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Striving for Holiness as a Single Catholic Woman
I want you to know that, when the Lord thinks of each of you and what he wants to give you, he sees you as his close friend. And if he plans to grant you a grace, a charism that will help you live to the full and become someone who benefits others, someone who leaves a mark in life, it will surely be a gift that will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you. It will be a perfect fit for your entire life. (Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, 288)
We are called as Catholics to a specific state in life; either the priesthood, consecrated life, or marriage. As a single Catholic woman time and time again I have struggled with figuring out where I belong in the Catholic Church when it comes to having a vocation. Where does someone like me fit into the Church when I am not a consecrated religious, consecrated virgin, or married woman? Is there no place for me as a member of the Body of Christ? Does this mean that I have no vocation, and that God is not calling me to any vocation?
The simple answer to the latter is "No,"although the struggle to feel included in the Church is very real, I know that my primary vocation is to holiness because as Catholics we all have the "Universal Call to Holiness," as stated in the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium. And although the truth is that my vocation is to travel on the path towards holiness, and God-willing I choose the correct path that is aligned with that of the Father's Holy and Divine Will, there are days when I still feel a bit uneasy knowing that I do not fit in to one of the secondary vocations.
What does it mean for those of us who did not specifically turn away from the vocation to the consecrated life, but that it simply did not happen for us? How about those of us who still may feel the call to the consecrated religious life deep down inside, but cannot live the vocation due to corruption and abuse that takes place within the walls of convents? How about when a diocese simply does not promote a vocation to consecrated virginity and either resists beginning the process or makes the process so long and burdensome that it is simply not realistic to fulfill in the world. Both are true scenarios that I have encountered or that my friends have encountered when it comes to the vocation to religious life or consecrated virginity.
What about women who are open to marriage, but just never found the one? When it comes to the vocation of marriage the Church promotes and encourages the vocation, but to find a spouse that is a practicing Catholic is like finding a needle in a haystack, especially these days. There are so many men who call themselves “Catholic,” but then do not even go to Mass on Sundays, and think saving sex for marriage, and not using contraception is downright comical. Does that mean then that Catholic women who are actually faithful to the Church need to lower their standards to be able to get married?
I can only speak from personal experience, but after being in two different convents, and enduring an incredible amount of torment and cruelty that ultimately ended up in me having to leave, I truly cannot live the vocation as a religious sister. The consecrated religious life should be a beautiful vocation that helps to bring members of a community closer to God by each brother or sister helping to build one another up and support one another on their journey towards holiness. It should not be a vocation where the members of the religious institute vie for power and control and strive to tear one another to shreds in the process. That is not the authentic vocation that God intended religious life to be in this world. It is unfortunate the amount of testimonies that I have heard from other women who have shared the same experience of abuse in the convent, and from across various religious orders. Too many of us have lost our vocation to religious life because of abuse, and are now trying to discern God’s will in our lives at the present moment. We are not willing to allow ourselves to be abused anymore by religious sisters, so religious life is no longer an option as we travel on our vocational journey.
Lay all of your cares about the future trustingly in God’s hands, and let yourself be guided by the Lord just like a little child. (St. Teresa of Avila)
Where does that leave a single Catholic woman like myself? I have chosen to dedicate my life to the Catholic Church in any way that I can in my current state as a single Catholic woman, and that has to be enough for me. I wish that I could spend my days working in a parish and be of any assistance to the pastor as that was what I would be doing in my former religious community, but the reality is in the world I cannot afford to only work in the parish. I help out at my parish when I am able to offer assistance, and I love every minute of it, but there are so many days I wish I could never leave the church. I miss the apostolate of my former community so much, it truly invigorated me.
God has permitted me to keep doing what I love; the same things that I had been doing in religious life, but unfortunately I cannot do it at the level I would have been able to do in the convent. If only I could spend my days working in the sacristy and being so close to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I miss spending so much time next to the Tabernacle before my Beloved Lord. But I am still thankful for the small amount of time that God offers me where I can help to serve my parish. I cherish those precious moments.
St. Edith Stein once said, “Each woman who lives in the light of eternity can fulfill her vocation, no matter if it is in marriage, in a religious order, or in a worldly profession."As a single Catholic woman I am striving to become holy, and continue to follow my Beloved Lord, Jesus Christ. I may not be a Bride of Christ as a religious sister, but I am a Bride of Christ as being a member of the Church. Christ will always be the Beloved of my heart and my Spouse even if that means I never get to stand at the altar and profess vows publicly to Him. I will always belong to Jesus.
What really matters in life is that we are loved by Christ and that we love him in return. In comparison to the love of Jesus, everything else is secondary. And, without the love of Jesus, everything is useless. (St. Pope John Paul II)