St. Pope John Paul II described the unique essence of woman in these words: “The moral and Spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way” (Mulieris Dignitatem). Her strength is measured by the order of love. I see the life of a Consecrated Virgin as a particular witness to the dignity of our feminine nature through our inward receptivity. Our feminine nature is one that loves and receives love in spousal and maternal dimensions. I became aware of this in high school and was torn as to what state of life I was called to — married or religious. I loved children and the thought of giving them up was almost unbearable for me, yet I came to know that my love could not be handed over to just one special person, but had to be shared more broadly with whoever was in need. I dated some fine men, but came to realize that my heart was restless for God and His people. I realized the Lord was calling me to Himself and I knew this calling was about a deeper relationship. This relationship was to be intimately built on love and self-giving to Him and to the family of God. As my consecrated life began, I was soon to discover how, within the call to union and the call to love, there are seasons.
My first few years as a Consecrated Virgin were active. I could deeply relate to the statement in the homily of the Rite of Consecration: “Your motherhood will be a motherhood of the Spirit, as you do the will of your Father and work with others in a Spirit of charity, so that a great family of children may be born, or reborn, to the life of grace.” His love was poured out within me and I sought to share in His love and to draw others towards Him as well. All was joy, peace, wedded bliss — more so than any mortal Marriage, since my Spouse was always with me. I would describe that time of my life as the springtime, when there was new growth and beautiful sharing in the Lord with others.
Summer soon came, which was much like spring — a deeper appreciation of the hours of prayer, pondering beloved Jesus in a grateful and ever more intense way — a kind of strengthening and deepening of every initial joy.
The fall came, and as the leaves everywhere seemed striking in their intensity, still their days were numbered. Though life seemed beautiful and serene on the outside — inside a dying process had begun. Yet there was a general awareness, a knowledge that this must come to me, for the good. It was a time accompanied by uncertainty and a time of transition from an active life to a more contemplative life. I knew it was then that trust, humility and faith had to deepen. I sensed the need to surrender my will ever more, and understood that Christ’s love would never forsake His own. It was in the mystery of dying that His beauty would shine forth.
The winter season invariably followed, where I could sense the dying process in a harder way, as this season reminded me there is a coldness in the midst of less light and more darkness. It was the experience of abandonment, being cast off, empty, even numb — a sharing in His Passion. Yet even in the bareness of the trees, I knew there was life deep within. It was a time of dormancy, leading towards the gift of a more authentic understanding of self and God — a paradoxical grace. The period of winter is just such a season, as new hope dawns for the next cycle. And as it arrives — one is forever changed.
So the seasons transition and none are permanent, each bringing a “newness of life.” These Spiritual seasons afford a deeper union, a more complete oneness with Him. Through the gift of the seasons, through the gift of a deepened trust in our changing life with Him, we find joy and peace.
Elizabeth Lee was consecrated to the Order of Virgins in 1995 under Canon 604 of the Code of Canon Law by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M., Cap. She is a graduate of Roger Williams University and works as a media manager at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. She has served as secretary of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins and has been a guest on the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation television network and featured on ABC’s “Nightline” discussing the vocation of consecrated virginity.