There is growing interest in the Ordo Virginum, but that doesn't mean it is well, or even barely, understood.
A friend and I need advice in how to defend to our married friends our choice to stay single. We are both discerning to become consecrated virgins. Our friends either brush it off as a phase or openly try to discourage us or to set us up on dates. What’s the best way to respond?
Signed, Perpetua & Felicity
Dear Perpetua & Felicity,
I know it gets incredibly tiresome constantly defending your decision to your friends and to have your life under their scrutiny. Every single person reading this can certainly sympathize with you. It can be hard for others to understand that some people simply wish to remain single. If a man never marries he’s labeled an immature commitment-phobe and when a woman never marries she’s considered a bitter spinster. People seem to assume there is something wrong with women who “can’t seem to get married.” It’s infuriating, yes….
… or, it could demonstrate that they care very deeply for you both and just want what they think is best for their dear friends. It can also be considered a compliment that they think well enough about you that they want to set you up.
The Oldest Form of Consecrated Life Is Also the Newest, and It’s Growing!
My first piece of advice is to perceive their concern as well meaning — not necessarily as criticism but as a simple lack of understanding. Perhaps your friends believe they are giving witness to the value of the sacrament of marriage. Perhaps they even feel that your desire to not get married is a direct rejection of what they have discerned for themselves.
Secondly, I advice you to talk, and then talk some more. Put aside any feelings of defensiveness and engage in real dialogue with your friends. Every remark they make or question they have is an opportunity to inform, and also to bear witness to the value of a consecrated life.
Give your friends some background on the history of the Ordo Virginum (“Order of Virgins”):
Since apostolic times, there have always been some Christian women who felt called to dedicate themselves to Christ as completely as possible by renouncing the possibility of an earthly marriage and committing to live a life of perpetual virginity. Centuries before women were able to profess vows as nuns in established religious communities, the Church had already established a ritual for solemnly consecrating women to a life of virginity.
Being a witness is part of any vocation – whether married or religious — and consecrated virginity is an ancient vocation within the church but one that, while enjoying a renewal, is also very misunderstood. Just a few days ago, a headline about consecrated virgins called the rite “controversial” for no obvious reason beyond the fact that it is rare.
Assure your friends that they are valued and that you appreciate their concerns and their insights, even as you hope they will be respectful of where you are at. Married friends can be invaluable sources of advice and can provide different perspectives unseen by other single people.
Embrace the “resistance.” You may find that each of these encounters (even the unpleasant ones) helps you in your discernment — helps you to see the vocation more clearly, and also helps you to understand it better, yourselves, as articulation often does.
People are going to be naturally curious about what it means to be a consecrated virgin. If your friends are dismissing this as a phase and are trying to discourage your decision it could be simply based on their ignorance. This is a wonderful time to educate them about the beauty and commitment of consecrated virginity, with its own parallels to marriage.
Again, let them know you love them and understand their concern is based out of love for you. At the same time, do let them know when their comments become hurtful or exhausting. Ask them outright for their support, but also remember that sometimes people can’t give it, and that in the end, you can’t “need” it in order to follow Christ as you feel called.
I am sure your friends are challenging you not to intentionally hurt you but because they care for you. In time — particularly if your witness shows you to be happy and at peace — they will come around.