by Therese Ivers, JCL
“I think someone fell and broke their arm,” I was told. A few hours later practically the whole campus squeezed into the chapel to pray for the girl who fell 70′ when hiking. Despite heroic efforts, she did not survive surgery, and the bell tolled. People prayed the rosary in the chapel. It was said very slowly – each 5 decades took about an hour. That was an appropriate tempo for the emotional state people were in. You could see it in their eyes. Numbed from shock that one of our own had died. A young, pretty sophomore.
Years passed, and I helping to direct a Catholic youth camp. Another young pretty 20 something came to me. She was distraught because she felt we were irreverently rushing through Vespers. Yes, we were “rushing” at about 35-40 minutes for a prayer that normally takes 15-20 minutes when recited and 25 when sung. Not content with our pauses between each line, she wanted to slow the pace to the point of a drawl.
It didn’t matter that the priest chaplain’s experience in praying the Office in the seminary and mine as a sacred virgin who has lived in convents and visited numerous ones probably totaled more years than the girl had been alive- she could not, would not accept a mere 40 minute recited Vespers. Why? Because she knew that for all of the 1500 or so years since the monks invented the Divine Office they were wrong in their tempo. Obviously slower is better. The slower you say it, the more holy and devout you are. I watched her go away with a disappointed slump after trying several different explanations for my decision to keep the pace as it was. Nothing I could do or say would change this girl’s mind because she knew it all already. She was the expert when it came to liturgical prayer prayed in common. In fact, she is a prime example of what many people are today- pseudo experts in things they know very little about who pontificate and believe that their opinions must be respected because they “feel” they are right or “feel” that X, Y, or Z is “holy” or the “holier thing to do” without the knowledge or experience to back up their feelings.
Unfortunately, our society in which relativism is rampant, encourages this juvenile attitude of believing things because of the belief that because one believes them or “feels” a certain “feeling”, it must be right regardless of the actual truth. This spills over into the vocations area frequently. Why else do people think that women should become priests, two people of the same sex should marry, full time carers can become hermits, or women who are not virgins become sacred virgins? Because the “feeling” of holiness or appropriateness is what counts in their minds and everyone has the right to be whatever they want and do whatever they want as long as they can convince themselves it has good feelings attached.
Yes, along with relativism comes a strongly entrenched attitude of entitlement. Women have the right to become priests because God’s viewpoint is irrelevant. Contraception is totally okay because people are entitled to have unfettered pleasure. Hermits can be Walmart greeters because the only solitude necessary is the “inner space”. Virgins can have small private ceremonies because we’d prefer to think of them as a private function rather than the important event it is for the diocesan Church…
It is very common to see people feel entitled to self-define what an ecclesiastical vocation is when it pertains to the lesser known vocations of canonical hermits, sacred virgins, and consecrated laity/clerics of secular institutes. This entitlement stems from a profound misunderstanding of the nature of consecrated life and its role in the heart and mystery of the Church. Further, it frequently comes from an ego centric desire to “have status” in the Church in the mistaken belief that consecration is the religious equivalent of a political endorsement and hence one must be able to achieve such status by right. Today, I am going to address three misconceptions about consecrated life. Later, I’ll take a look at some contemporary examples of how people like to self-define elements of ecclesiastical vocations.
Myth 1: A person can self-consecrate.
Starting from the Annunciation, when the Holy Spirit founded the Order of Virgins through the message of an angel, God established that consecration in the consecrated life occurs only via mediation of another individual with the requisite authority. In apostolic times, the Bishops consecrated and veiled virgins –velatio virginum- and priests veiled widows.
What about private promises or vows? By definition, an individual’s self-dedication via private promises, vows, or resolutions does not involve any other individual with the authority to mediate the spiritual anointing of consecration. Neither a bishop nor a priest nor consecrated persons or laypersons have the authority to “receive” vows in the name of the Church outside of approved structures named in canon law.
Myth 2: Consecration is the Church’s “recognition” of a grace already given to a person.
Consecration of consecrated life is like the Sacrament of Confirmation – it isn’t there before the ecclesiastical authority mediates it to the individual receiving it. One simply doesn’t go through the Mass for Confirmation candidates and then say that the bishop’s actions merely acknowledge what is already the case: a confirmed Catholic. Why? Because it is the Bishop who mediates the sacrament of Confirmation to the candidate and what wasn’t there is now all of a sudden there through the power of Christ working in the Sacrament. Similarly, consecration of consecrated life, like the sacraments of Orders and Confirmation, occurs through the mediation of the proper ecclesiastical authority; not by the person receiving it. As with Confirmation and Ordination, a person can say all kinds of vows and promises in front of the Pope himself, but that makes him no more ordained or confirmed without the other elements required for a true sacramental consecration.
Examples- A lay hermit cannot say that he is “consecrated” if he is under private vows and that he has the same consecration as the canonical hermit because his bishop has not mediated the spiritual anointing of consecration to said individual Catholic. A female physical virgin cannot claim that she is a “bride of Christ” the way the Church is if she has not received the consecration of her person in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins. She can make all the private vows and promises she likes but they do not a sacred person make.
Myth 3: The Church doesn’t value the private vow of chastity if the people who make it don’t receive an authentic consecration.
All the baptized are called to holiness. Some choose to live “lifestyles” that “imitate” consecrated life forms, yet they remained in their lay (or clerical) state without the consecration of the state of perfection. Here are some examples of people whom the Church highly esteems who remained in the lay state who were dedicated by perpetual private resolution or vow:
St. Catherine of Sienna, Doctor of the Church (private vow of chastity)
St. Rose of Lima, Virgin (private vow of chastity)
St. Anthony of the Desert, Hermit (lifestyle of chastity)
St. Catherine of Sienna is an illustrious example of the sufficiency of following the graces given to baptized persons with great generosity. People who don’t think holiness is possible without being consecrated should rethink their position. That’s it for today. Keep on the lookout for a word on self-defined vocations in the near future!
Also coming soon- a forum where you can discuss vocations.
(c) by Therese Ivers, JCL