The following is the homily of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades from the solemnity of the Assumption, Aug. 15, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.
Today on this beautiful feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, with joy and thanksgiving, the Church consecrates Jessica Hayes to a life of virginity. God has called Jessica to be more closely united to Himself and to be dedicated to the service of the Church. It is God who gives the grace of virginity. He gave this grace to the young woman of Nazareth, to Mary, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to choose the life of virginity. Mary made a personal decision in faith to remain a virgin, to offer her heart to the Lord. She wanted to be His faithful bride. Thus, Mary became the model for all those who have chosen to serve the Lord with an undivided heart in virginity. It seems most appropriate that Jessica gives herself totally to Jesus, is consecrated to a life of virginity, on a feast of Our Lady, who gave herself totally to God as the virgin handmaid of the Lord.
Jessica, like Mary and the many consecrated virgins in the early history of the Church, several of whom are canonized saints, has heard the call of the Lord to live as His spouse. The Church confirms this call as authentic. Jessica is making the courageous choice that our Blessed Mother made — the choice of virginity in order to consecrate herself totally to the love of God. This choice is motivated by love, love for Jesus and for His Church. The life of a consecrated virgin is all about love. Saint John Paul II understood this well and wrote that “one cannot correctly understand a woman’s consecration in virginity without referring to spousal love.” Jessica knows this theology of Saint John Paul well. As many of you know, (I see many of Miss Hayes’ students and former students here today) she teaches a wonderful course at Bishop Dwenger High School on the dignity and vocation of women and uses the deep and profound teaching of John Paul on women.
In his apostolic letter on the dignity of women, Pope John Paul wrote about the value of consecrated virginity in which women become “a sincere gift for God who has revealed himself in Christ, a gift for Christ, the Redeemer of humanity and the Spouse of souls.” He wrote that “women, called from the very beginning to be loved and to love, in a vocation to virginity find Christ first of all as the Redeemer who ‘loved until the end’ through His total gift of self; and they respond to this gift with a sincere gift of their whole lives.” That’s what Jessica does today. She gives her life to the divine Spouse, to Jesus. “Through the Holy Spirit’s action” Jessica becomes “one spirit with Christ” her Spouse.
The dignity and vocation of women is realized in a special way in consecrated virginity. Jessica is not just remaining unmarried or single. Virginity is not a mere “no” to human marriage. It is a profound “yes” (John Paul II), a yes to give oneself for love in a total and undivided manner. Today Jessica says yes like Mary did at the Annunciation, to be the virgin handmaid of the Lord, to love Him and serve Him in His Church with an undivided heart.
There is also a true motherhood that is integral to a life of consecrated virginity. Virginity according to the Gospel includes giving up physical motherhood, which is a great sacrifice, but it “makes possible a different kind of motherhood: motherhood according to the Spirit.” In Jessica’s life, this spiritual motherhood will be lived and experienced in various ways. I think, for example, of her spiritual motherhood of her students. The love of a consecrated virgin is a maternal love; it is meant to be fruitful. The Fathers of the Church spoke about how consecrated virgins are instruments of the Church’s fruitfulness. We can think of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary, the motherhood of the Virgin Church, and the motherhood of consecrated virgins. It is something beautiful and fruitful: this virginal and spiritual motherhood. It extends far beyond that of a natural family. Like the love of the Church our mother, the horizons of the virgin’s love are the horizons of Christ: love of all her brothers and sisters, especially the poor and the afflicted, the weak and the suffering. Like Mary, Jessica is called to both virginity and motherhood, to be a mother in the Spirit, imitating the maternal love of Mary our mother whose charity we heard about in today’s Gospel of the Visitation.
Jessica, I remind you of Saint John Paul’s exhortation to consecrated virgins: “Love Christ, the reason for your life. Return Christ’s infinite love with your own total and exclusive love. Love the Church.” “It is the task of virgins,” he said, “to be the hard-working hands of the local Church’s generosity, the voice of her prayer, the expression of her mercy, the relief of her poor, the comfort of her suffering sons and daughters, and the support of her orphans and widows.” He emphasized that consecrated virgins are to have a merciful heart, sharing the sufferings of others, and committing themselves to the defense of life, the advancement of women, and respect for their freedom and dignity.”
Saint John Paul also said to consecrated virgins: “Love Mary of Nazareth, the first fruits of Christian virginity. … She was fully, in body and spirit, what you, (Jessica), with all your strength, want to be: a virgin in heart and body, a bride for the total and exclusive adherence to the love of Christ, a mother through the gift of the Spirit.”
Jessica, on this feast of Mary’s Assumption, you are consecrated to a life of virginity. May you learn from Mary at the Annunciation to live as the handmaid of the Lord and to do the will of God, to keep his word! May you learn from Mary at the Visitation to bring Christ to others and to sing God’s praises, joining with Mary in her Magnificat! May you be with Mary at Cana, interceding for the needs of others! May you be with her at the foot of the cross, sharing in the mystery of Christ’s suffering! May you one day be with her in heaven where she was assumed body and soul to be with her Son forever!
Jessica, in a spiritual sense, you are with Mary today in the upper room at Pentecost as you receive from the Holy Spirit the gift of consecrated virginity. May you persevere faithfully in your vocation! I pray that your life will be holy and enrich the life of the Church. May Blessed Mary, ever-virgin, assumed body and soul into heaven, intercede for you always!