Religious Life

One Spouse – An Undivided Heart

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.” – Diary of St. Faustina

To be a religious is a great privilege! Who could be worthy of this great calling? But, who is worthy to receive God Incarnate, Our Lord Jesus, in Holy Communion? Who is worthy of these unspeakably awesome gifts from God? Yet in His great love for us, He longs for us to accept these gifts with joy and gratitude. He thirsts for our love. As He told Saint Margaret Mary, He so ardently thirsts for our love that this thirst devours Him! He specified to Saint Margaret Mary that He thirsts to be loved in the Most Blessed Sacrament. That is what our community is all about – quenching His thirst to be loved in the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist.

We quench His thirst for love first of all by consecrating our lives to Him through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so She will purify our offerings and present them to God as holy and acceptable to Him. Secondly, we enthrone Him everyday in our chapel and adore Him on our own behalf and on behalf of those who do not adore Him. We pray that someday, soon, please, Lord, that everyone on earth will love and adore Him. We pray that all of our brothers and sisters on earth will be united as one in His Holy Catholic Church, one mind and one heart with Him. And most importantly, we pray for holy priests and bishops who will bring innumerable souls to love Jesus.

Yes, the religious life is a great calling. The Catholic Church teaches, as dogma, that a consecrated life of celibacy is a superior calling than the married state, and should be preferred, if it is within the capacity and disposition of the soul to do so. This teaching is matter for much meditation. Marriage is a sacrament that requires much self-sacrifice and love, and can be a means of great holiness. So why is the religious life, though not a sacrament, objectively a superior calling? Let’s examine what Scripture, the Church and some of the saints have said.

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)

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,[62] 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
“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.” (cf. Catechism of the Council of Trent, pg. 225)

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.”

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)

What is “Consecrated Life”?

The term consecrated life refers to a state to which men and women take public religious vows to the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience), ordinarily within the context of religious communities: monasteries, convents, friaries, etc. By taking religious vows, such men and women follow the Jesus’ counsels in a more perfect way. As Our Lord expressly stated, they are counsels for those who desire to become “perfect” (cf. Matt. 19:10-12, Matt. 19:16-22; Matt. 5:48; Mark 10). Such a life is considered an act of supererogation, that is, exceeding the minimum necessary for salvation. It is thus that the Church gives “preeminence” to the religious vocation, and recognizes it as a supernatural calling (nb., CCC, p. 914-945)

According To The Saints

The Saints offer us additional insight, namely, that the consecrated life is the surest path to sainthood, for this is the very purpose of the existence of religious life: to generate saints and sanctify the world. The highest form of love is the cross. It is thus that the religious, through a life of continual prayer, penance, and mortification, draws down from heaven the grace of conversion for souls throughout the world. To be a religious means to become little co-redeemers of the world, united to the cross as our Divine Lord. Without knowing it, the religious men and women sustain the world in existence. And they are able to do so precisely because they have left the ways of the world, and can rise, without distraction, to the highest degrees of union with Our Lord.

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 Faustina
“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!” – diary, Dec. 1937, paragraph 1434 “[The] Child Jesus said to me, ‘Look at the sky.’ And when I looked at the sky I saw the stars and the moon shining. Then the child asked me, ‘Do you see this moon and these stars?’ When I said yes, he spoke these words to me, ‘These stars are the souls of faithful Christians, and the moon is the souls of religious. Do you see how great the difference is between the light of the moon and the light of the stars? Such is the difference in heaven between the soul of a religious and the soul of a faithful Christian’.” – diary, May 12, 1935, paragraph 424

Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit order
“If a person thinks of embracing a secular life, he should ask and desire more evident signs that God calls him to a secular life than if there were question of embracing the evangelical counsels; for Our Lord Himself has clearly exhorted us to embrace His counsels.”

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 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 thirtyfold. 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, O 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?”

Does this mean that Marriage is Somehow “Bad”?

The Church teaches that marriage and the consecrated life were both created by Our Lord Himself, and are thus both to be held in high esteem. According to the Church, the two vocations are inseparable to one another; they reinforce and support each other (cf. p.1620). It is thus that marriage should never be scorned or looked down upon.

“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.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, p.1620

In brief, rather than viewing marriage as something negative, one should view both vocations as positives. In this vein, we may consider marriage to be a good, and consecrated life, a better good. This echoes Paul exortation 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.” The Church needs faithful and holy families in order to produce saints, without which the world would cease to exist.

Supernatural vs. Natural

The Church reveals to us that marriage is a natural vocation, in that it aligns with how the human body was made. God designed man to have a natural longing to be loved by another and to raise a family–a desire deeply ingrained in the heart of every person. This, of course, is not a negative trait. Our Lord Himself desires to be loved exclusively, and thus He, the author of the universe, created marriage as a means to teach mankind of this love, and to draw man to Himself. As Pope John Paul II teaches us, marriage is an earthly foreshadow of the mystical marriage between Christ and His Church. It is through this earthly foreshadow [of marriage] that men and women can learn of heavenly realities.

Conversely, a supernatural vocation is a vocation that is not of this world, but it points to the next. The Church teaches us that consecrated men and women are “beacons” directing mans eye upwards towards heaven, where marriage does not exist (cf. Matt. 22:30; “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven”). In heaven, all of mankind will be joined in one mystical marriage to our Lord Jesus Christ, and through this nuptial union we will be united to one another. In this sense, those who consecrate themselves to God “skip” the earthly foreshadow in favor of the heavenly marriage. As Christopher West states; “far from devaluing sexuality and marriage, true Christian celibacy actually points to their ultimate fulfillment.” Living a heavenly reality on earth, consecrated souls are free to devote all their time to God, without distraction, as a beloved bride devoting herself to her husband.

Saint Teresa 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 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.”

Our Lady of Good Success

Officially approved prophecies given by The Blessed Virgin Mary under Her title of Our Lady of Good Success (1634 A.D.) in Quito, Ecuador. “Woe to the world should it lack monasteries and convents! Men do not comprehend their importance, for, if they understood, they would do all in their power to multiply them, because in them can be found the remedy for all physical and moral evils… No one on the face of the earth is aware whence comes the salvation of souls, the conversion of great sinners, the end of great scourges, the fertility of the land, the end of pestilence and wars, and the harmony between nations. All this is due to the prayers that rise up from monasteries and convents.

A Cardinal’s Dream – the Offering of Hands and Hearts

Nicholas Cardinal of Cusa (1401-1464), Bishop of Brixen, was not only a great Church politician, reputable Papal legate and reformer of spiritual life for the clergy and the faithful of the 15th century, but also a man of silence and contemplation. He was deeply moved by a dream in which he was shown that spiritual reality which still has meaning for priests and laity to this very day: the power of self-offering, prayer and the sacrifice of spiritual mothers hidden in convents.

Nicholas and his guide entered a small, ancient church decorated with mosaics and frescoes from the early centuries, and there the Cardinal saw an amazing sight. More than a thousand nuns were praying in the little church. Despite the limited space, they all fit due to their slender and composed nature.

The sisters were praying, but in a way that the Cardinal had never seen. They were not kneeling but standing; their gaze was not cast off into the distance but rather fixed on something nearby which he could not see. They stood with open arms, palms facing upwards in a gesture of offering.

Surprisingly, in their poor, thin hands they carried men and women, emperors and kings, cities and countries. Sometimes there were several pairs of hands joined together holding a city. A country, recognizable by its national flag, was supported by a whole wall of arms, and yet even then there was an air of silence and isolation around each one of them in prayer. Most of nuns, however, carried one individual in their hands.

In the hands of a thin, young, almost child-like nun, Nicholas saw the Pope. You could see how heavy this load was for her, but her face was radiating a joyful gleam. Standing in the hands of one of the older sisters he saw himself, Nicholas of Cusa, Bishop of Brixen, and Cardinal of the Roman Church. He saw the wrinkles of his age; he saw the blemishes of his soul and his life in all their clarity. He looked with stunned and surprised eyes, but his fright was soon mixed with an unspeakable bliss.

His guide whispered, “Now you see how sinners are sustained and carried and, in spite of their sins, have not given up loving God.”

“What about those who do not love anymore?” the Cardinal asked. Suddenly, he was in the crypt of the church with his guide, where once again, more than a thousand nuns were praying. Whereas the former ones were carried in the nuns’ hands, here in the crypt, they were carried in their hearts. They were exceptionally serious because the fate of eternal souls was at hand.

“So you see, Your Eminence,” said the guide, “that also those who have given up loving are still carried. It happens occasionally that they become warm again through the ardent hearts which are being consumed for them—occasionally, but not always. Sometimes, in the hour of their death, they are taken from these saving hands into the hands of the Divine Judge, and they must also answer for the sacrifice that has been made for them. Every sacrifice bears fruit. However, when the fruit offered to somebody is not picked, the fruit of corruption ripens.”

The Cardinal was captivated by the women who had made an offering of their lives. He always knew they existed, but he saw now, clearer than ever, their importance for the Church, for the world, for nations and for every individual. Only now was it so surprisingly clear. He bowed deeply before these martyrs of love.