When God made it clear to me that he was calling me to belong exclusively to him, I was miserable. I knew with every fiber of my being that this is what I had to do, but I wanted marriage and motherhood so badly that there was no joy in it. I consented because I knew it was God’s will. I sobbed and said, “Oh, fine.” It was basically the most unpleasant consent to a marriage proposal in the history of ever.
And I’m so glad that it happened that way. If I had been responding to a desire for consecrated life, I don’t know that I ever would have felt fully convicted. I would have worried that my motives were impure or that my discernment was clouded by my desires. Since he drew my intellect first and my affections only gradually, though, I feel confident that I’m following his will and not my own.
A few months after my snotty betrothal, I was beginning to feel some joy in my vocation but only in the tremendous shadow of my perceived sacrifice. And then I was given this book by a vocation director. I think no book has affected me more profoundly (barring the Bible, of course) than Fr. Thomas Dubay’s And You Are Christ’s. Suddenly, I began to realize that I was really terribly in love with Christ. I began to see how my vocation fit the longings of my heart. I began to let myself rejoice in being his.
I love this book so much that I give it to pretty much any woman who I think might maybe possibly ever in a million years have a vocation to consecrated life. But for those of you who can’t bring yourself to order a copy, here are all my favorite lines from the book. After you read it, I bet you’ll want to buy it in bulk for your single female friends, too.1
Excerpts from “And You are Christ’s:” The Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life
by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
[A religious vocation is] to be head over heels in love as a divine invitation.
From our mother’s womb, indeed, before we were conceived, each of us has been personally called to the universal and most basic destiny of an eternal enthralling embrace with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You and I are to be head over heels in love with God. All of us in every state of life are to love him as we can love no other: with wholeness of mind, heart, soul, strength (Lk 10:27). We are to be in such deep love that the eye of our mind is on him always (Ps 25:15), that we pray to him continually (Lk 18:1), that we sing to him in our hearts always and everywhere (Eph 5:19-20). This is the language of lovers. Admittedly. But the Christian virgin is to be a lover before anything else. This is why one does what he does. Only one who is in love gives up everything for the beloved.
The virgin anticipates the final age in which there is no earthly marriage (Mt 22:30), the final enthralling fulfillment of all human life. Even in this world, she gives undivided attention to the Lord as her very way of life.
The virgin who fully lives her vocation is vibrantly alive, much more alive than she could be with an earthly husband, for her Beloved is infinitely more alive than any mere man could be: her heart and her flesh sing for joy to the living God (Ps 84:2).
She can now give herself up to continual prayer “day and night” (1 Tim 5:5)—devotion to prayer and more freedom for this is always the primary New Testament rationale for continence.
The celibate man and woman are thus to be consumed by nothing but doing the Father’s will (Jn 4:54). They have no other desire, no other ambition. They are utterly free for the kingdom, completely available to their sole love.
Actually, there is no more apt and normal image of an intimate, total self-gift between two in love than the spousal one. Biblical writers inspired by the Spirit knew this, and they liberally used the symbolism to describe the everlasting and unfailing love of the Lord for his people. Isaiah speaks of Yahweh rejoicing in his chosen ones as a bridegroom rejoices in his radiantly beautiful bride (Is 62:2-5). Hosea writes of this God wooing his wife in the wilderness that he may speak to her heart and win her back from her infidelity (Hos 2:16). The Corinthian church is for Saint Paul a virgin bride wedded to one husband, Christ (2 Cor 11:2; cf Eph 5:25f). Each member of the ekklesia is to cling so intimately to the Bridegroom as to become one spirit with him (1 Cor 6:17), and their love is to be absolutely total—to love with their whole mind, their whole soul, their whole heart, and all their strength (Mt 22:37). It is a love so profoundly intimate that it brings about a profound inter-indwelling, each living within the other (1 Jn 4:16).
The individual virgin embraces a way of life in which she so exclusively focuses on her one beloved that she declines a marital relationship with any other man.
A communion of love, deep prayer, and absorption in the Beloved must be the primary purpose of the virginal life.
The young woman could reject the charism and marry, but she can not reject it without doing some violence to her being. God has captured her as only he can capture. If she rejects his divine desire to possess her in an exclusive manner (God forces himself on no one), she hurts herself in that she turns her back on something that has been done to her. She refuses an interpersonal gift.
The virginal charism so focuses the young woman on God that she cannot give marital attention to another person. She has her fullness in the Lord.
Just as a faithful married woman may be attracted to another man, and yet focuses on no other than her husband, so also a virgin may be attracted to marriage and motherhood, but she knows that she can really give full attention only to the Lord Jesus.
[On John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest considering marriage] He could not, he said, give the attention to the world that marriage requires. God had already captured his heart with the celibate charism, and he experienced the gift whereby he could not be concerned with the things of the world. His heart was too wide and deep, too centered on the divine.
Signs of a healthy religious vocation
- The first sign is a joyous non-reluctance regarding the sacrifices implied in the renunciation of all things for the sake of the kingdom. …The virgin has given up earthly marriage and motherhood, yes, but she has entered upon a still greater marriage and motherhood.
- The inability to give to the world the attention that marriage requires. Even if the celibate is at a considerable distance from heroic holiness, he should feel at least something of being captured totally by the Lord for the concerns of the Lord.
- An ability to see through the superficiality of superficial things.
- A love for prayer: the priest (or nun) who is drawn to long (even if difficult and dry) prayer well understands his way of life.
The virginal heart is a large heart, too large to be satisfied in focusing on one man or woman.
God is her first choice. He is more than first (for any person God must be first)—he is the only center of her being.
The Christian virgin is a woman in love. I do not say simply a woman of love. That, yes; but more. Because her heart has been captured by her Beloved, in at least a beginning manner, she is absorbed in him. As Paul puts it, she is not concerned with the world and its business, but with the affairs of the Lord. As anyone really in love does, she gives her undivided attention to him (1 Cor 7:34-35).
Virginity aims at living the being-in-love Scripture everywhere supposes: “My eyes are always on the Lord…my soul yearns for you in the night…ah, you are beautiful, my beloved…with my whole heart I seek you…sing to the Lord in your hearts always and everywhere…” (Ps 25:25, Is 26:9, Sgs 4:1, Ps 119:10, Eph 5:20). This is why the virgin puts prayer first in her life. She is in love with God and with his people.
God calls all men and women of whatever vocation to a deep communion with himself. He invites everyone to a prayer so profound that one becomes radiant with joy; the person tastes and sees for himself how good he is (Ps 34:5, 8). He wants everyone to hunger and thirst for him (Ps 63:1), to pant after his word (Ps 119:131), to meditate on his message day and night (Ps 1:1-2), to rejoice in him always (Phil 4:4), to experience a joy in him so amazing that it cannot be described (1 Pt 1:8), to pray continually, all day long (Lk 18:1, Ps 84:4).
Because she is literally in love, the consecrated woman is before all else a woman of prayer. Like Jesus himself, she is drawn irresistibly to long, frequent times of solitude with the Father. Anyone in love desires to commune long and lovingly with the beloved. No one has to urge her to it.
“The contemplation of divine things and an assiduous union with God in prayer is to be the first and principal duty of all religious” (Canon 663, §1).
What did the mystics write about? A breathlessly beautiful love affair with God, a prayerful enthrallment in him, a being lost in love, immersed in it.
“Too late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you…. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you. You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace” (St. Augustine).
The virgin is one who wishes a lifestyle tailor-made so that she may more readily attain that life of prayer to which Augustine refers, so that she may be “already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Pt 1:8).
“Virgo est quae Deo nubit” (A virgin is a woman who has married God—St. Ambrose). This formulation well expresses what is implied in the life of complete chastity: exclusive, total love, intimacy of intercommunion, unreserved self-gift, unending fidelity, service to the beloved, mutual delight.
All men and women are called to this utter fullness of God and the primary purpose of virginity is a readier path to it.
Signs of the Vocation
Can a young man or woman know with a reasonably well-founded assurance that God is calling him or her to consecrated chastity? Given that the Lord does beckon “in a special way, through an interior illumination” (an expression of Pope Paul VI), we now ask just what this inner enlightenment may be and what signs may accompany it.
Ordinarily, the indications of a vocation to celibacy are neither flashy nor extraordinary. The interior illumination is not a vision, not a tap on the shoulder, not a voice spoken in audible sounds waves. Not everyone is assailed, as was Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, by a light and voice from heaven (Acts 9:3-6). Yet we may still ask whether there is some perception of the call, some psychological awareness of the divine invitation.
The answer is yes, even though the awareness may not be what the recipient might expect. We may, therefore, profitably reflect on it. The young person called to consecrated chastity will have a greater than usual bent toward God, an attraction to him. This young person will often readily see that a mere earthly existence is insufficient, fundamentally unsatisfying, basically empty. He may indeed enjoy parties, dances, and dating, but they invariably leave him with a sense on incompleteness. Young women attract him but he senses that none of them, no matter how beautiful, will ever fill his heart. He wants more, much more.
We must return to what we spoke of earlier, virginity as fullness. The young person with this gift has been given by God, at least in an incipient degree, a love-gift, a focusing on God that excludes a similar centering on anyone else. This love-gift may be weak and dim at the beginning, but it is there.
This first sign will be accompanied by a second: an attraction to a particular celibate lifestyle (private dedication, secular institute, active or enclosed religious life), and/or a persuasion that God wants him in that form of dedication. Some youth feel a clear, strong attraction to the active or cloistered life and together with it, a strong persuasion that God wants them there. With these people, there is little or no doubt about the matter. Others feel only the persuasion, more or less insistent, that God is inviting them. Their mind is that if he wants it, they are willing, even if a felt attraction is absent. The inner illumination of which Pope Paul speaks seems in this second group to be mostly an intellectual matter, whereas with the first group it is accompanied by a perceived drawing toward the life.
Sound motivation is the third sign of the virginal charism. Desiring celibacy for the reasons described here is a strong indication that one possesses this love-gift from God. The virgin does not have a negative view of sexuality, nor is she fleeing the sacrifices of marriage or the responsibilities of life in the world—these motives are inadequate. She is a woman in love and she is pursuing her Beloved with a greater freedom. She also wishes to do something to help her brothers and sisters reach God—either by a life of prayer, solitude, and penance or by a life of prayer and apostolic involvement.
The final sign is capability. When God gives the celibate gift, he also gives the physical, mental, and moral health necessary to actualize it in a specific lifestyle. Necessary health need not mean absolute perfection, but it does mean a basic sufficiency. Each institute determines the minimal capabilities required for its life and work.
Preparation in Prayer
The young woman and man called to celibacy are inclined by the beckoning Spirit to a more than minimal interest in prayer. If they are fully open to God’s gifts, this inclination will be strong and persistent, and it will be actualized in practice. There is no better preparation for an eventual embracing of this vocation than a fervent, growing communion with him who is the whole purpose of the life. This private prayer will be fed and furthered by a vibrant liturgical life, by devotion to the first Virgin, by regular, well-chosen spiritual reading, and, when it is available, by competent spiritual direction.
Here is a woman so taken with God that he is the top priority in her life. She lays down her entire being in loving adoration of him.
She declares by her life that no one has here a permanent abode, that we are pilgrims and should live like pilgrims (Heb 11:13-16). She is also therefore a sign of the Cross and asceticism, of the hard road and the narrow gate that lead to life (Mt 7:13-14). Her life tells us that the kingdom does not consist in food and drink but in the joy, peace, and holiness given by the Spirit (Rom 14:17).
The virgin is likewise a symbol of joy. All disciples in every vocation are called to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4), or as Saint Augustine brilliantly put it, to be an “alleluia from head to toe.” Anyone full of love will be full of joy. The joy Jesus gives is not partial; it is full (Jn 15:11). Surely that woman or man who gives undivided attention to him, the very source of delight, can be nothing other than an incarnated alleluia.
The celibate woman and man are persons whose whole attention is focused on Beauty, ever ancient, ever new, persons whose raison d’être is none other than a profound love covenant and communion with the Word and his Father through their Holy Spirit.
Amazing, right? Now, quick! Go buy it, read it, and tell me your favorite lines!
- It’s really geared towards women. Sorry, guys! [↩]