Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Consecrated Life

I went to a conference this weekend and some of the Dominican Nuns were there. One sister talked a bit about Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on consecrated life.
The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world. To people's astonishment they respond by proclaiming the wonders of grace accomplished by the Lord in those whom he loves. To the degree that consecrated persons let themselves be guided by the Spirit to the heights of perfection they can exclaim: "I see the beauty of your grace, I contemplate its radiance, I reflect its light; I am caught up in its ineffable splendour; I am taken outside myself as I think of myself; I see how I was and what I have become. O wonder! I am vigilant, I am full of respect for myself, of reverence and of fear, as I would be were I before you; I do not know what to do, I am seized by fear, I do not know where to sit, where to go, where to put these members which are yours; in what deeds, in what works shall I use them, these amazing divine marvels!"The consecrated life thus becomes one of the tangible seals which the Trinity impresses upon history, so that people can sense with longing the attraction of divine beauty.
These are amazing words to contemplate.  John Paul expects the world to be blown away by consecrated men and women. They are something tangible that points to the Trinity. That is they make an argument against atheism. They exist in the material world but cannot be explained except by the presence of God. That encountering such people will create a longing for divine beauty.

This fits in very well with the last thought on celibacy from my previous post. That is that celibacy needs to be seen as a holy state. That when we don't give any physical expression to our sexual desires, when we take seriously the call the purity, then our sex drive will actual propel us to love God and neighbor in a very beautiful way. That is the very opposite of what Freud said. His theory was that sexual repression was the root of many problems. That we need to express out sexual desires. That we should never discourage sexual experimentation. It is a lie. How do you prove it? You look at people who live celibacy. Do they experience greater love, joy, and peace in their lives?

What this does is it changes the baseline when we talk about sex. When we ask whether committed gay relationships are good what are we comparing that to? It is compared to a same-sex attracted person living a chaste life. When we ask whether contraception in marriage is good what are we comparing that to? Is is compared to a couple abstaining for a time. So the way we think about these questions is hugely effected by the way we think of a human person who is not having any form of physical sexual activity. Is such a person inherently pathetic or is he or she inherently holy?

It also changes how we consider the single life. Are we trying to control ourselves until we find a spouse or are we reaping the benefits of celibacy as long as our single state lasts? If we buy into the first theory we can try too hard to find a spouse. Often we also cheat and indulge in some sort of impurity to tie us over until we get married. We live in the future.

If the single person can embrace his or her current celibate state they can let God gift them with a spouse in His time (or perhaps God will give them a religious vocation instead). It is a question of moving from glory to glory and not from frustrated to fulfilled. Ironically focusing on sex as a call to love God rather than a call to marriage actually prepares you better for marriage. Your spouse is a blessing. They are not expected to fill a need.

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