Countless mothers from the dawn of time have caught glimpses of their children—both brief and sustained—that spoke profoundly of the fathers. Perhaps a furrow of the brow, a toss of the head or a flashing grin, and as unremarkable as that likeness should be biologically, it can still take one by surprise. God willing, it is a cause for deep joy.
Imagine, though, that for some women every person who passes by, every personal encounter results in this joyful recognition—for everyone is in the image of the beloved. This is the life of a consecrated woman whose Spouse is Jesus Himself. When she is recollected and absorbed in her Bridegroom, she has the eyes to see those around her with His love and is called to extend His affection through her everyday actions. This is part of the “profound Yes” that she has voiced, renouncing physical marriage and motherhood for the spiritual equivalents—equivalents that can be explained in comparable terms but that ultimately point to so much more.
At the heart of the response is her freedom to discern and act according to God’s distinct call, and in that characteristic it is clear that men and women are fundamentally equal in how they image their Creator. Both are called into a personal relationship, and both carry the responsibility to distinguish the gifts God wants to bestow in order to strengthen that bond. Ultimately, the stronger the nuptial bond, the greater the benefit to the wider community.
Now the theology of the body indicates that the soul of woman is ordered to motherhood, so the spousal love between Christ and His chosen souls must also bear fruit. The spiritual motherhood made possible through the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, and obedience) will be both similar and distinct from the fruits of marriage. Mulieris Dignitatem reminds us that “virginity does not deprive a woman of her prerogatives. … Spousal love always involves a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one’s range of activities. … In virginity this readiness is open to all people, who are embraced by the love of Christ the Spouse” (MD, 21).
The freedom of the Religious is similar to that of a priest—in that both have forsaken a particular family and its responsibilities in order to make themselves available to a multitude of families. Such a “gift of self” is generous and far ranging, but it is most importantly profoundly personal. The individual called into this relationship with God is not subsumed—but rather called to her most perfected self. This reflects the essence of any healthy relationship, which must be between two subjects rather than either being reduced to an object.
The call to celibacy for the Kingdom is radical, but it is God Who makes the choice. Jesus chose this path when He lived among us, and so did His Mother. Any community is privileged to have within it such generous souls, because of the complementary relationship between those who embrace spousal love in its two dimensions. The consecrated soul finds in the family the material supports and structures that concretize certain truths about love and life, and the married woman should find in the consecrated woman the deeper meaning of her motherhood, which is ordered to union with God.
Ultimately, their collaboration and mutual support link the flesh and the spirit so we can all be reminded of the Father we share—and Whose countenance we are called to radiate to the world. Deeper than biology, such are the metaphysical “facts of life.”