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March 10, 2014

Lent and Easter Reflection for Consecrated Virgins

 This is a deep insight on the vocation I received from a Reader by email. My response follows.
I've been reading your blog and I appreciate the candor with which you discuss the issues involved in consecrated virginity. Whenever I read about the lives of people such as St. Maria Goretti, St. Catherine of Siena, and the early virgin-martyrs, I'm always struck with admiration and my faith is increased. Particularly in the case of the early virgin-martyrs, I always meditate on the courage it took for them to defy the Roman Empire in their love for Christ. Personally speaking, I find that a lot of the lives of early Christian women can be better understood by looking at what the actual status of women was under the Roman Empire -- basically sexual, reproductive slaves. The Roman woman, however wealthy or prestigious her ancestry, was basically a slave of Ceasar and destined to the production of more Roman warriors. Men owned her, and she could be forced into any type of situation. She could be forced to marry, forced into concubinage, forced to bear children for her captors and rapists, and if married, her family could force her to leave her husband and basically sell her to somebody with more money and/or power. Into this mess came our precious Lord Jesus Christ, who set women free. He affirmed our equality with men in the sight of God and our rights to dispose of our own persons, property, etc. The Christian woman has no master except Our Lord Jesus Christ. No mortal man can claim a right to touch us. The Christian woman is inherently sui juris, free to choose to marry or remain a virgin, free to choose her own husband if she chooses to marry, and if her husband dies free to choose a life of celibacy or to remarry. The virgin-martyrs stood firm on these principles by the grace of God and were enabled by Christ's grace to face the furious onslaught of what was then the most powerful military state on earth. The Roman state considered them to be enemies of the state, and while it treated any Christians it could lay hands on as public enemy #1, it seemed to reserve a special venom for the consecrated virgins.
Unfortunately, our modern world is in many ways not much better. In every country on earth we see violent assaults on women, and these same basic human rights which our Lord won for us on the Cross, are disregarded everywhere. I don't think there is any country on earth that is free of misogyny. So the visible return of the consecrated virgin to the Christian community since Vatican II strikes me as very timely and apropos. At the same time, I feel it's important to remember, that a woman preserves her physical virginity not by her own strength, but by the grace of God. Any woman enabled to remain a virgin to the age of full womanhood, has been protected by Christ's grace. This is a supernatural vocation, and the protection must come from the Lord. Just like a Catholic priest, military chaplain, e.g. cannot walk across a battlefield unarmed to bring the Holy Eucharist to the combatants without God's protection, so no woman can walk through the perverted violent world in which we live as a virgin without God's protection. So I feel it's important to remember that this vocation is all grace, it's all from Christ's mercy and protection. And I feel this should inspire a great feeling of compassion and sisterhood, especially vis-a-vis those women who may have been victims of gender-based violence or who may have sinned against chastity before they fully understood what stakes were involved and who now are pouring spices on the Lord's feet and crying tears of repentence. 
People might find it interesting to look at the works of Bl. Jean-Joseph Lataste, O.P. (1832 - 1869), a French Dominican priest who was gifted by the Lord with great insights into these questions.
My Response

Your insights are deep and well-meditated upon. I agree with you that the movement of CV in the early Church was very counter-cultural. It called for a radical change in the status of women in the society of that time.This could have been possible only due to a profound experience of the Paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nobody can embrace martyrdom for ones faith and convictions, without ones heart and soul being involved in it. The spiritual marriage of CV with Christ gave this courage.

CV is very much linked with the purity of the  first Faith-experience of the disciples of the Crucified and Risen Christ [the Kerygma ] leading to Baptism,Confirmation,Eucharist.

Physical virginity is also a dying to the natural human desires, to transcend the 'this-worldly' dimension, to be espoused with Christ  [ image of the 'life to come' when the entire Church will be united with Christ her bridegroom ], be able to embrace the entire world in a different form of motherhood and service.
[ Ref : "Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come, when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom." -- Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata of the Holy Father John Paul II (n.7) ]

Consecrated Virginity  is a symbol of the Universal unity, wholeness and entirety of the Faith [and of the One Bride -the Church]. It is exactly what  the Virgin Mary was called to witness in the Church community. She was a principle of unity in the early Church. Even today she embraces all Peoples of the world under her mantle. Perhaps this is what the Veiling of virgins [ as the Consecration was called in ancient days ] could also symbolize today.......not a symbol of subjugation of women but  of tender , loving , care  of a mother. In the Post-Vatican II revised Rite of consecration, the reception of the Veil is accompanied by words of the bishop stating that it indicates her dedication to service.

Regarding Mary Magdalene, there have always been different schools of thought on whether she can be identified with Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, or the sinner woman. I myself do not identify her with the sinner woman. In today's world and Church -there is enough happening to discredit women. Jealousies and power struggles were common among the disciples of Christ. So I wouldn't be surprised of rumors after her death, to identify her with the sinner woman, not only to discredit her but to suppress women disciples in general.

I agree with you that Conversion from sin to redemption in Christ  is a Powerful witness of what Jesus' love can do to a person . This is also a Charism. We cannot differentiate between  these Gifts. To be able to remain a virgin physically in today's world,is a Gift of Grace. To be able to be converted from sin to Chastity is also a Gift of Grace.  The witness of both vocations [ of the Virgin Mary and of the Sinner Woman ] is needed. CV is not focused on protecting ones physical integrity. It is focused on Loving Christ as His bride, and loving the Church and People of the entire World, as a spiritual mother.

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