Cristina Garcia had a dream that she was getting married. When she awoke, the young girl ran to her parents crying because she could not see the groom in the dream. Her father laughed and reminded her that she was still very young.
Then she had the dream again. It stuck with her throughout her life. Yet she never felt a call to marriage and children. Eventually she took to the internet to find the answer to the calling she felt. She considered religious life, possibly as a cloistered sister.
“I gave it meditation and prayer and it didn’t feel right,” Garcia said. “When I found out about the Consecrated Virgin Living in the World, I researched it, did a lot of meditating, and when I took it before the Blessed Sacrament, it felt like home.”
“Consecrated virginity is the most ancient form of consecrated life and dates back to the earliest days of the Church,” said Sister Cecilia Canales, former vicar for women religious in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Consecrated Virgin Living in the World faded away in the early Middle Ages as religious life became prominent and almost all consecrated virgins were nuns.
“With Vatican II, when they called for the renewal of religious life, they also called for the renewal of the Rite of Consecrated Virgins,” said Sister Cecilia. The revised rite was approved by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1970 and written into Code 604 of Canon Law.
The modern rite remains unknown to most because it is so recent and there are still few Consecrated Virgins Living in the World. The website of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV) puts the total number worldwide at approximately 3,000 with 235 living in the U.S. in various dioceses throughout the country. Garcia is the only one in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, perhaps the first ever. No one she has spoken with has been able to find record of another.
Garcia was eventually able to make contact with a Consecrated Virgin living in San Raphael, California. to help with her discernment. She then went to Archbishop José H. Gomez with her desire to become consecrated, and he put her in touch with Sister Cecilia. Together they began a journey of discernment for Garcia that lasted four years.
The experience was new for both of them and they learned as they went through the process. “We looked at the vocation of the Consecrated Virgin and discussed that in detail. That was part of the formation process,” Sister Cecilia said. “Just getting to know her as a person and getting the sense of her commitment to the Church and her ability to serve her local church.”
According to Sister Cecilia, a candidate needs to be engaged and ministering in their local parish and have a good understanding of the current theology of the Church. “They become a public person,” Sister Cecilia said. “Even though they continue to work where they work and live where they lived before and they don’t have any signs or symbols that they wear, they are known in their parish as a consecrated virgin. She needs to be able to represent the Church.”
Last November, Archbishop Gomez consecrated Garcia. He conducted the rite of Consecratio Virginium (Consecration of Virgins) during a Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown L.A. In the rite the virgin is made a “sacred person” who lives in a consecrated state just as religious do.
Because a Consecrated Virgin Living in the World doesn’t have a superior as she would in a religious order, her relationship is with her bishop, who stands in as the bridegroom Christ, and she meets with him.
Many challenges face a Consecrated Virgin, particularly when it comes to support. “She doesn’t have community life and the structure of religious life as a support. She doesn’t have the vow of obedience which includes having other people to discern with in terms of decisions in your life,” noted Sister Cecilia. “It’s a much more individual and independent way to live a consecrated life.”
Each Consecrated Virgin needs to find her own support network. Part of their discernment is to make sure that she has those supports in place in her life, whether it is through family, friends or their parish.
“The Consecrated Virgins in the United States do offer support to one another,” said Sister Cecilia. “They have an annual meeting, and the ones who live in the same geographic area get together periodically. I think they are trying to network more.”
The USACV website (consecratedvirgins.org) provides resources for those who may be seeking, but also states that their purpose is “to provide support to its members in the faithful living out of their vocation to consecrated virginity.”
Garcia finds a lot of support at home. “I live with my parents and my brothers and sisters. There’s 11 of us in the home. They have accepted what I have chosen, and they were all in my ceremony, all of them,” said Garcia. “I’m a bride of Christ. I did have my wedding, even though I didn’t have a groom in a physical form, but spiritually he was there.”
The bridal symbolism in the rite, particularly the ring and the veil, are there to show that she is a bride of Christ and has given herself totally to him and no one else, according to Sister Cecilia. She is also given the Liturgy of the Hours and is committed to a life of prayer, which includes praying for the intentions of her bishop, for priests and seminarians, and for the spiritual well-being of the people of her diocese.
“There were a lot of people that didn’t understand. My pastor didn’t understand it. Some of the parishioners, they still don’t understand it, but it’s what I am called to do,” Garcia said.
Garcia knows that here will be challenges in her spiritual life, but she looks to role models like St. Teresa of Kolkata. “She felt a lot of spiritual dryness, but she continued, she kept on. The perseverance is there,” Garcia said. “She kept on going forward, just like Father Serra when he founded the missions. He kept on going. That’s what you have to do.”
Garcia’s work as a realtor has taught her to push herself. One of the requirements for a Consecrated Virgin is that she is able to support herself. Since she is not part of a community, she needs to be financially independent.
“It’s a whole new window that’s being opened to give light to us. It’s strengthened me. My gift is only to him, which is my virginity, and that’s all I have to give to him because he has everything. And he has accepted it. What more can you give to our Lord?” said Garcia.
“You always feel that love, that burning sensation in you,” he continued. “It is like being on cloud nine. I mean, let’s just put it this way — the honeymoon is never over.”