Friday, May 09, 2008

Bride of Christ Imagery in Religious Profession and Spiritual Maturity

A postulant in the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary posed the question of how the members and oblates of the order related the traditional imagery of nuns as brides of Christ to their own spirituality. Here is my reply:

The image of marriage to Christ is used not only of religious profession, but also of the church (as the "bride of Christ", imagery used by Paul in the New Testament). One of the most important aspects of this for me is the idea of a solemn, permanent covenant. Adolescents date a lot before settling down with their spouse (if they do), and there is a certain intimacy that can only come from a permanent commitment. Now, making a permanent commitment in marriage to one person, saying "I do", at the same time means saying "I don't" to everyone else (in the traditional language of the marriage service this is expressed as "forsaking all others"). And that can be scary -- as humans and more especially as American consumers, we like options and choices.
Similarly, in our spiritual journeys, while it is fine to date, or play the field, in trying out various religious options, ultimately, spiritual maturity requires that we choose a particular path in serving God, and saying "yes" to a particular call means saying "no" to other calls. But there is a depth and a maturity in one's relationship to God and the church that can only come from making that commitment.
In my own life, I "played the field" with various denominational options, and with ministry options, but it has only been in the last several years as I have really committed to the Independent Catholic path that I have been able to come to an adult relationship with God and the church. Whenever I am tempted to wonder "what if" I had ended up staying in the Episcopal or Roman churches, I must remind myself that I didn't do that, and the parameters of our Independent Catholic community -- good, bad, and indifferent -- are the parameters in which I must serve God.
Now, having said all this, while we are all called to commit ourselves to particular calls in our Christian life, just as one shouldn't rush into marriage, so one shouldn't rush into a permanent commitment in one's ecclesial life. And that is what postulancy and novitiate are for. They are like times of "dating", when one can try on a particular religious expression. And it may be that one discovers that there is not a good fit -- and that is okay. God has a call for us, and all of us should spend time discerning what it is -- but once we've found it, we're called to commit our lives to it.

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