Religious life is misunderstood. Not only by the world, but by Catholics. I can attest to this, because up until a year and a half ago, I looked at nuns and priests as depressing and non-joy filled individuals who were “settling” because they couldn’t find Mr. or Mrs. Right. I believe I am called to write this, because if religious life is misunderstood, than Christ is misunderstood, and if Christ is misunderstood…we have a problem.
After having gone from wanting to have seven children like Fraulein Maria from Sound of Music, here I am pursuing what I believe to be a “call” as a bride of Christ. I used to be the one persecuting the poor chosen souls of the religious, but now, I too am being faced with hearing “what a waste of your life, you must not want kids, or my personal favorite, you must not like men.” WRONG, wrong and wrong. Let’s explore three simple, yet major reasons as to why religious life is a special calling and gift given to certain souls:
Reason #1: We are all made for marriage, but it is a singular grace from God to be able to give up the natural call of family life. Of course I like men, but it is that grace I mentioned that allows me to continue to choose Jesus as my spouse. I will always love men, but I love Jesus more and He is patient. In heaven we will ALL experience a mystical marriage with Christ because we will be in complete union with Him. Some start this mystical marriage on earth. In sacramental marriage, the two become one. In this mystical marriage, the chosen soul becomes one with Christ. Saint Teresa of Avila became so in union with Jesus that she is one of the few saints who experienced transverberation of the heart. This experience is known as her entrance into her spiritual marriage with Jesus. An actual flame of love consumed her whole heart.
Transverberation is a spiritual wounding of the heart. Saints were sometimes rewarded by God for loving Him so much that they offered the Lord total dominion over their heart. Which could come in the form of a physical wounding of the heart by a dart or a flame of love.
Reason #2: Jesus Himself instituted religious life. What? Yes. The disciples left everything to come follow Jesus. His advice to those whom “would be perfect” were the ones that- go, sell what they possess, give to the poor, leave houses, father or mother, sisters or brothers for His name’s sake to receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life. (Matt 19:21). Religious orders do exactly that, by taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Adam and Eve were the first to live out earthly marriage, when Jesus came into the world, He introduced something entirely new. A life of virginity and spiritual marriage. Since Jesus was resurrected, our Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church have not ceased to spread the way that imitates the very life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Now if a man chooses 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, it has more wonderful gifts: for it grows the perfect fruit, namely a hundredfold. -Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, A.D. 373-
Reason #3: Jesus tells Saint Faustina that priests and nuns, uphold the world. In fact, they are the very heart of the world. As Roman Catholics we are so incredibly blessed to have so many resources to prove this. The Church’s arms extend so wide. From Scripture, Holy Fathers, Doctors of the Church, the Catechism, Council of Trent and apparitions from Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is practically impossible to be led astray, but we are and always will be. But, Jesus is patient. The vocations of sacramental and spiritual marriage are two beautiful and holy callings created by God. But we must not misunderstand them. Have courage in whatever comes in life, as Saint Teresa of Avila said, for everything lies in that. Have you discerned your calling?
Look at the sky. Do you see the moon and stars? These stars are the souls of the faithful Christians, and the moon is the souls of the 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. -Jesus to St. Faustina-