If you question today’s version of “love”—if you question whether modern marriages are capturing the essence of the matrimonial sacrament—you are not alone. Many young people scorn how culture and media greatly shape, and even dictate, our definition of love as something that never seems to reach deeper than hormones and neurological processes. Even in this environment, there is a kind of love that many people may not have considered. If called to consecrated virginity, a vocation less well known or understood than other, a woman may marry Christ.
The practice of consecrated virginity began before formal religious communities were established, and it came about through the persecution of the early female Christians. Saint Cecilia—who was consecrated before her martyrdom—is one of the best known examples. Contrary to what some may believe, consecrated virginity is not simply an “alternative vocation,” nor is it the same as being “permanently single.” So, what is it exactly?
According to Canon Law 604, “[Consecrated] virgins are …mystically espoused to Christ …when the diocesan bishop consecrates them according to the approved liturgical rite.” They are women who have never married, are dedicated to perpetual chastity, and spend most of their time praying for their diocese and parish. They also volunteer time in their parishes and civic responsibilities.
This vocation is not any less challenging than any of the others; consecrated virgins must be self-disciplined in attending daily Mass, ensuring time for private prayer, and reciting the Liturgy of the Hours. They do not live in convents but in the world, whether alone or with their parents. Additionally, the Church is not financially responsible for consecrated virgins. Note that the Vatican has recently declared that although physical virginity before consecration is important, it is no longer a requirement, allowing for a case-by-case evaluation.
You may find yourself with this question: “What if, as I discern consecrated virginity, I also fall in love?” This is a question that faces Catholics discerning the priesthood or religious life as well. Here’s some advice I have received from trusted priests and loving friends. First, pray by saying a daily “Hail Mary” to gain trust in the Lord about vocation.
Second, focus not on what the Lord is trying to reveal to you, but on how you can love and serve the Lord increasingly. Questions such as, “Lord, please help me understand how much You love me, and how can I love You better?” exemplify this approach, rather than simply asking, “Lord, what is my vocation?”
Thirdly, it is much more likely to become married to a regular man in this society than to become a consecrated virgin. So, although marriage is equally valuable, placing more emphasis in discerning consecrated virginity to balance your perspective may be wise.
Fourthly, just because you consecrate yourself does not mean that you will not fall in love. Instead, that love will be formed differently and be taken to an elevated level that better serves the Lord. As a kind friend has told me, “No love is ever wasted.” Discerning consecrated life does not mean shutting down one’s feelings of care for others.
Lastly, all the vocations are, in actuality, not as separate as they may seem. Indeed, though they each have distinct approaches, they are united in love of the Lord and glorification of the Trinity.
“Jesus is the perfect husband,” my mother often told me as a young girl. Perhaps more young Catholics, in reflecting on the example of many Christian women, will discover a calling to love that has existed since the Church’s earliest days.