The vocation of consecrated virginity is one of the oldest in the Catholic Church. In fact, most of the seven women commemorated by name in the Roman Canon of the Mass were either consecrated virgins or kept their vows of virginity. St. Agatha, St. Lucy, and St. Agnes suffered martyrdom for refusing the advances of tyrant would-be suitors. Also martyred, St. Cecilia and St. Anastasia were both married but maintained their vows of virginity (they had Josephite marriages).
While it may have flourished in the early centuries of the Church, it is now largely unknown to modern Catholics. In fact, when bringing up the topic, most people will ask “Wait, what’s that?” Trust me, I should know. When I announced my intention to discern the vocation late last year, I was met with a variety of reactions. I’ve since discovered—after talking with other professed and discerning consecrated virgins—that these reactions are fairly par for the course.
So, exactly what reactions do we typically get? Here are 15 examples of reactions we ladies encounter when talking about the vocation.
Not surprisingly, this question comes from those who know little to nothing about the vocation. It’s usually asked with a perplexed expression of the person’s face. Most typically, it comes from non-Catholics or those who are “Catholic in name only.”
“So, like a nun?”
Those who are a little familiar with Catholicism (whether they’re Catholic themselves or not) will ask whether the vocation is similar to those of the religious life. While the detailed explanation is too long for this article, the answer is “not exactly.”
“But you’ll eventually find the right guy!”
This seems to be the universal reaction when someone announces their intention to discern the vocation, after asking what the vocation actually is. People seem to think that women who chose to discern this vocation do so out of lack of marriage prospects. This is completely false. In fact, those who want to discern the vocation because they think they have no other options will get dissuaded from pursuing it.
“What if the right guy comes along?”
A variation of the previous reaction, but in question form. Across the board, those I’ve talked to (and myself) have all given a variation of the same answer, “I have! His name is Jesus!” Amen, sisters!
“I have a son/ brother/ nephew/ cousin/ friend I’d love to set you up with”
Matchmaker, matchmaker don’t make me a match! All you Emmas (Jane Austen reference) of the world, don’t bother trying to set us up. We know to Who our hearts belong.
“Did you know I’ve always liked you?”
Guys start declaring their feelings for you once the announcement is made. I think it’s the prospect of losing one’s chance or always wondering “what if…?” that inspired these reactions. According to seminarian and priest friends, this is also a typical response for them before they entered the seminary.
“But I wanted grandchildren/ nieces and nephews!”
If the lady discerning is an only child, the only daughter, or the only sister, this reaction will likely come up. Yes, it can feel like a guilt trip or a selfish request, but most of us understand where our family members are coming from. Eventually, they will come around to the idea. At least, I haven’t heard anything to the contrary yet.
“Are you sure?”
When people see that we’re not budging from our decisions, the next reaction is to “make sure” that we’re sure this is what we want. The answer is and always will be, “Yes, I’m sure!” Just like any other vocation, we don’t enter into this lightly.
“So, no sex . . . like, ever?”
We live in an oversexed and oversexualized world so it’s no surprise that those who lack, well, tact will bluntly ask this question. The further away from God and religion, the crasser the follow up comments will be.
This “ick” reaction is, unfortunately, not rare. There are simply some guys who hear that a woman wants to preserve her virginity and hear it as a challenge to “win.” Don’t believe me? Just read the stories of St. Agatha, St. Lucy, St. Agnes, or any of the other virgin martyrs for some of the more extreme (for our modern era) examples of this.
“Things can change!”
Even after explanations (or, even, several conversations), the vocation has a “does not compute!” effect on some people. When this happens, they dismiss the discernment. To them, it’s just a whim or phase that we will eventually get tired of or outgrow. Yes, things will change… but not the way they may be thinking.
“Won’t you get lonely?”
Because consecrated virgins don’t marry nor do they live in communities (though some CVs in the same diocese may choose to become roommates), people think that CVs will be lonely. After all, we are financially responsible for ourselves and will be living a life without a physical partner by our side. However, we still enjoy the company of family, friends, our parish and our work communities. So, no, we aren’t completely cut off from socializing or a sense of family simply because we won’t have a traditional family or religious community around.
Although it may be foreign to most Catholics, those who know and understand the vocation are usually very supportive. It seems that those who are either seminarian, deacons, diocesan priests or religious are usually the first to get very excited. Their reactions fall more along the lines of:
“I’m so excited for you!”
“It suits you!” or “You were made for this vocation!”
“Yay! I’ll be praying for you!”
If a young woman you know tells you she’s considering the vocation and you don’t know how to respond, a good rule of thumb is not to ask or say something you wouldn’t to a woman discerning the religious life or marriage. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask. If you know she’s going into it with a good head on her shoulders, pray for her. After all, we’re all part of the same Catholic family.
Mary, Queen of Virgins, pray for us!