Spouse of Christ, part III

I have been home now for six months and two days. A lot has happened since Palm Sunday both in and around me. This includes the conclusion to this reflection on Chastity.

To continue with my reflections on being a Bride of Christ, I need to go back to when my First Vows with the active sisters expired in 2015 and I came home to California feeling very lost. The Lord called me to that community so clearly that I felt like he simply said to me, "Go there." I did not entirely understand it, I just knew I had to go. It was even more clear when God said “Go home”. I knew it had to be, but I understood it even less. My heart was broken. Years later, I came to realize that I unconsciously imagined that I had been divorced or widowed from Jesus. All the same, it was startling how quickly I began noticing potentially eligible men around me. I put a quick end to this by deciding that I would never marry. I had made public vows including religious chastity for three years, but in my heart I had frequently said "for all my life". It seemed like a betrayal to look for romantic love when my heart was given to Jesus.

An important insight came during spiritual direction one day after I had made my first simple vows in the monastery. Struggling with the closer intimacy of the monastic enclosure, I said that I did not want to be married to twelve women! I wanted to be married to Jesus. After that, I began to reflect more explicitly about how I imagined being a Spouse of Jesus. Thinking of my religious sisters as in-laws really helped change my perspective. Sometimes your in-laws are your favorite people, sometimes you cannot stand them, but you love them and try to get along for the sake of your beloved spouse. Most importantly, I saw that I had not been divorced or widowed by Jesus when I went home the first time. I would not be leaving him if I left the monastery; I would be following my Divine Spouse to a new environment.

I did give Jesus my heart forever in poverty, chastity and obedience. I have not taken that back and I do not want to take it back. But the public vows that I made were temporary according to the wisdom of the Church. They concerned living according to specific patterns of life governed by Rule and Constitutions. Now that I am outside the communities, I cannot live obedience or poverty in the same way. I never thought I could. It is only recently that I realize that I cannot force myself to live chastity in the same way either. We are all called to holiness. We are all called to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. How answering that call concretely looks in each of our lives will depend on our circumstances and who God has made each of us to be. It is my project to live monastically in the world. I am trying to establish a monastic way of life hidden in plain sight, in the everyday. I have a long way to go in figuring out how to integrate my concepts of everyday life with my ideals of religious life. But even before I left the monastery, I was feeling a tug for a more tangible expression of my love for Jesus. Add to this that over the years, the complementarity of the sexes and the Sacrament of Marriage have struck me more and more as profoundly beautiful realities! I regret I cannot write well enough about these mysteries.

After I left the monastery in April, I did not think about the possibility of marriage right away, but hints of that longing began to pop up after the first few months. I prayerfully realized that my desire for a marital relationship is not a betrayal of my gift of my heart to Jesus, it is a sacrament of it. Religious chastity, virginity, is meant to be a compelling image of the Church as bride of Christ. In the same way, Christian marriage is one of the seven Sacraments of the Church because the spouses are called to be a visible sign of God's love for us and our love for God. In Ephesians 5:32, Saint Paul says in regard to marriage: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” That is what I desire: to love God with all my heart and to be a living witness of Jesus' love for the Church. I surrender my chaste desire to Jesus who holds my heart and knows his plans for our good. Jesus, I love you. I give you my heart; do with it what you will.

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