By Sister Teresa Margaret, D.C.
l'HERE are two states of life". one child informed the Christian doctrine examiner, "the married and the singular". The Bible puts it somewhat differently, but I suspect that the youthful theologian's definition would gain many supporters.
Our modern world finds it wellnigh impossible to comprehend the Catholic attitude towards virginity. Even sincerely religious folk regard the deliberate renunciation of marriage as unreasonable, if not unnatural. They will argue it defies God's command to increase and multiply and fill the earth, or quote St. Paul's exhortations to the Corinthians. which seem to indicate imprudence in advocating virginal chastity St. Paul is referring to the matter of our free will in this regard. No one is compelled to profess chastity; it must tie a voluntary. deliberate choice. Merely wishing to attain any virtue is a vastly different matter to willing it. If in their union married couples find the harmony of their nature, she who has consecrated herself to God will find complete harmony according to the purity of her love of God, expressed in the surrender of her will to Him.
Virginity is renunciation of married love and human motherhood: things holy in themselves and sealed by sacramental grace, which may he rejected only to obtain a higher good. The Cpuncil of Gangra condemned the opinion of anyone who preserves virginal chastity because she regards marriage to be avoided as "something execrable". and not because of the sanctity of the virtue.
But does the choice lie exclusively between marriage and religious life? Certainly not. They are definite vocations, not alternative careers. Never before has such a wide field lain open to the single woman who feels herself called to neither state. The various forms of the lay apostolate and the secular institutes all need her services, but apart from such active work there still remains the enormous scope of ber 'vocation to spinsterhood.'
The indefinable but unmistakable realization that marriage is not for her, accompanied by the resolution to put it from her. does not necessarily propel her into the nearest convent, but it does draw her into what Fr. Valentine termed "The Apostolate of Chastity". She may not specifically consecrate ber virginity to God by vow, but it is none the less offered to him; she is thus genuinely set apart for his service.
"Vocation" has always been understood first and foremost as a call to the priesthood or religious life. Nowadays people are becoming increasingly alive to the fact that marriage is truly a vocation, but it seems that few are aware that Pope Pius XII referred in such terms to the life of the single woman in society: "This life of solitude was not in her thoughts and aspirations, but the force of circumstances imposed a mysterious vocation."
(The late Fr. Daniel Lord, Si., once said: "I like everything about spinsters except the name ''spinster '"; but there seems no alternative).
It is not a matter of 'first' or 'second best', although there is the question of a higher or lesser state. But there we enter into the realm of divine economy. God summons one to this state, another to that, we know not why. None can claim to have deserved any call of whatever degree, for it is completely gratuitous, and not bestowed for any worth on the part of the recipient. In each case it is a unique. personal invitation, requiring an Individual response. St. Augustine, as usual, expressed it very neatly: "Without God we cannot; without us God will not." He is the giver of gifts, and like everything else, grace is bestowed with prodigal liberality. But God does not force us — not even to be happy.
Ten Just Men
if it is correct to claim that we are more true to our nature when we use our faculties to love and • "Celibacy . . . is something negative, and there is no holiness or purity in it as such. Its value lies in the accompanying gift of self ..."
serve God, then certainly we are never more true to ourselves than when we are dedicated wholly and solely to his service. And it is in thus being true to our nature that we reach fulfilment in whatever state of life we are placed: religion, marriage or society.
In our "post-Christian" civilization where licence is rife, it rould very welt be that God seeks again "ten just men" to save the city, by giving the vocation and responsibility to certain individuals living in the midst of the world without sharing in its legitimate pleasures; voluntarily to embrace the life of celibacy for the good and even the salvation of mankind.
Such people share the responsibilities of the religious life without receiving its protection; while at the same time they place their shoulders under the burdens of their married brethren without enjoying their consolations.
Marriage consecrates husband and wile, bestows a holy vocation. Celibacy on the other hand, is something negative, and there is no holiness or purity in it as such. Its value lies in the accompanying gift of self. Virginity, to he of value, must be an offering to Christ, not the cherishing of a personal excellence. Virginity is the flower of our love of God. never of self-esteem. Likewise it is the supernatural flowering of human love, not its repudiation. Through it we enter into a union which belongs to the supernatural order, and as such is more intimate and fruitful than any merely human relationship can be.
A Witness Such voluntary renunciation is not a flight from reality, a refusal of human love, for we are drawn to a love that is of all human loves the strongest and tenderest— the Heart of Jesus. Chastity should deepen our charity, release our affections and fill our hearts with zeal for the extension of God's kingdom among men. The apostolate of chastity is the witnessing in a world surfeited and unsatisfied with material things, of the efficacy of a life lived for God, the extension of Christ's redemptive work, releasing among men the human and divine love of his Sacred Heart—the first step towards leading men back to God.
Why do men and women freely and gladly leave home, family, friends, renounce the companionship of marriage and the joys of parenthood to enter monasteries or live isolated and often lonely
lives in the world? They are neither simpletons nor fanatics, but average, intelligent people. who have deliberately weighed the choice and their response. The answer lies in the word vocation, which demands total dedication, Such is the apostolate of chastity, which has and does release the love and mercy and grace of Christ upon a world unable to ask for them itself, because it is ignorant of its own destitution.
Gift of Self Celibacy of itself is not necessarily dedication, but the means of achieving the unconditional gift of self. Our endowments of nature and grace must be poured out on others through some form of apostolate by reason of our supernatural vocation. Self-forgetfulness. willing service to others. generosity. are outstanding traits of the great majority of religious women whether in the cloister or the market-place. The maternal instinct released into the apostolate by supernatural chastity and charity (whether consecrated by vow or not) is a power that can raise the world, The apostolate of chastity, like all the great truths of Christianity, is based on a paradox. We must give all to gain all. It is comparable with a mother's love that embraces all her children equally without favouring one at the expense of another; and yet it is anything but stolidly impartial. it is only by pouring out our love prodigally that we can love with the charity of Christ. She who sets limits on her love. confining it to two or three people, reduces likewise her capacity for love even of those few. It is by giving that we receive.
Unless those who have renounced marriage and family find their centre in Christ, such renunciation is negative, their lives will almost certainly turn inwards, ending in a self-centred blind alley. We must never turn from love, but seek it at a deeper level. Either we accept and live in the world of sensible love, or we consciously put aside its lawful pleasures 'for the sake of the Kingdom'. We cannot merely shut our eves to it and pretend it does not exist.