Dominican of St. Cecilia
Pope John Paul II , Vita Consecrata, no. 32: “As a way of showing forth the Church's holiness, it is to be recognized that the consecrated life, which mirrors Christ's own way of life, has an objective superiority. Precisely for this reason, it is an especially rich manifestation of Gospel values and a more complete expression of the Church's purpose, which is the sanctification of humanity. The consecrated life proclaims and in a certain way anticipates the future age, when the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, already present in its first fruits and in mystery, will be achieved and when the children of the resurrection will take neither wife nor husband, but will be like the angels of God (cf. Mt. 22:30)”
Pope Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas, no. 32: “This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as we have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church."
Council of Trent, pg. 225: "If anyone saith that the marriage state is to be preferred before the state of virginity, let him be anathema." [...] "writing to the Corinthians, [Paul] says: I would that all men were even as myself; that is, that all embrace the virtue of continence...A life of continence is to be desired by all.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 916: "The state of the consecrated life is thus one way of experiencing a "more intimate" consecration, rooted in Baptism and dedicated totally to God. In the consecrated life, Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more nearly, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come."
Saint Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II.152.4: "Virginity is more excellent than marriage, which can be seen by both faith and reason. Faith sees virginity as imitating the example of Christ and the counsel of St. Paul. Reason sees virginity as rightly ordering goods, preferring a Divine good to human goods, the good of the soul to the good of the body, and the good of the contemplative life to that of the active life."
I Corinthians Chp. VII: "It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman. [v.1] Indeed, I wish that everyone were like I am [celibate]. [v.7] I should like you to be free from anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord; how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world; how he may please his wife, and he is divided. [v.32] Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that." [v.28] (see also Mark 12:18-27, Mtt 19:10-12, 2 Timothy Ch. 2:3)
Saint Therese of Lisiuex
Saint Faustina, diary, Dec. 1937 ¶.1434: "Today, the Lord gave me knowledge of His anger toward mankind which deserves to have its days shortened because of its sins. But I learned that the world's existence is maintained by chosen souls; that is, the religious orders. Woe to the world when there will be a lack of religious orders!"
Saint Teresa of the Andes: "If I used to consider my vocation as above all others, now I appreciate it doubly; because I have seen and experienced for myself that the holiness of a [religious] is greater than any other holy ideal." [...] Sometimes, it seems to me that I am dreaming... I still can't convince myself that such incomparable happiness is mine. People who do not have a vocation cannot understand this, since to them there's no happiness in sacrifice; while sacrifice, done for God is the purest bliss."
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:"They [religious] live more purely, they fall more rarely, they rise more speedily, they are aided more powerfully, they live more peacefully, they die more securely, and they are rewarded more abundantly."
Saint Theresa of Avila: “Though I could not at first bend my will to be a nun, I saw that the religious state was the best and safest. And thus, by little and little, I resolved to force myself into it. The struggle lasted three months. [ ... ] When I took the habit, Our Lord at once made me understand how He helps those who do violence to themselves, in order to serve Him, I was filled with a joy so great that it has never failed me to this day.”
Saint Alphonsus De Ligouri: "If they who give a cup of cold water in his name shall not be left without abundant remuneration, how great and incomprehensible must be the reward which a religious who aspires to perfection shall receive for the numberless works of piety which she performs every day; for so many meditations, offices, and spiritual readings; for so many acts of mortification and of divine love which she daily refers to God’s honor? Do you not know that these good works which are performed through obedience, and in compliance with the religious vows, merit a far greater reward than the good works of seculars?"
Saint Thomas Aquinas: "...it may be reasonably said that a person by entering into religion, obtains the remission of all sins. For, to make satisfaction for all sins, it is sufficient to dedicate one's self entirely to the service of God by entering religion, which dedication exceeds all manner of satisfaction. Hence, we read in the lives of the Fathers, that they who enter religion obtain the same grace as those who receive Baptism."
Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, A.D. 373 †:"Now if a man choose the way of the world, namely marriage, he is not indeed to blame; yet he will not receive such great gifts as the other. For he will receive, since he too brings forth fruit, namely thirty fold. But if a man embraces the holy and unearthly way, even though as compared with the former it be rugged and hard to accomplish, nonetheless it has the more wonderful gifts: for it grows the perfect fruit, namely a hundredfold."
Ven. Mary of Agreda, "Mystical City of God", Book II, Chp. I: "[Words of the Queen] "My daughter, the greatest happiness, which can befall any soul in this mortal life, is that the Almighty call her to his house consecrated to his service. For by this benefit He rescues the soul from a dangerous slavery and relieves her of the vile servitude of the world, where, deprived of true liberty, she eats her bread in the sweat of her brow. Who is so dull and insipid as not to know the dangers of the worldly life, which is hampered by all the abominable and most wicked laws and customs introduced by the astuteness of the devil and the perversity of men? The better part is religious life and retirement; in it is found security, outside is a torment and a stormy sea, full of sorrow and unhappiness. Through the hardness of their heart and the total forgetfulness of themselves men do not know this truth and are not attracted by its blessings. But thou, 0 soul, be not deaf to the voice of the Most High, attend and correspond to it in thy actions: I wish to remind thee, that one of the greatest snares of the demon is to counteract the call of the Lord, whenever he seeks to attract and incline the soul to a life of perfection in his service. Even by itself, the public and sacred act of receiving the habit and entering religion, although it is not always performed with proper fervor and purity of intention, is enough to rouse the wrath and fury of the infernal dragon and his demons; for they know that this act tends not only to the glory of the Lord and the joy of the holy angels, but that religious life will bring the soul to holiness and perfection. It very often happens, that they who have received the habit with earthly and human motives, are afterwards visited by divine grace, which perfects them and sets all things aright. If this is possible even when the beginning was without a good intention, how much more powerful and efficacious will be the light and influence of grace and the discipline of religious life, when the soul enters under the influence of divine love and with a sincere and earnest desire of finding God, and of serving and loving Him?
Saint Cyprian of Carthage, A.D. 258 †: "But chastity maintains the first rank in virgins, the second in those who are continent (celibate), the third in the case of wedlock." [...] "While laws are prescribed to matrons ... virginity and continency are beyond all law; there is nothing in the laws of matrimony which pertains to virginity; for by its loftiness it transcends them all."
Saint Teresa of the Andes: "The cloister is the anti chamber of heaven and in it God alone exists for the soul. A soul that doesn't live in God in the cloister profanes it. The cloister is totally pervaded by God. It's His dwelling place. Religious souls are the angels who constantly adore Him.
Saint Faustina: Jesus told me; "In convents too, there are souls that fill My Heart with joy. They bear My features; therefore the Heavenly Father looks upon them with special pleasure. They will be a marvel to Angels and men. Their number is very small. They are a defense for the world before the justice of the Heavenly Father and a means of obtaining mercy for the world. The love and sacrifice of these souls sustain the world in existence. The infidelity of a soul specially chosen by Me wounds My Heart most painfully. Such infidelities are swords which pierce My Heart."
It is important to realize that religious life was born out of persecution. During the first three centuries of Christianity, it was illegal to be a Christian. If you were caught at Mass, or refused to offer incense to the gods of Rome, prison and martyrdom was a very real possibility for you. It was hard to find a lukewarm Christian at this time. All were united in their faith, sharing a deep love for one another and for the lowest in society. And this confounded the pagan citizens of Rome. When it was common for mothers to abandon their infant girls in the forests (women were regarded as inferior), Christians were seen rescuing the babies and raising them as their own children. The writings of the early Romans reveal how vexed they were at these so-called "Christians," who were seen bringing food and refreshment to galley slaves and to beggars. Who were these people who taught that all were equal under God, even women and slaves? Who were these people that tended to the sick and infirm in the streets, even at the risk of catching the same illnesses (This is why the Catholic population sharply declined during the bubonic plague of the 14th century, since many died helping the sick)? Who were these people that addressed each other as brother and sister and loved all people as though family? Christianity was a revolution at the time, and established an entirely new worldview which we now enjoy today as the foundation of modern society.
This golden age of Christianity, however, was not to last. For once it was legalized in 313 A.D. by the emperor Constantine, the threat of imprisonment and martyrdom ended. One could freely be a Christian and not have to live with threat of death and martyrdom. And while this marked the beginning of rapid growth of the faith throughout the world, it also allowed for many lukewarm converts---which was further exacerbated when Constantine and later emperors tried to impose Christianity on their subjects. In the late fourth and fifth centuries, many wanted to be Christian for no other reason than to appear a good citizen of Rome.
In response to the increasing laxity at the time (which was further compounded by the rapid moral decay of the Roman empire, which began well before Christianity---which even Plato writes about in 400 B.C.), some decided to retreat to the seclusion of the desert to try to preserve the way of life of the early Christians, and in short, to live the teachings of Christ in a more radical way. These became known as the "desert Fathers." While the first Fathers were focused more on inner conversion, on "praying ceaselessly," and on penance, many also desired to obtain graces for the world by their prayers and fasts, which they felt was in dire need. After some time, some of these hermits coalesced together into small communities, which henceforth began as what we now call today "religious life."
Religious life, therefore, was born with the spirit of the early Christians, the ones who were persecuted and abused, but enjoyed great peace, contentment, and benevolence toward all, despite their hardships. This is the spirit that undergirds all religious today. To be a religious, therefore, is to be an acetic; it is to be the bravest and most loyal Christians, willing to be burned at the stake, or impaled on sticks, or fed to lions in the Colloseum for love of God. Like their Redeemer, they subject themselves to the lash and to the crucifixion for the sake of souls, to be little "co-redeemers" of the world, and even pray for their executioners. It is not an exaggeration or sentimental language to say that religious communities sustain the world in existence. In fact, this very truth was revealed to Saint Faustina, "I learned that the world's existence is maintained by chosen souls; that is, the religious orders." And John Paul II affirms, monasticism is the "reference point for all the baptized" (Orientale Lumen). In other words, religious life is the spiritual barometer of the world. If monasteries flourish, then so too does the world. But if monasteries waver and decay, so too will the world. And indeed, this is confirmed by history. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, for example, when the Church was left desolate and most in need of reform, this reform began first with monasteries (namely Cluny), which later spread to other religious orders. When God asked Saint Francis to rebuild His Church, what was the result? A new religious order. Thus we see a direct connection between renewal of the Church and renewal of religious life. Put simply, if you want to effect real change in the world and renew the Church, then renew religious life.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, p.1620: "Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it [marriage] makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good."
Bl. John Paul II, Theology of the Body: "The 'superiority' of continence to marriage never means, in the authentic tradition of the Church, a disparagement of marriage or a belittling of its essential value. It does not even imply sliding, even merely implicitly, toward Manichean positions, or a support for ways of evaluating or acting based on a Manichean understanding of the body and of sex, of marriage and procreation. The evangelical and genuinely Christian superiority of virginity, of continence, is thus dictated by the motive of the kingdom of heaven. In the words of Christ reported by Matthew 19:11—12, we find a solid basis for admitting only such superiority, while we do not find any basis whatsoever for the disparagement of marriage that could be present in the recognition of that superiority."
To put it simply, we ought to consider marriage to be a good, and consecrated life a better good. This echoes Paul exhortation to the Corinthians; "So then, he who marries the virgin does good, but he who does not marry her does even better." (1 Cor 7:38). Saint Ambrose, in a treatise on virginity, repeats; "I am comparing good things with good things, that it may be clear which is the more excellent." We must remember too that we are only speaking in an objective sense, and we are assuming each life is lived according to its ideal. Many who are married surpass the holiness of many in religious life, despite the objective difference in their state of life.
John Paul II, Theology of the Body: "...the consciousness of the 'spousal' meaning of the body—constitutes the fundamental component of human existence in the world."
"...the nature of the one love (religious life) as well as the other love (priesthood) is “spousal,” that is, expressed through the complete gift of self. The one as well as the other love tends to express that spousal meaning of the body, which has been inscribed 'from the beginning' in the personal structure of man and woman."
To live "spousally", then, goes right to the very core of our existence. One can even say it is a complete summation of salvation history, namely; God created man out of spousal love, to be united with Him forever. But man committed "adultery", severing his relationship with God. Despite mankind's infidelity, God remained faithful to His bride. Israel continued to "play the Harlot", but God remained faithful to His covenant, His marriage. God then sent His Son, the Bridegroom, to reunite the severed bond between man and God. This analogy is used many times throughout the Bible, including the New Testament. John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29), as does Our Lord Himself (Mk 2:19). And Paul repeats this analogy many times (2 Cor 11, Eph 5:22, Rom 7, etc.) Indeed, Scripture is replete with such spousal imagery;
John Paul II, Theology of the Body: "...the love of Yahweh for the Chosen People can and must be compared to the love that unites bride and bridegroom, the love that should unite spouses... the prophets dramatically highlighted precisely that betrayal and unfaithfulness, which were called Israel’s “adultery.”...In this way, the analogy of bridegroom and bride, which allowed the author of Ephesians to define the relationship of Christ with the Church, has a rich tradition in the books of the Old Covenant.
Ezek 16: “I passed near you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love.... I swore a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine” (Ezek 16:8). “But you, infatuated with your beauty and profiting from your fame, played the whore, and lavished your favors on any passerby” (Ezek 16:15)
Isa 54:4-10: "Do not fear, for you will no longer blush; do not be ashamed, for you will no longer be dishonored; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the dishonor of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Creator is your husband, Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit the Lord has called you. Is the wife of one’s youth cast off, says your God? For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with immense love I will take you again.... my steadfast affection shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not waver, says the Lord, who has compassion on you."
Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est: "...Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God's love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed “adultery” and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! ... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hos 11:8-9). God's passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.
Man searches the world to find fulfillment and meaning in life, and does not realize it is in spousal love, in self-gift, that true fulfillment can only be found. As Vatican II reminds us; "man cannot truly find himself except through a sincere gift of himself". This is the "secret to happiness" that all seek. After all, if the first commandment is to love, what greater love can there be than spousal love; a love so powerful that the "two become one flesh" and generates third; a love that is ready to immolate oneself for the beloved? One might say that to live spousally, then, is the apex of the Christian life. Saint Thomas Aquinas defines love as "willing the good of the other." It is to give oneself completely to other, and always seeking their good. Note here what this implies: If we are called to love God spousally, this means we must seek God's good, to search for ways to help God, not merely praying for this or that intention (Imagine if all a wife did was ask things from her husband!). Furthermore, spousal life is always ordered to the generation of new life, whether spiritual or physical. The exhortation to "be fruitful and multiply" was not only in terms of biological reproduction, but also spiritual reproduction. A life that is lived spousally will generate and form new souls to populate heaven. Therefore, a priest can only be a good priest if he lives spousally, that is; as husband and father. Likewise, a nun can only be a good nun if she lives as wife and mother. And so on. This is also why the best priests are those who would have made the best husbands and fathers. As Fr. Thomas Loya stated, the greatest compliment you can give a nun, is to tell her that she would have made a great mother!
John Paul II, Theology of the Body: "...according to such a measure, the gift given by God to man in Christ is a “total” or “radical” gift, which is precisely what the analogy of spousal love indicates: it is in some sense “all” that God “could” give of himself to man, considering the limited faculties of man as a creature. In this way the analogy of spousal love indicates the “radical” character of grace: of the whole order of created grace."
John Paul II, Theology of the Body: "Is not the spousal love with which Christ “loved, the Church, ” his Bride, “and gave himself for her” equally the fullest incarnation of the ideal of “continence for the kingdom of God” (see Mt 19:12)? Is it not precisely in this love that support is found for all those—both men and women—who choose the same ideal and thus desire to link the spousal dimension of love with the redemptive dimension, according to the model of Christ himself? They desire to confirm with their lives that the spousal meaning of the body—of its masculinity and femininity—a meaning deeply inscribed in the essential structure of the human person has been opened in a new way by Christ and with the example of his life to the hope united with the redemption of the body. Thus, the grace of the mystery of redemption also bears fruit—even more: bears fruit in a particular way—with the vocation to continence “for the kingdom of heaven.”
Thus we see how each vocation is closely related to each other, as different paths to the same end, as means of sanctification of souls. The ordinary means this is done (ordinary in the sense of most common to all) is marriage. Only in marriage is the spousal love of God made manifest in a most real way; the love of two persons uniting to co-create a third. Marriage, after all, is the primordial sacrament, the first sacrament from the creation of the world. In Trinitarian Theology we might even say that marriage and family teaches us something of the very inner life (ad intra) of the Holy Trinity. In the family, we see, as in a dim mirror, an image of this communal relationship within God, His self-gift, His fidelity, His exclusivity, His life-generating love, and so forth. Although analogies are imperfect and eventually break down, this one is certainly worthy of much meditation! Simply by observing families and meditating on married couples, we can learn something of God Himself, and likewise something of religious life as well.
Marriage and consecrated life are, in fact, both mutually illuminating. A religious can learn more about how to be a good religious by contemplating family life. And a family can likewise learn how to be a good family by contemplating religious life. For example, when a mother hears the sound of her baby crying at 3:00 am, she cannot say "I will deal with it later." She must always be ready to divest herself for the sake of her family. In much the same way, religious cannot ignore the sound of the bell, or the recitation of the Office, saying "I will deal with it later." They must always be ready to die to themselves in every way, even without the physical presence of a child to compel them. Indeed, in religious life, it is not the cries of a child that compels one to act, but the cries of all of humanity. In this way, religious life is like marriage, but elevated to a more universal level.
A father, likewise---if he is good and holy---is like a superior of sorts in the little monastery of the home, and is always vigilant to guard his home and lay down his life for his loved ones if necessary. Much like a superior, the father is also charged with the responsibility of seeing to the needs of the family, of structuring a safe and secure environment for love (embodied by the woman) to flourish. And as Scott Hahn once said, the love of the mother and father becomes so real, that nine months later they must give it a name.
As a final point, let us consider also how families can benefit from the customs of religious orders. For example, friars must often ask the blessing of the superior when they leave the monastery. In much the same way, it would be a laudable custom for a son or daughter to ask the blessing of his father before leaving home on a journey, or before a major life decision (such as getting married)---an ancient Jewish tradition which in fact pre-dates Christianity. Another such example is taking time for prayer during one's day, such as saying the Angelus at noon, or a divine mercy chaplet at 3pm, or the Stations on Friday. The Muslims excel us at stopping their work in the middle of the day for prayer. Should not Catholic families be just as dedicated to prayer? If we remember that the home is the "domestic church", then families might also consider entering the home as they would enter a Church, blessing themselves with holy water for example. Such customs are sprinkled throughout religious life, and serve as simple external reminders of a deeper spiritual reality.
Bl. John Paul II, Theology of the Body: "...the complementarity of marriage and continence for 'the kingdom of heaven'...complete each other and in some sense interpenetrate."