spousal love. The gift of ones body to Christ  has much to do  in relation to service which is a sign of spiritual fecundity and motherhood. There cannot be  motherhood and childbirth without suffering and pain .
The consecrated virgin as an individual represents the body of Christ, the Church with Christ as its Head. This is another aspect of her vocation which differs from  religious life. The  religious community on the other hand, is an image of the  body of Christ and the Church, as a community. Each member represents ‘one part’ of the body.

Over the centuries,there have been various spiritualties in the Church, mainly emphasizing the spiritual over the physical. e.g. St John of the Cross writes about the purification of the senses  leading towards spiritual union of the soul with God. This can be read from the context of monastic life  where the body has a role in asceticism. The nuptial dimension of the body is not emphasized. This relates to religious life in general.

In the Order of consecrated virgins, the  role of the body is important in its nuptial meaning. That’s what gives the consecrated virgin her identity. But it is not limited to the body. It is a consecration of her whole being, every dimension of her life  to God.  Several theologians suggest that an ontological change  is effected by the ‘prayer of consecration’ during the Rite of consecration to a life of virginity. It leads to the permanent nature of the consecration which cannot be dispensed.

In the life of a consecrated virgin, the body is united with Christ’s crucified and Risen body  and  has an important role in prayer, penance, suffering, work, etc., in the mystery of salvation of  humanity, the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Work becomes prayer. Every aspect of the body is consecrated, set apart for God and His works of mercy. Eyes- not only to avoid lust, but to strive to admire  beauty in the universe, both inanimate and living creation of God, for His glory. To shed tears for the conversion of hearts.

Ears: to  listen to God’s Word, to praise God through music, as a counselor  to listen to people who pour out their  suffering  and seek consolation.

Mouth: to speak His Word and  good words, to eat what is  good for one’s health, and also enjoy and praise God, without overindulgence.  Both feasting and  fasting  as a body-prayer. Lips to smile at enemies and friends.

Feet: to walk  on beautiful earth and also the dirty streets where duty and service can call us to go for love of our fellow-human beings.

Hands: to write, work, touch, heal, and much more for the greater glory of God.
Human Heart:  to love one another as Christ has loved us.
To offer all suffering due to daily labor, sickness, etc. to God.

Every part of the body 
of a consecrated virgin 
is set apart for God’s glory,
for His Kingdom.
But this is only possible
by following Christ 
in the Gospel,
in His Incarnation- 
the Infinite and Invisible God 
become human  in the Body- 
immersing Himself in this world, 
as He worked, 
–following Him 
on the way of the cross,
in His crucifixion, 
and resurrection
for the salvation 
of the whole world.

July 8, 2011

Are Consecrated virgins Called to Lead Solitary or Communitarian Life ?

Is like asking, “Is the Church called to  lead Solitary or Communitarian Life ?”

Church began as a community, has always been a  communion of the baptized. The early Christians were strongly linked with Christ and with each other in faith and love. Their life-style was a model of  community. They were recognized as Christians by their love. A New commandment  was given to them by Jesus  and also to us: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

I  often feel that consecrated virgins around the world seem to interpret their vocation in strictly individualistic terms  which seems to be an antithesis of the identity of the Church as  Communion. What could be the reasons for this ?

A] In the Roman Pontifical there  are two versions of the Rite of Consecration to a life of Virginity. One for women living  the monastic life and the other for women not living the monastic life [viz. living in the world].

Too often, the  life-style of consecrated virgins  in accordance with canon #604 is interpreted in  contrast to monastic life.  This attitude is leading to an understanding of consecrated virgins in monasteries and those not living in monasteries, as being at the two opposite ends of  a spectrum.

e.g [1]  Because  consecrated virgins according to canon #604  do not live in monasteries, they are understood to be called to live ‘strictly’ in the world.  This  however  leads to a movement  away from the call to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world.’ It also leads to confusion between the vocation of consecrated virginity  and the vocation of  members of  secular institutes  [who are called to transform the world from within by acting as a leaven within the cultural, economic, and political life - ref .

e.g [2]  Because consecrated virgins according to canon # 604 do not live a 'religious' structured community life in monasteries, this is interpreted as a call to  an Individualistic spirituality and living. This leads to confusion between  consecrated virgins and  hermits [who are called to bear witness to the passing nature of the present age by their inward and outward separation from the world, 'living in the desert.' ref.

The 'identityof the vocation  of consecrated virgins  is interpreted  so much in relational terms to other vocations that  its own charism seems to  be lost.

The Church is Bride of Christ as a  community, but a consecrated virgin is an individual and still bride of Christ.  Maybe this is because the Communion of the Holy Trinity possesses her. She is not an  'isolated' individual after the consecration – due to this participation in the mystery of the Trinity. She is a member of the family of the Trinity – so she is in comm-unity with God.

However, she is linked to the diocese  which becomes her primary community. She lives a diocesan spirituality,  which should be integrated with her life,  whether she lives or serves in the Church at the level of the  small christian community, parish, diocese, or at the universal level.

Although her primary community  is the local church community, this should not exclude the  possibility of a   bond between  consecrated virgins  themselves in the same or different dioceses. If  Jesus loved  His Bride and gave  His life for her  - and calls  Christians to love  one another as He has loved  us,   shouldn’t this be interpreted as a mandate  that one consecrated virgin should love another consecrated virgin  who is also a bride of Christ, as a friend ? Greater love  has no person than to lay down one’s life for  a friend.  I think Jesus has this expectation from consecrated virgins called to follow Him radically.