Virgin Spouse

Rev. John Brucciani

When we talk of vocations, we most often think of the priesthood. Young men consecrate their lives to God and live out their consecration in the world, in the very midst of those to whom they minister. We watch them and we admire them for the choice of life they have made and because of the heavenly powers they wield. Christ is very close to them, so close that we identify them with our Lord. Priests fulfil our Lord’s ministry. Priests are Christ's way of continuing to live and work among us.

Yet, the secular priesthood is only one form of vocation. There are others, some of which concern women.

A woman’s vocation is of a very particular kind. It is difficult and challenging. There is no priestly glamour attached. It is a vocation that is lived out in secret and seclusion. It involves much work, much solitude, and much silence. It is often ungrateful in its earthly rewards. It requires total self-effacement. Women in the fresh flower of youth—at a time when nature is readying them for the desires and hopes of motherhood—cut themselves off from the innocent joys of friendship and love, and close themselves inside a convent that is as inviting as it is often cold and damp!

They are then clothed in coarse garments and their young faces are covered with a long veil. Thus they enter into a life of anonymity. Their identity is lost. They will be remembered only as a member of their order, which bids them serve their community under the orders of their superior. They no longer have dreams and hopes, save that of serving their order and their community in the diligent execution of monotonous routine.

These are the visible aspects of the female vocation. They appear daunting to many young women, which perhaps explains why so few find the courage and resolution necessary to embrace the solitude and hardships involved.

Yet these are only the negative aspects of a convent vocation. The incredible work performed by nuns throughout the ages up to the present time cannot be explained unless we take a closer look at what their vocation entails.

The Roman Missal describes the Church’s excitement and joy when she thinks of one who has consecrated her virginity to Christ. In the Mass of holy virgins we read:

Would to God you could bear with some little of my folly: but do bear with me. For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Cor 11:1-2)

We bypass the appeal of a religious vocation when we consider it only according to its outward appearance. It takes faith and spiritual depth to be able to perceive its interior beauty and nobility.

A nun is one who has given herself totally to Christ. This gift of the female self to Christ is far greater and far more generous than that of the most loving of wives to her husband. The most enchanting tale of medieval love cannot even echo the depth and intensity of a Sister's gift of self to her heavenly Spouse. This gift is not necessarily felt by the giver, but it is no less real. That is why our Lord shows such a predilection for consecrated virginity.

Christ is the best of husbands. He receives His earthly spouse with a love that can never fail. He does not vow His life to the betterment of His spouse, for He has already given that life to her at baptism. But now He vows His love in return, a love of great passion, one that has marked out five wounds upon His sacred humanity which He shows both to us and to His heavenly Father as proof of His love and desire for our happiness.

The soul can, therefore, give itself up with confidence and expectation. The young woman knows that her heavenly spouse will never fail her. She enters, therefore, into a union that, with generosity and abandonment, satiates every spiritual and emotional need. Consecrated virginity is most certainly the happiest of unions, one that brings enduring peace and contentment.

However great our Lord’s love for the soul, He is nevertheless discontent with a merely ordinary return of love and attachment. He wishes the soul to give its best and to love Him above ordinary measure.

Creator of our souls, God knows that only the total gift of self is able to bring us true happiness. A vocation demands that the soul give itself over to its heavenly Spouse completely and without reserve. Yet, sinful and selfish as we are, we are of ourselves unable to return a love worthy of that which we receive.

Christ, therefore, sets about working upon the soul. He takes it on a spiritual voyage of suffering and pain, of loneliness and anxiety, of fear and fatigue, in order to convince it of its innate weakness. Christ is a jealous Spouse. Having so much to give, He requires His elect to detach themselves from everything that is not Him or His.

The soul must be emptied of every attachment and made immune to preference. It must be stripped naked and taste the bitter cold of solitude and despondency.

Thus the consecrated soul learns its emptiness and nothingness. It has nowhere to turn, nowhere to go. Nothing is able to appease its pain. There remains only Christ, silent but present. It takes the prayer of faith to believe He still cares.

Our Lord’s dealings with a soul, especially one consecrated to Him, have only one purpose: He wishes to test our faith in Him and our resolve to return love for love. Here lies the story of every vocation.

Priests are spared the rigours of solitude thanks to the friendships they make and multifarious duties they perform. Nuns, however, live a life much more mundane and monotonous. Humanly speaking, their vocation presents a greater challenge.

Which is, perhaps, why Christ loves them so. Theirs is a happiness and a holiness that they are not able to describe. It is bereft of emotional upheaval. It is made up of ordinariness, silent routine, and endurance of neighbour. To the noisy, distracted world, a nun’s life holds little appeal.

And yet they are capable of delight and laughter beyond the ordinary. They experience excitement and contentment in things we hold trite and trivial. Their capacity for joy is far greater than ours. If generous in their vocation, they live an eternal childhood, carefree and cheerful in the knowledge and security of their heart’s love. They know their Spouse will always be faithful.

Thus they dedicate their lives to Him and to those He loves. He asks them to pray and to sacrifice themselves for the world for which He laid down His life. He asks them to lay down their lives in like manner, and work only to obtain graces for needy souls.

Consecrated virginity is a life very well spent. It is arduous, but it is beautiful. Would that more female souls dared to look upon our Lord and seek His hand in mystical marriage! In the generosity of a few is wrought the salvation of many.

View all articles from Ite Missa Est