Veni Sponsa Christi

“Sister, stop! Wait!” While walking down the street one evening with a group of college students, returning from an event, a sister was hailed by a voice filled with urgency. Turning back to see who was shouting, she caught sight of a middle-aged man hastening toward them. Now out of breath, he placed himself in front, and smiling said, “I always wanted to know… what’s a Sister?”

It was one of the sweetest questions she’d ever been asked, totally sincere and innocent. His clothes were filthy, and it was evident he didn’t have a place to lay his head, just like our Blessed Lord. Looking at his face, unwashed and tanned, hair unkempt, and eyes wet because he’d been crying, she was moved by the beauty of this spiritual child!

“Well,” she said simply, “a Sister is the Bride of Christ and a mother of souls.”

It seemed to reverberate off the buildings…the Bride of Christ. Who can say something of such magnitude and survive it? Several scripture passages carry a similar sentiment, “Who would believe what we have heard?”(Is. 53:1), “Who can accept it?” (Jn. 6:60b), and lastly, Mary’s faith filled, “How can this be?”(Lk. 1:34)

Jesus is the Divine Bridegroom. He wed humanity and divinity when by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, His mother. As the perfect Spouse, He laid down His life on the cross for His Bride, the Church. He is the role model of every husband, as described by St. Paul in the 5th chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, nourishing us and cherishing us. Every woman’s heart yearns for a love that is spousal: a love of choice, one that is total, self-giving, committed, unconditional, and yes, filled with romance! 

When discerning my own vocation, I refused to believe that God would give me this heart that seemed overtaken with a desire for spousal love…and leave it unfulfilled. St. Thérèse gave words of assurance, “God cannot inspire unrealizable desires.” I began to see that this longing was not only known by the Lord, but came from Him, and would be fulfilled by Him, in a way beyond my understanding and frankly, beyond my wildest expectations.

The woman called to religious life receives an invitation from God to consecrate her body and soul totally to him, renouncing the great good of marriage on earth for the sake of the Kingdom. She gives witness to the destiny of every soul in heaven, where “they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mt. 22:30), but all will be joined to the Lamb at the wedding feast and share in the eternal communion of the Blessed Trinity. Thus, a foretaste of the life to come begins here on earth for those called to consecration through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The response of a Bride is “yes”, and this resounding, daily yes encompasses the totality of her person, expressing her givenness and availability; as well as her openness in receiving all that is asked of her and given to her with great joy. She makes room interiorly for the Life of Christ to be conceived and born into the world.

Divine espousals to Jesus…what does this mean? Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity responds, “To be the bride of Christ! ‘Bride,’ I must live all that this name implies of love given and received, of intimacy, of fidelity, of absolute devotion. It means to be sacrificed as He was, by Him, for Him. It is a heart-to heart exchange for a whole lifetime.” My lover belongs to me and I to him. (Song of Songs 2:16) He entrusts his heart to me (Prv. 31:11) and I share in His sorrows and joys. This entails my submission to the Lord, that is, placing myself under His mission of redemption by joining my will to His. It means channeling every pulse and movement of love and affection through His Most Pure and Sacred Heart first, that it would be not longer I who love…but Christ who loves in me, through me. I am to be “anxious about the things of the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:34), permitting Jesus to daily wash my feet of the dust of this world, in order to receive His promised inheritance.

The Bride of Jesus wants others to know and love Him too. Her gaze is fixed on the One Face hidden in the Eucharist, and hidden in every face. When she approaches the altar at Holy Communion, she recognizes the truth of Is.54:5, “He who has become your husband is your Maker.” She hears him knocking at the door of her heart and grants Him access, allowing Him possession of those secret depths and inmost thoughts, permitting Him to bring about a total conversion by conquering sin within, setting free that which is held bound, and then sharing in the spoils of His victory.

It is an experience of confused marveling and incredulous joy at the very prospect, intermingled with dismay over one’s weakness and failures; and both of these are superceded by a gratitude that threatens to put an end to the beatings of one’s heart. And so with Peter she can cry, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am (sinful),” (Lk. 5:8) while simultaneously allowing her burning heart to urge Him, with the disciples of Emmaus, “Stay!” 

This Lent, approach Jesus with your heart in your hands and ask Him to create a clean heart in you. Make a thorough examination of conscience, and allow Him to “cleanse you from all your impurities and idols.” (Ez. 36:25) by making a good confession. “Give me your sins.” This request of Jesus to St. Jerome is the same for us. Let us give Jesus the joy of being our Savior! As we are converted, we are given clarity and better able to discern His call for our life.