Religious life and past sins

I don’t know if anyone would have an answer to this. I’m not asking from curiosity but I really would like to understand this for a personal reason.

I read in the encyclical on Virginity from Pope Pius XII that those who have the virtue of virginity are the spouses of Christ, according to the early Church Fathers. Pope Pius says this needs to be confirmed through a perpetual vow.

In various books on vocations, the term “consecrated chastity” or “vow of chastity” is also used, and Catholic dictionary for “spouse of Christ” talks of a woman who has vowed her chastity. (I tried doing research on this topic). A nun or a Sister doesn’t need to be a virgin, as a CV does. I’m sure there must be Religious women out there, or those living with private vows, who had sinned before and repented.

My question is - those religious or vowed women, can they still be called brides of Christ? I know there is a whole debate out there on whether only CVs are truly brides of Christ, etc, I do not mean to recreate this debate… this is not about this topic. I’m just wondering, in the way that nuns and others with a vow of chastity can be brides of Christ, is this still applicable to those who are not virgins?

I’ve been really struggling with this… would appreciate any help. I’m discerning my vocation and been going through extreme pain about my past sins against purity, though yes I have confessed them, and they happened many years ago, and I’ve been living chastely. I just feel like i’ll never be truly close to God like I’ve desired to for so long, and this thought discourages me extremely. I’m not doubting God’s forgiveness, but just how to go on from here. Thank you

Moving this to Vocations as you will likely find more expertise on this topic there.

There have been plenty of sisters throughout time that have not been virgins; not necessarily due to sin, but due to marriage and loss of their husbands also. This has no bearing on their vows to chastity, other than perhaps they have a fuller, both-sides-of-the-coin perspective.

3 Likes

I can offer you no expertise at the level of “Catholic dictionary definitions”. I confess I don’t know much about the speculated degrees or types of glory in heaven, any more than I understand the promised rewards of indulgences, etc.

But re: spouse of Christ language, I can say this:

Jesus Himself said that the Church Herself is his bridegroom. Are you a member of his Church? Cool. You’re a member of his bride who is one body and shares his body. Straight from the mouth of God. None of us, if we make it to heaven, will fail to be in an effectively spousal union with Christ, whatever that means (eye has not seen nor ear heard).

And as an individual, he loves you very much, and whatever he is preparing you for in heaven will be the exactly right thing for you and will make you very happy. He knows and loves you one-on-one. He is holding you in existence right now and he delights in you. He knows every twist and turn your life has taken; he knows your sins and forgives you for them; he is here to redeem and re-unite.

Whatever voice is discouraging you, that is from the enemy. God’s voice is encouraging. Trust Him: you know how you want to be closer to Him? He wants to be closer to you, even more. And He’s capable of making it all happen.

Personally I try to set aside wanting something ‘specific’ from my relationship or walk with God. I’ve found myself feeling the most loved and known and truly at peace exactly when I most let go of wanting something specific, and offer that up to God to let Him place me wherever at the table He wants me to go.

Remember that our God loves us more perfectly than we love ourselves, and that every evil He has allowed in our lives, He has allowed because He can bring more good out of it. Those who are forgiven much, love much. And love is what lasts.

By the way, it may well be that the ever-virgins have a special place in heaven. That’s nice! I won’t be among them. But who knows: maybe God has a special place in heaven for people like me, too, who draw closer to him by tears of repentance rather than by perseverance in unbroken virtue. I’ll wait to find out from him, what he has in store.

PS might as well cap this ramble off by directing you to more text; have you ever prayed the litany of humility? It’s great. Highly recommend.

The Litany of Humility

Lord Jesus. Meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

— Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930)

4 Likes

I’ve been praying this one - the Litany of Humility, and I hope I shall get the fruition of it. I’m way too :slightly_smiling_face::pray:

You do not have to be a virgin to enter religious life…unless a particular order requests virginity as part of their constitution. Most all do not. I have only ever heard of one Order, while I cannot now recall their name. Even women who were married and either widowed or the marriage annulled, nowadays even are known to enter religious life. Any children must be adults and independant.
One’s past life is immaterial too. However if one has recently had a conversion from ‘a past life’, or if one has recently converted to Catholicism, most all religious orders will ask a period of time after in stability of life before entering.

Really good comment.

You seem to be stuck and really do need spiritual assistance with moving on.

On another point from the Catholic Catechism (i.e “and of each of the faithful, members of his Body, as a bride “betrothed” to Christ the Lord so as to become but one spirit with him.” … see below)

https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p2.htm
#796 - The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride. The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets and announced by John the Baptist.234 The Lord referred to himself as the "bridegroom."235 The Apostle speaks of the whole Church ****and of each of the faithful, members of his Body, as a bride “betrothed” to Christ the Lord so as to become but one spirit with him.****236 The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb.237 "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her."238 He has joined her with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body:239

1 Like

Nuns and monks are equally more brides of Christ than the non-consecrated laity because they participate in a greater way in the bridehood of the Church. But their commitment is not bridal but ascetical by nature. People of all walks of life can be great saints, close to God and some even enjoy the mystical heights of contemplative prayer in which the soul has a kind of spiritual marriage with the Lord. It is important to really believe in the call of holiness and to grow in holiness as a layperson before discerning consecrated life because a common error is to equate consecrated lifeas the only way of attaining mystical u ion which is false.

2 Likes

I know it bothers you , but it shouldn’t Many men and women have been married, and lost their spouse because they have died or for what ever reason. They’ have entered the Church as a monk or nun, or as a priest or sister. Jesus doesn’t judge them because of this., that they entered after having a husband or wife and children. marriage is an act sanctioned by God. As far as any sins of a romantic nature. Jesus is merciful in all things, and is probably less worried about it than you are. We are all called to holiness. And you can do that in your daily life, by volunteering in some way, giving to the poor,etc.You could be a secular tertiary of the Franciscans, etc. they even have married people who belong.Some religious orders of women nowadays even have associate members who help them in their work. If there is such a community in your area, find out about being one of their lay helpers. You may decide that while you enjoy helping others, that maybe the religious life in an order isn;'t for you.And that’s okay too.Not everyone is cut out for it.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to reply to me!

I think some things would be a bit more clear if I say this -

I don’t think the the consecrated life is the only way to attain mystical union, but for so many years, I’ve had a desire to give myself to Jesus in a spousal way and to only love Him, not an earthly spouse. I don’t think that this is the only way to attain mystical union… but it’s a really deep desire in my heart and because of it, I made certain choices in my life. I have a lot of opposition to following a vocation but I still chose it because of how important this became in my relationship with God. But when I look at my past, I’m so discouraged to think that I can’t even be His bride. Maybe i’m not understanding something. I know each soul is a bride of Christ, but I meant in a fuller more vocational way…

I read some things the female Saints said and those who were nuns or chose not to marry for Christ, definitely had a bridal spirituality… and I’m just thinking of their profession liturgies… I also read a few books on vocations and they all said that for women, the gift of chastity is inherently more spousal than for a man. I think St Pope John Paul II said this too. A couple books by priests I read, talked about how this is totally normal for women who consecrate their chastity. So I don’t really see it as something ascetical in the way poverty is, or fasting… I also don’t think that chastity given in this way is like a painful sacrifice… I think it’s more about a spousal love for Jesus, and this has been my experience too… maybe it’s just a typical way women relate to God in the consecrated life

I know that we should just seek to love God and I totally understand what you mean MNathaniel… loving God and doing His will is the most important thing… I just don’t know what to think anymore. This has been so important to me. I wouldnt change my mind either way, but like the whole reason I chose to not marry, was to give myself to Jesus as my only Spouse… I hope that this could still be somehow, despite my past :frowning: I’m still going to love only Him, anyway, but I’ve been feeling very discouraged.

If anyone has any more thoughts… that would help me… thanks!

wow I’m sorry I wrote so much

I just spent the last 15-20 minutes reviewing Vatican documents on consecrated virginity, trying to find a concrete reason why you think you can’t have a spousal relationship with Christ.

And I came away still scratching my head. (Because I mean… I’m not a virgin by any standard, and that doesn’t mean I can’t have a spousal relationship with a regular man in future. Why would Jesus, even more merciful and charitable than a mere follower of Jesus, be less capable than one of his followers of being in a spousal relationship with me?)

Could you please cite the specific document (and page number or line number) that you think excludes you from the kind of consecration you otherwise desire to make?

Because without a specific document, I’m personally left wondering whether it’s not actually looking at Church documents that has left you feeling discouraged, but looking at your past.

Or is it internet comments from strangers who have strong opinions on the topic?

Basically, what – specifically – has given you the idea that you can’t devote your life to Christ, in chastity?

Or is it that you know you can dedicate yourself… but you feel bothered about what other people ‘call’ you? Whether they pronounce the phonemes: “Br-eye-d uhv” Christ? Whose classification, exactly, are you worried about not conforming to?

Because remember, God knows exactly who you are and where you’ve been, every day up until today. And He’s still calling you to something today, tomorrow. Isn’t your mission to discern what that is? And to do it? Not to be concerned with what other people call it?

Sorry if I’m missing some key piece of the puzzle here. I guess I’m not necessarily following?

PS I definitely think you should seek out a spiritual director if you don’t already have one. The internet (including CAF) isn’t necessarily the place to get answers on this.

Are you actually discussing any of this with a vocations director or a spiritual director? Because you should be.

The fact that you’re having difficulty getting over your past sins that you have already confessed, been absolved from, and are not repeating, is a concern. I agree with the person who said you need help from a priest or spiritual director to get past that issue. It’s not spiritually healthy.

Likewise, the fact that you seem to be creating a big disappointment in your mind from stuff you’ve read here and there is also an issue. Several people have given you good answers which you seem to be setting aside on the basis that you read blablabla and decided something else. I don’t think someone on here is going to be able to say a magic sentence or link a magic Church document that’s going to make this issue of your past sins vanish from your mind.

I think it’s time for you to go talk to a priest, spiritual director, etc in person.

1 Like

Betrothed to Christ is applicable to ALL the baptised. This is what The Church has to state:
Catholic Catechism: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/796.htm
"796 The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride. The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets and announced by John the Baptist. The Lord referred to himself as the “bridegroom.” The Apostle speaks of the whole Church and of each of the faithful, members of his Body, as a bride “betrothed” to Christ the Lord so as to become but one spirit with him.

The fulfillment of betrothal to The Lord is of course to be fully united with His Will at all times…or spiritual marriage.

I’ve been really struggling with this… would appreciate any help. I’m discerning my vocation and been going through extreme pain about my past sins against purity, though yes I have confessed them, and they happened many years ago, and I’ve been living chastely. I just feel like i’ll never be truly close to God like I’ve desired to for so long, and this thought discourages me extremely. I’m not doubting God’s forgiveness, but just how to go on from here.
[/quote]
To have made a good confession but to continue to grieve over one’s past life is very often a temptation from Satan. The objective usually is to drive to despair. It is a focus on oneself instead of a loving focus on Jesus and His Loving Infinite Mercy to oneself who is so undeserving. Not one of us do deserve it!
One can indeed virtuously grieve over one’s past sinfulness but with gratitude and thanksgiving in the Loving Infinite Mercy of The Lord on one who does not deserve it. The primary focus shifts from oneself to The Lord.

To journey by way of feelings can be unwise since feelings can and most often do change and/or be deceiving. Faith never changes. In other words, to put one’s focus not on what one feels, but what one believes. One can ask The Lord to please remove the pain felt over one’s past but “not my will but Thine be done” which is to unite oneself to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and His own agony while journeying on earth.

I think you really do need spiritual direction by an SD.

The all embracing and Loving Will of God is in each and every day in the unfolding days of every single person. A good spiritual director (educated, wise and holy) could help you with “how to go on from here” discerning God’s Will in your every moment - and any other spiritual difficulties you might have.

Hi everyone, well i’m struggling extremely right now. i looked up something that St Thomas Aquinas wrote… and at first, i found this encouraging statement:

“the man who makes a solemn vow contracts a spiritual marriage with God…”

But then, i came across something else in his writing. St Thomas was writing about Consecration of Virgins, as I understand, which he called “veiling of virgins”. He was saying only virgins should receive this. Which makes sense. But then, he said this:

“by taking the veil a woman is in a certain way espoused to Christ, who is worthier than any high priest of the Old Law. But in the Old Law the high priest was not allowed to marry anyone but a virgin. Therefore, no one should be veiled unless she is a virgin.”

By “veiling” he seems to refer to the consecration. This is evident in the next paragraph where he says that only the Bishop can do this.

But to me, what this says is: only the consecrated virgins are espoused to Christ.

I dont understand then why in communities that dont do this consecration, they still use spousal language for the profession. In one profession for an active order that never had the consecration, the Sister is asked if she consents to take Jesus as her Spouse.

My question is - why would orders that dont have this consecration use this language, if the CVs are the ones who are espoused to God? And secondly, what happens if a non virgin sister goes through the same profession?

I’m honestly really hurting right now and i feel like my whole world has crashed down. I know that sounds dramatic but all i wanted was to be Christ’s bride. I thought - its more direct for CVs but since Sisters and nuns use this language too, there is some reality there as well… but now, i dont understand, and worst of all, even if there is a spousal relationship that happens with Christ for non CV Sisters, i am afraid i can never have it. St Thomas says that only a virgin can be espoused to Christ. How can i now ever relate to Him in this way, which was the whole reason of me seeking the consecrated life? I have already promised myself to God, and i feel now that i was wrong about everything…

I would really appreciate any help. St Teresa wrote poems to her Sisters about them becoming brides of Christ. They were not CVs. So what did she mean? And if a Sister is not a virgin, how could she use this imagery?

Does anyone see what i mean? If only CVs are espoused to Christ because they are virgins, why do non CV professions use spousal language, and how could a non virgin sister ever see herself as His bride?

Also… St Thomas says that “by the vow of continence the soul is espoused to Christ” but his whole reasoning in that paragraph is to say that it is proper for women to receive the consecration and not men - because women reflect the spousal union with Christ better. But its so confusing because if the vow of chastity is sufficient for someone to be spiritually married to God, why does St Thomas then say that only CVs are espoused to Christ? Why not all women who have the vow?

Im so confused honestly. Here are the objection and St Thomas’ response:

"Objection 1: To the fifth question, we proceed thus. It seems that there should not be a special veil for virgins who vow continence as compared with others who have vowed continence and are not virgins. For both virginity and the vow of continence are common to men and women. But to men who vow continence while still virgins, nothing else is given than is given to others who have lost their virginity. Therefore, neither should virgins receive a special veil by comparison with others.

Reply Obj. 1: The Church stands in the spiritual marriage as a bride, but Christ as the Bridegroom; yet by the vow of continence the soul is espoused to Christ, and this is why it is not fitting that this espousal be signified in a man, but only in a woman."

Is this saying that everyone who makes a vow of chastity is espoused to Christ, but this is signified in the CV in a fuller way??

I dont know if I’m over thinking it… I found this article with a reflection from St John Paul II which seems to be just about consecrated chastity… maybe for CVs its just more direct as they become a sign of the Church, but perhaps on an individual level there is a deeper spousal union between God and a soul with a vow of chastity? https://www.piercedhearts.org/jpii/general_audiences/gen_aud_1994/nov_23_1994_spousal_love.htm

"By calling himself the bridegroom, Jesus expressed the meaning of his entrance into history. He came to bring about God’s marriage with humanity, in accordance with what the prophets foretold, in order to establish Yahweh’s new covenant with his people, and to fill human hearts with the new gift of divine love, enabling them to taste its joy. As the bridegroom, he invites everyone to respond to this gift of love. All are called to answer love with love. He asks some to give a fuller, stronger and more radical response: that of virginity or celibacy “for the kingdom of heaven.”

“The reference to the nuptial union of Christ and the Church gives marriage itself its highest dignity. In particular, the sacrament of Matrimony introduces the spouses into the mystery of Christ’s union with the Church. However, the profession of virginity or celibacy enables consecrated persons to share more directly in the mystery of this marriage. While conjugal love goes to Christ the bridegroom through a human union, virginal love goes directly to the person of Christ through an immediate union with him, without intermediaries–a truly complete and decisive spiritual espousal. Thus in the person of those who profess and live consecrated chastity, the Church expresses her union as bride with Christ the bridegroom to the greatest extent.”

By “virginal love” I take it to mean more generally, the purpose of virginity?

Take St. Rita for example- she was not a virgin when she entered the convent. She became a widow.

You can still be a religious if you are not a virgin.

I remember fulton sheen brought a prostitute back to the church, she became a nun in the end.

Thats so awesome!! Im just so happy she came to God and became a nun :slight_smile:

I also read about the widows who were nuns…

Im just confused about whether ALL nuns can use spousal imagery? I started feeling super unworthy in my discernment

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.