Several years ago a voice was heard bellowing out in an airport waiting area,
“Chaste for 45 years!”
The surrounding space was electrified as heads turned toward us as I stood facing a non-Christian gentleman who had asked me if we practiced chastity and then posed to me the question of “How long have you been a Sister?”
His need to obtain his seating pass ended our conversation and although he was still perplexed by the whole concept, we closed on friendly terms.
Isn’t his dilemma shared by countless others in a world that has become saturated with a misunderstanding of the gift of sexuality and marital fidelity?
To respond to the title “Why Consecrated Chastity?” my first reply would be, “Why not?”
Jesus himself affirmed the spiritual value of voluntary chastity embraced for the sake of the kingdom. “Lumen Gentium”, n. 42 refers to consecrated chastity as “a sign and stimulus of charity and a singular source of fruitfulness in the world”. In 1994 Pope John Paul II in his catechesis on the “Mystery of the Church” reminded us that “perfect continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is a gift of divine grace, granted to some by the Father (cf. Mt 19:11; 1 Cor 7:7), so that in the state of virginity or celibacy they may more easily devote themselves to God alone with an undivided heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-34)….”
The Pope continued to point out that the praise Jesus gave to a commitment to voluntary chastity came only after He asserted the indissolubility of marriage. From the brief conversation that the gentleman and I shared at the airport it was evident that he lacked, first of all, an understanding of marriage fidelity. How then could he grasp the concept of consecrated chastity? The Pope addressed this matter also when he stated in the same catechesis, “Jesus calls attention to the gift of divine light needed to ‘understand’ the way of voluntary celibacy. Not everyone can understand it, in the sense that not everyone is ‘able’ to grasp its meaning, to accept it, to practice it.”
All Christians are called to chastity according to their state of life. Through God’s invitation, a consecrated woman religious is called to a nuptial intimacy that focuses her entire being on God and His people. Her conformity to Christ draws her into His sacrificial redemptive act which transforms the total gift of herself to Him. Thus she stands on the edge of eternity as a sign of the life awaiting us in eternity, “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
Consecrated chastity is not simply a decision “not to marry”. Rather it embraces what Pope John Paul II stated above: “a sign and stimulus of charity and a singular source of fruitfulness in the world”. Such a renunciation is made in view of that greater good which the Gospels express as “the kingdom of heaven”. This in itself justifies celibacy. Its fruitfulness is found in “the divine service and works of the apostolate” (Perfectae Caritatis, n. 12).
Both marriage and consecrated chastity are calls from God which support and sustain each other. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very explicit on this in #1620:
“Both the sacrament of matrimony and virginity for the kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with His will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other.”
Both vocations while closely related travel different paths to the same end. Both illumine the path the other follows in the example each gives of the sacrifices demanded in their life style. Each is called to a greater charity in the surrender of their own preferences for the sake of their family or religious community.
In his “Theology of the Body” Pope John Paul II reminds us that we can only understand “the splendor of consecrated life when we begin to understand the glory of the married state.” Most Christian vocations are to the married state which when lived in fidelity reflects the Trinitarian communion. It is a foreshadowing of the mystical marriage between Christ and His Church. But this earthly marriage ends in the death of one of the spouses. Consecrated chastity, however, does not end in death, but since it always points toward heaven, it directs us in that direction and reaches its fulfillment there.
Although the treasure of all Christians is found in heaven most will be called to live out their lives in ordinary family life and work out their sanctification within the temporal activities of this world. The consecrated religious, while still in this world, bears witness to God’s love in a lifestyle beyond this world. Brought together to fulfill the mission of the Church the image of the world is made whole.
This treasure found in heaven is a mystery. Nevertheless Jesus referred to this treasure in His parables (Matthew 13:44-46) indicating that when one had found it he/she would sell all to obtain it. Whether it was the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of great price it was worth the price paid. Christ is the treasure for which one will give all.
Did my friend at the airport catch some glimpse of this? On boarding the plane I had forgotten the incident until as I began to make my way down the center aisle to find my seat, a man suddenly jumped out of his first class seat blocking everyone’s entry exclaiming, “Let me shake your hand!”