A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I

Table of contents for A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics

  1. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I
  2. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

By Therese Ivers, JCL (JCD cand.)

With headlines carrying the shocking news that the Vatican “no longer requires virginity for virgins”, there has been a lot of controversy and angst stirred up amongst the Catholic community, particularly within the Order of Virgins. However, a calm look at the Church’s traditional teaching on virginity, and the practice of admitting certain women to the Order of Virgins should help in sifting through to the truth of the matter.

What has happened recently is that the Holy See has released an Instruction called Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago (Image of the Bridal Church). In it are contained explanations, exhortations, and advice concerning the Order of Virgins. An Instruction is considered to be a document which explains how the law of the Church is to be carried out or interpreted. It is not law itself, nor can it be more restrictive of rights than the law itself. For that reason, if there are conflicting parts between the law and the Instruction, such parts are automatically void by virtue of canon 34.[1]

In Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago is a very controversial paragraph. It is controversial because it introduces a novelty for the practice of consecrating women who are virgins into the Order of Virgins (Ordo Virginum), a group that has existed since the beginning of Christian virginity at the Annunciation. The paragraph, in #88, in the document which does not yet exist in Latin, the Church’s legal language, but which is consistently translated among the major languages in the vernacular reads as follows in English:

As a treasure of inestimable value that God pours into clay vessels (cf. 2?Cor 4:7), this vocation is truly an undeserved gift. It encounters the person in her actual humanity, always in need of redemption and yearning for the full meaning of her existence. It finds its origin and dynamic centre in the grace of God, who unceasingly acts with the tenderness and the strength of his merciful love in the often complex and sometimes contradictory events of human life, helping the person to grasp her uniqueness and the unity of her being, enabling her to make a total gift of self. In this context it should be kept in mind that the call to give witness to the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love for Christ is not reducible to the symbol of physical integrity. Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practised the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way, while of great importance with regard to the discernment, are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to consecration is not possible. [Emphasis added.]

Why is the paragraph problematic? It is because while it is true that the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love cannot “be reducible to the symbol of physical integrity”, it does, as a matter of fact require the signification of virginity to be meaningful. However, this traditional criterion for women who desire to belong to the Ordo Virginum [“OV” or “OCV”] is removed by the last sentence which says that “Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practiced the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way… are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to the consecration is not possible”. More simply put, after removing the double negative, “The pre-requisite for a body kept in perfect continence is no longer [an] essential [pre-requisite] for admission to the Order of Virgins.  Words have meaning and in this case, the word phrase “kept her body in perfect continence” has specific meaning in the Church.  As Dr. Peters so ably points out in both his short internet post (which cites his lengthy scholarly article in Studia Canonica), it is the denial of lifelong perfect continence as a pre-requisite that is hugely problematic.

The key to understanding the global-wide stir about this passage is extrinsically connected to the Church’s ancient custom of consecrating female virgins as Brides of Christ with a special spiritual anointing. This anointing creates Brides whose own nuptial bond reflects the Church’s own radiant virgin-spousal bond with Christ, the Son of God. Previously, at least “juridic virginity” was required for the reception of this anointing. Now, this document is denying that virginity is an essential requirement for women to receive this special anointing and spousal bond to Christ, which today takes place in a solemn liturgical ritual presided over by a bishop, which is an abrupt departure from 2018 years of tradition in the Catholic Church.

In part II, we shall provide a glossary of words like chastity, virginity, and continence, and explain how they relate to the consecration of virgins. There is too much confusion about virginity and that needs to be cleared up. In this section, however, it is probably a good idea to talk about WHY virginity is valued in the Catholic Church. Virginity is valued because it reflects the virginity of the Most Holy Trinity, the virginity of Christ and the virginity of the Church. [2]

For consecrated virgins, who are “living images” of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and who with the Church share the title “Bride of Christ”, St. Thomas Aquinas has some beautiful passages in his Sententiae:

Every sensible thing the Church uses has a spiritual significance. And since a single corporeal thing fails to represent adequately something spiritual, one spiritual reality may sometimes be represented by several corporeal signs. The spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church is fruitful, for by it the sons of God are given birth; it is pure, for as the Epistle to the Ephesians reads, “Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it,… that He might present to Himself, a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.”… For which reason, St. Paul writes (II Cor. II:2): “for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

Now bodily fruitfulness and virginity or integrity of the flesh are incompatible. Therefore two different signs are needed to represent the spiritual marriage of Christ and His Church, one to image its fruitfulness, the other to reflect its perfect purity or integrity.

Since on earth marriage represents the fruitfulness of the spiritual relationship between Christ and His church, another symbol is needed to typify its integrity. The veiling of virgins accomplishes this in all its words and ceremonies. Because of that fact, only bishops, into whose keeping the Church has been committed, can give virgins the veil, acting as the friend and proxy of the bridegroom. Further, the pure integrity of Christ’s union with the Church is symbolized perfectly by virginal continence but only imperfectly by the continence of widows. Therefore, although they too receive the veil, it is not given to them with the same solemnity.

It should be noticed that the spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church is signified by the virginity of the Church, “symbolized perfectly by virginal continence but only imperfectly by the continence of widows”. This is fully consonant with what the Church says in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins:

God himself is its source. It is he, infinitely pure and holy, who gives the grace of virginity. Those to whom he gives it are seen by the Fathers of the Church as images of the eternal and all-holy God.

When the fullness of time had come, the almighty Father showed, in the mystery of the Incarnation, his love for this great virtue. In the chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh, in a marriage covenant uniting two natures, human and divine.

Our Lord himself taught us the high calling of such a life, consecrated to God and chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven . By his whole life, and especially by his labors, his preaching, and, above all, by his Paschal Mystery, he brought his Church into being. He desired it to be a virgin, a bride, and a mother: a virgin, to keep the faith whole and entire; a bride, to be one with him forever; and a mother, to raise up the family of the Church.

The dignity of being a sacred virgin is to be anointed as a bride of Christ and symbolizing in her very body, the Church herself because her body has been kept in holy virginal continence. Now, if we re-examine the problematic sentence in Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, we see that according to this document, continence (virginal or widowed) is not essential for admission to the consecration. If that is the case, what possible value does the consecration of virgins have if it is conferred on non-virgins? The physical symbol has been removed and there is now nothing left. This is why this Instruction has produced shockwaves around the globe; the nature of the vocation has been removed, which means that whatever is deemed to be “consecrated virginity” no longer has any theological meaning or purpose if there is no longer an essential pre-requisite to keeping the body in perfect continence. Virginity and continence are inextricably connected with the body when practiced by humans. This shall be seen in Part II.


To be continued.



[1] Can. 34 §1. Instructions clarify the prescripts of laws and elaborate on and determine the methods to be observed in fulfilling them. They are given for the use of those whose duty it is to see that laws are executed and oblige them in the execution of the laws. Those who possess executive power legitimately issue such instructions within the limits of their competence.

  • 2. The ordinances of instructions do not derogate from laws. If these ordinances cannot be reconciled with the prescripts of laws, they lack all force.
  • 3. Instructions cease to have force not only by explicit or implicit revocation of the competent authority who issued them or of the superior of that authority but also by the cessation of the law for whose clarification or execution they were given.

[2] Cf. The Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity in the Roman Pontifical, #16; Virginity, by St. Gregory of Nyssa in chapters 1-2.

Therese Ivers is a member of the Order of Virgins, a canon lawyer, and perita on consecrated life by virtue of holding the diploma from the Vatican on the Theology and Law of Consecrated Life.  She is the president of the Society of American Virgins.

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Are Women Religious Being Exploited?

By Therese Ivers, JCL


An article recently appeared in the L’Osservatore Romano [Vatican newspaper] by Marie-Lucile Kubacki, about religious sisters in Rome being exploited in providing cooking, laundry, and housekeeping services for male Church officials.  Sisters, some with doctorates or licentiates in theology or other fields were being assigned to serve in menial positions for “random” “modest” or “no pay”.  The phrase “male Church officials”, used in an English report on this issue, in practice, denotes communities of male religious who often have a whole team of sisters dedicated to providing these services, as well as individual priests and prelates.

Not unexpectedly, another article appeared, whose author, Jeff Mirus, claimed to be “bemused and confused” about the claim of exploitation of women religious in Rome.  It was entitled Is It Wrong For Women Religious to Serve Priests and Bishops?  Of course, any person who celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker knows that work is dignified and menial labor is dignified.   However, this is a trick question.  It is only acceptable for women religious to serve male religious and clergy if it is part of their official charism.  Apparently Mirus, who does not have “living in Rome for an extended period of time” in his bio, sees the articles against exploitation of women religious as an exaggerated “feminist” outcry.

Indeed, Mirus sees the services of doing the cooking, laundry, and housekeeping for “clergy” (he doesn’t realize that teams of religious sisters are often assigned to do the same for communities of their peers, non-ordained religious brothers) as opportunities for reducing ministry costs of clergy and for growing in humility!  This is shortsighted thinking.

What Mirus does not appear to appreciate is that the articles speak of many sisters not having proper labor contracts; hence, they are financially vulnerable. They are often not paid even if they or their communities desperately need funds.  This is not Catholic social justice in action; it is exploitation.  Further, it may be true that the salary a cleric receives will not be greatly diminished by free or cheap labor, but the cleric is given a reliable salary, which is supposed to include sufficient funds for decent living.

Housekeeping services are part of the salary equation for many clergymen, particularly if they live in spacious rectories with a lot of shared common space. Little or no pay means that there is true exploitation of women’s labor on the part of the male cleric.  The exploitation is not limited to simply the woman/women religious and their own religious communities.  It extends to the local Church, who, by their donations, are supporting the women religious to do something which is often contrary to their stated charism!  Would rightly thinking lay and ordained faithful be so quick to donate to women religious communities if they knew that a portion of the members were being siphoned off from their stated mission to be underpaid or unpaid servants to religious brothers and clergy?

Unlike Mirus, I have personally witnessed vast numbers of women religious being exploited in Italy.  I have seen religious sisters scrubbing toilets and cooking for male religious communities or individual clergymen.  For the vast majority, it was historically accomplished by a sympathetic superior helping out a busy cleric or a religious community of men despite the fact that the charism did not support this type of work.  A teaching or nursing community has no business scrubbing the toilets of male religious communities!  This isn’t a matter of menial labor being “unsuitable”, but the context is wrong.  It is wrong for a community with a stated charism that does not include menial labor for the personal benefit of male Church officials to assign sisters to do just that.

Furthermore, there must be consideration of jeopardy to the promise/vow of chastity on the part of both male clergy and religious and on the part of the vowed women providing these services. There is no need to expound on this point. Young religious women should not be working in the private quarters of men. Parish priests are not supposed to have live-in housekeepers unless they are of mature age. Barring advanced age or disability, men should take a little time to maintain their own quarters. This is a part of normal living, and the exercise will be good for their health.

This exploitative practice needs to end. It impoverishes communities of religious women. It helps men to entertain an attitude of entitlement.  Yes, I have personally heard or participated in conversations where religious communities of men felt entitled to free housekeeping services from religious women.  This custom also fosters an attitude of superiority, where men can overlook the intellectual abilities of religious women because they only see them engaged in menial tasks. Both major superiors and superiors of individual houses need to stand up for their rights and either demand labor contracts with proper pay if these services are within their declared charism or refuse to delegate sisters to provide this work.

If it is true that, as Mirus states, cooking, doing the personal dirty laundry of the men, and cleaning can engender humility in religious women, why can’t it work the same way for men?  Why can’t men pick up a broom or do their laundry or take a hand in the kitchen?  If doing a spot of manual labor is not deemed part of a healthy balance in life for men, who should not be doing simply white collar intellectual work to keep physically fit, why can’t lay people be hired at just wages?  If “recruits”, as he labels postulants or novices, can be redirected to these “humble” tasks, why not do the same for male “recruits” at seminaries? Oh wait. There’s actually a purpose for the seminary and novitiate! Strange that it does not include providing housekeeping to busy male religious or clerics as an integral part of the formation program.

One possible response to the existing exploitation is for the Vatican to insist that religious strictly follow their charisms.  This may lead to a widespread withdrawal from the downstairs crew comprised of religious sisters.  Another solution would be to amend the constitutions of the religious congregations to reflect “service to male religious and clerics” as part of their charism.  Of course, one wonders why no male religious community of brothers has written “service to female religious communities” as part of their charism.  Or, a devout woman may feel impelled to start a community dedicated solely to providing menial services to religious males and clergy.  To my knowledge, no community has this as its specific and sole charism.  There is a community I have encountered that has as part of its charism helping out diocesan clergy as needed, which may include housekeeping.

Let us pray that an equitable solution be found.

Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

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Gifts For Consecrated Virgins On The Day of Their Consecration To A Life of Virginity

by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

Guestbook for Guests at Consecration

The summer season is a busy time for a lot of solemn consecrations of virgins as the Brides of Christ. The inevitable question arises: Just what does one get for a newly consecrated sacred virgin? As it turns out, the potential gift list is a lot less restrictive than for a religious monks/nuns, friars/brothers/sisters, because sacred virgins do not make vows of poverty, do not live in common, and are responsible for their own financial upkeep.

The consecration of a virgin is a nuptial celebration of the espousals of Jesus Christ with the virgin(s). Virgins, according to the words of the solemn liturgy presided by the Bishop, “renounce marriage for the sake of which it is the sign”. That is, they renounce human marriage with a male to contract heavenly marriage with Christ since human marriage of a male and female reflects the union of Christ and His Church. This is why only female virgins can be sacred virgins in the order of virgins. Thus, the gift list can include things that would be appropriate for a wedding. Depending on the virgin’s social circumstances, a typical wedding registry would not be amiss. The virgin doesn’t have a second income (her husband’s) to buy the stuff necessary to furnish a home, no established community that provides all the home furnishings, etc. Thus typical wedding presents are completely appropriate. Household goods and gadgets, clocks, vases, paintings, essentially anything that would be appropriate for a wedding gift would likewise be appropriate for the sacred virgin. Naturally, one would not buy basic items for an established couple or virgin, and so prudence should be had in gift giving.

In ordination gifts, men becoming diocesan (secular) priests and deacons tend to get many secular gifts such as checks, gift cards for restaurants, club memberships, car wash cards, etc. This is likewise appropriate for sacred virgins. Again, sacred virgins, like diocesan clergy, do not make a vow or even promise of poverty. Unlike clergy, they are not guaranteed financial support or a job, and have to worry about savings for bad times, paying for health care, saving for old age, etc. Gift certificates, checks, gifts of services for things like lawn mowing or snow shoveling or dry cleaning are especially appropriate for a consecration gift. Many virgins, as well as clergy, have student loans to pay off and cash can be quite welcome. Likewise, a younger virgin may have the expense of renting or a mortgage, an expense that priests and bishops do not usually have to worry about.

Because as a Bride of Christ, the Son of the Living God, the virgin is often given permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in her home, the necessary items for such reservation and Masses said in the private chapel are appropriate gifts. Hence, although she herself is not getting ordained, typical ordination gifts (other than sick call kits or stoles) are appropriate as well: sacred vessels such as a chalice, ciborium, sacred vestments, hosts, sacramental wine, altar linens, etc. Like a bishop and unlike a priest, the virgin can usually have a furnished chapel. Hence a gift such as a tabernacle, a supply of candles, appropriate liturgical books, altar, tabernacle lamp, and other chapel furnishings is very appropriate and much appreciated. Obviously, coordination and consultation of the virgin in question is in order for such gifts to ensure no duplication and that the items are crafted in accordance with the virgin’s personal preferences in style.

Religious presents that are welcome to sacred virgins include things like a gift certificate for a weekend or even week-long retreat (make sure it’s a place she wants to go to!), certificate for a religious book publisher or store, a scholarship to a theological program or course, etc. Statues of sacred virgin saints (the Blessed Virgin Mary, Agnes, Lucy, Cecilia, Agatha, Scholastica, Gertrude the Great, Genevieve of France, Bridgid of Ireland, Margaret of Hungary, Hildegard of Bingin, Bl. Rosalind the Carthusian, etc.) or even paintings of said saints can also be a nice gift. Just be sure that the saint is not simply a virgin but received the consecration of virgins from her bishop (which is different than religious profession; some saints in religious communities also received this solemn consecration in addition to making perpetual vows).

Other lovely gifts virgins appreciate will depend upon them as individuals. If you know a virgin well, you may know that she’d appreciate a gift of nice stationary, journal, membership to a museum or other cultural center, or even just volunteer time for an apostolate she runs. Diocesan clergy often get to lead pilgrimages and thus get a free passage. Perhaps money can be pooled to bring the virgin to the Holy Land, Rome, Fatima, Lourdes, or other famous Shrine on pilgrimage.

Many virgins have shared with me frustration in receiving common devotional items such as rosaries, novena booklets, scapulars, and things that are more appropriate for First Communions or Confirmations rather than for women whose life is centered on Christ and therefore have the things pious laity would already possess. This includes Bibles, the Magnificat, the Catechism, basic lives of the saints, etc.

Again, because the virgin is not bound to a life of poverty, there are plenty of thoughtful gifts that a person can give to a sacred virgin that are appropriate for the occasion of her espousals to Christ and entrance into the order of virgins. Gifts can range from something one would give for a birthday or wedding or ordination because the virgin lives in the world with all of its vicissitudes and is espoused to Christ, dedicated to the service of the people of God.

Lastly, if you know a virgin well, some appropriate gifts may have to do with the ceremony and reception. Donating invitations (if the diocese doesn’t issue them), music fees (or offering to sing if one is a professional singer), photography gift certificates, music for reception, donating for the public/private reception, helping drive guests, assisting with the decorations for the Church, paying for the ring or veil (again, if the diocese/parish or family member or virgin herself doesn’t cover it) are all better gifted by those who may know that such may be a huge financial or logistical burden on the virgin. Many virgins have part of their expenses covered by the diocese (invitations, new set of the Liturgy of the Hours, ring, flowers for Mass, cantor/choir, public reception like for ordinations if that is the custom, etc.) but there is a lot more that goes into a fitting ceremony that is one of the most important liturgical events of the diocese.

(c) 2017 by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

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A Double Standard or Just Plain Lack of Formation and Catechesis?

By Therese Ivers, JCL

For thousands of years, society held men less responsible for the sin of fornication.  Men “sowing their wild oats” was a “given” in society as opposed to the woman who was shamed because she was “damaged goods”.  The Catholic Church has always held that men and women are equally responsible for the sin of consensual fornication and adultery.  Today, we have an interesting societal phenomenon growing, in which women committed to perfect chastity are being held to a lesser standard of chastity than men who are committed to perfect chastity.  Along with this reversed double standard is the fueling of a false sense of scandal when public unchaste acts of women are discussed vs. those of men.

The practice of perfect chastity requires of both men and women from refraining from all unchaste acts, whether by themselves or with others.  Men and women who are formed for the reception of holy orders or profession of the vow of perfect chastity in continence in consecrated life are given years of formation to better understand this commitment.  The practice of perfect chastity is not limited to avoiding the sins of fornication, adultery, and sodomy.  Sins against chastity are multiple and include thoughts, words, and deeds.

When a person who is publicly committed to a life of perfect chastity in the Catholic Church (or who is otherwise a viable candidate for such a public commitment) has publicly acted in an unchaste matter and continues to defend that act, the very fact of doing so is the matter of scandal.  It is the very act against chastity that is the matter of scandal.  Pseudo scandal occurs when people wrongly attack those who discuss a public scandal, as if it were a sin against charity to discuss a public and scandalous matter. It is not a sin to discuss a public scandal.  The sin lies within the person who created the scandal to begin with.  They are the ones who sinned against charity of good example to the world by sinning against, in this case, perfect chastity.

The new double standard comes into play between the difference between the treatment of priest-scandals and those pertaining to consecrated virgins.  Take for instance, the scandals of the priest-pedophiles, priests who have been caught out soliciting for sodomous acts, and even the case of the priest wandering about a closed elementary school in his birthday suit [see here and here].  The news covered these scandals and numerous commentaries by Catholic theologians, laypersons, and others have discussed the public violations against chastity by ordained men.  The men have been disciplined, often laicized or required to do penance.

Then you take the cases of consecrated virgins.  For some reason, bishops and the faithful have been reluctant to require the same perfect chastity of them as they do of the ordained.  Consecrated virgins publicly state their resolve to remain in “perfect chastity” during the Rite of Consecration. They have the same or greater responsibility for exercising perfect chastity, in the sense that being a virgin is to embody all that is taught about virginity in a direct way.  However, the formation for fulfilling their obligation created by their consecration [not vow] is not standardized and often greatly lacking.  This, combined with a general ignorance of the vocation on the part of the hierarchy and laity alike contribute to the non-enforcement of perfect chastity of the consecrated virgins. Take the following as examples of this overlooking by the hierarchy and faithful of violations against the practice of perfect chastity by these women consecrated by God and who are required to be a model of not just chastity but virginity.

Last year, a woman who wrote about the unchaste love she experienced in taking off her top with her photographer [see here; warning: graphic images] was “consecrated” as a virgin [the validity of said consecration is in question due to the violation of the regulation that candidates must not have lived in public violation of chastity].  Giant blown up displays of the photograph of the said woman and others are displayed in galleries in countries around the world, and she is seen sans top with a scarf draping half of a private area [see here– warning: graphic images].  She is in a pornographic “art” collection objectifying the human female body in the name of showing people that women can be sexy despite having mastectomies.  This “art” collection in the galleries and in a book, includes fully nude women, many in provocative stances and some clearly lesbian.  The photographer was right when he said in shock on the news that he couldn’t believe a consecrated virgin would agree to be included in this collection [see this video of the photographer explaining her photo at the art gallery– warning: graphic images].

Another woman, a consecrated virgin, and professor of theology at a Catholic seminary, chose to promote nude photographs of athletes on her Facebook page in the name of artistic appreciation of the body.  Promotion of the dignity of the human bodies requires that they be clothed on this earth except for serious and moral reasons.  Photography and film of naked bodies for the delectation of the viewers is not a proportionate reason to unclothe.

While the violations are clearly scandalous in themselves, it is interesting that while those in holy orders are usually swiftly disciplined, some of those in consecrated virginity have not been [neither of the two highlighted above have been publicly rebuked by Church authorities or publicly retracted their support for their stances].  Both clerics and virgins are in public vocations in the Church and both are subject to discipline and oversight by the Church authorities.

Sometimes it takes public pressure for Church authorities to do the right thing.  We see this highlighted in the numbers of priests who got away with the abuse of minors until the bishops were confronted by lawsuits and public clamor to do what they should have done in protecting the faith and morals of their flock, and holding people committed to perfect chastity accountable for their actions.  The outcry is not forthcoming for consecrated virgins who publicly violate chastity by encouraging unchaste actions or participating in them themselves.

Perhaps a large part of the deafening silence is because many women are taught to “be nice”.  They are imbued with the false sense that to even discuss a scandal is sinful and “scandalous” or a “lack of charity”.  They do not realize that the scandal is in the violation of chastity and that the lack of charity is in the person who committed a public violation of chastity by the very fact that she is supposed to uphold a life of virtue.  When confronted with a public violation, they flee from discussion of it because of the discomfort they feel about condemning the violation because it may hurt the feelings of the violator.  They effectively do what the bishops and fellow priests did with the clerical abuse of minors, namely, they participate in the cover up of objectively sinful [and public] actions.

When will this double standard cease?  Let’s pray that it happens soon and that women be held by the Church to the high standards to which they profess.

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Consecration? We are all consecrated!



With a click of the mouse, Ellen Campos posted the photos of her son online. She was bursting with maternal pride. A few thousand miles away on the other coast, Martina, Ellen’s cousin, saw the photos as she sat drinking her home brewed coffee. “Ben’s new uniform as a soldier,” was the caption she saw under the first photo of Ben Campos. Ben was in a crisp uniform with a stripe on his shoulders and a golden name badge. “Saluting the flag,” was another caption carefully typed by his doting mother. Martina almost choked on her coffee with a suppressed laugh as she caught a glimpse of that photo. In it, Ben was standing on the deck of a ship, facing the flag with his hand raised to his face. Only, as she knew, it wasn’t a salute. Looking at the shadows, it seemed more probable he was shielding his face from the sun.

Whipping her cellphone from the table, Martina put aside her hot beverage and began to text. “Ellen,” she began. Then she paused uncertainly. How does one tell a person very kindly but firmly that her son is not a soldier and that she might want to rewrite her captions? After a few moments, she decided it was better to call rather than text.

Ellen was not moved by Martina’s suggestion that she stop calling Ben a “soldier”. She hardly knew Martina since they had grown up in different states. In her eyes, Ben was a seafaring soldier. He had undergone training via DVDs and online videos, and read lots on how to become a soldier. Before signing up, he had practiced paintball shooting and even knew some martial arts. He had been a great scout, and could administer basic first aid. He had a very protective and caring instinct and whether he faced pirates, smugglers, or had to do a rescue mission, she felt he would do very well.

Suggesting that Ben was a private citizen was a tactical mistake on Martina’s part. In her world, private citizens were not the same as soldiers. Ellen triumphantly pointed out that there really was no difference between a private citizen and a soldier if they made a commitment, wore a uniform, and did basically the same thing. Thinking that reason and logic would sufficient to help Ellen see the difference, Martina appealed to the history of the armed forces, to the legislation creating them and governing them. Again, these were tactical errors. Ellen’s son was a soldier. It was his experience and it is experience that guides the tardy elites in the ivory towers, not the other way around. Laws? Too legalistic. Not patriotic. Patriotism demanded enthusiastic service in protection and rescuing and other duties on sea. Law and lawyers don’t know what they’re talking about.  The true patriot American soldiers are those who are led by their enthusiasm to wear uniforms, make commitments, and fight!  They are all American soldiers.

Patriotic Ellen put down the phone after the brief conversation with her cousin. She would keep the captions on the photos. In fact, since Martina seemed so full of herself and her navy shipman daughter, she would start writing about her son’s experience to show the world that it is unpatriotic to think that being a soldier is different than being a private citizen! She began to write on the internet about her “heroic American soldier son”.

There was a recruitment pamphlet on the dusty desk in Ben’s old bedroom. It was for the coast guard. Ellen’s eyes lit up as she read the pamphlet. “Proof!” She hurried to her trusty computer and began to furiously type. As the keys were tapped at the rapid rate of a firing squad, she kept thinking of the honor and feelings of her beloved son. He must not think that he had a second rate or inferior calling. No. At all costs his occupation must be defended as being the same as Martina’s or her daughter’s.

With great verbosity and mangled jargon, Ellen pointed out to the world on the wide web that Ben’s job matched the bullet points shown on the pamphlet. Fight smugglers? Yes. She could well imagine Ben keeping watch and fending them off. Rescue people? Ellen’s mind dwelt fondly on the mental picture of Ben rushing to the sea, kicking off his shoes and emerging a dripping hero. Serve his country? Of course, Ben as any other patriotic American was at the service of his country… Ellen’s efforts created a nano sized ripple in the internet wave…

Meanwhile, the daughter of Martina was stationed in an “undisclosed location” in the Middle East. She had not followed her mother’s footsteps in the coast guard, but had enlisted in the navy. Hers was the world of the tiniest of living spaces, mundane food, and tough watches. Her eye had caught Ellen’s posting and with great merriment and joking, she showed it to the other sailors. Salty wisecracks and roars of laughter were soon followed by mocking comments online. Soldier indeed!  The sworn and commissioned members of the country’s armed forces did not dream of how in Ellen’s mind there was precious little difference between them and Ben Campos.

As Mrs. Campos consulted critical sources online such as Moby Dick, Treasure Island, and a variety of naval literature found in her son’s footlocker, she became quite the expert on the armed forces. Her experience via her son informed her that the country was quite wrong to in a very “temporal” and “legalistic” short sighted manner insist on there being separate divisions of the armed forces and even subdivisions within them! The whole purpose was to fight and protect, she reasoned, so it is unpatriotic and wrong to have divisions. It only fosters a sense of inferiority with all these divisions of the navy, air force, army, coast guard, etc., and that isn’t right for the people with their feelings. Best to be truly patriotic and organize them in one group.

Recruiters in Ellen’s part of the country began to see her show up at their offices. She would picket them, derisive of the “unpatriotic divisions” caused by the separate forces. Her internet musings would burst forth from her passionately about how we should live peaceably together instead of instructing recruits about the differences between, say, the coast guard and the navy. Or, as her heart chilled at the thought, the difference between private citizens and the members of the armed forces. “My son is just as good,” she would console herself and would move on, denouncing the unpatriotic stance of distinguishing between the coast guard, navy, army, etc. They were no better than private citizens. An occasional politician would show sympathy, nodding at the meet and greets, or paying lip-service to the idea that soldiers are no different than private citizens. After all, nobody’s feelings should be hurt and we must be all inclusive!  Soldiers of all stripes and colors were soldiers provided they had the same goal!

People who were not connected to the military complex or idealistic youth would listen avidly to Ellen’s thoughts on private citizen soldiers. Ben was handsome in his uniform and he looked every inch the soldier sailor. Ellen may have mangled the military jargon, but she neither knew nor cared, and neither did her audience. For their part, the brass were so busy with real matters of urgency and could not fathom how she might get a devoted following that they forbore from official investigation and public censure of her opinions.

While she could have gone on in a career, boosted by the financial offerings of her fans, on a one-woman mission to eradicate all differences, divisions,and ranks, for the sake of patriotic love of the country, something happened to divert her thoughts. Ben was lost at sea! It had been a stormy night and he had been testing the lifeboat. Now he was nowhere to be found! She went to the navy seals because they leave no one behind. “Ben Campos?” They could not find Ben on their rolls. “Ben is as good as a navy seal so he is one,” his mother desperately demanded. Strangely, the navy was deaf to her pleas and would not initiate a search and rescue mission.

Ben’s mother was frantic with worry. She even went on board the ship when it docked and found a journal Ben kept. Contained in the journal were mysterious messages and symbols. Ellen, despite her sorrow and worry, could not resist the challenge of cryptography, that great art of communication which treated of the country’s greatest and dearest secrets! She pored over the journal, made notes, and began constructing a lexicon of her own. She borrowed from the scraps of military jargon she had heard of course, but as no language is ever too difficult for the determined, conquer it she would. Rapidly, within a few days, Ellen became the world’s foremost cryptologist and proclaimed it online. She began teaching her devoted followers – and all who were generally interested in the topic – and her writings now were half in English and half cryptic. She was the expert. Nobody who trained could equal her because she had experience to back her up. The cryptologists and famous ones of yore had nothing to her and should resign in shame.

The end.

Postlogue. The readers will be pleased to know that Ben Campos was rescued by the Coast Guard. He had been so exhausted battling the waves that it took a few days for him to use the emergency beacon. Ellen Campos was enraged because the reports read “Ben Campos” and he was not respected as an officer by the coast guard. She consoled herself with the thought that it was all temporal anyway and they were simply being unpatriotic in their treatment of her son.  She wrote gigabytes on the treason of the navy seals who refused to help their comrade at arms.

After his rescue, Ben quickly resumed his duties as a private security officer on the cargo ship.  One thing puzzled him.  He loved his pen and paper and never went on the internet.  So he could not quite figure out where he had left his jumbled notes on cartography.

Note: This is entirely fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living, dead, or fictional, is purely coincidental.



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