Consecrated virgin speaks on vocation at SMC
Nicole Caratas | Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Jessica Hayes, who is the first consecrated virgin in the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in the last 25 years, spoke about her journey discerning her vocation during the latest installment of Theology on Fire at Saint Mary’s on Wednesday.
Hayes said during her time in Catholic grade and high school, she only met two religious sisters.
“I remember them being there,” she said, “but it didn’t teach me much about what religious life was like because they were on their own and they didn’t really talk about it. There was also nothing that striking about what they were doing or who they were.”
She said what drew her away from the religious life of sisters was the fact that the sisters she met were from her grandparents’ generation.
“To me, it looked like the religious life was something that people didn’t really do anymore,” she said. “That’s not a bad thing. It’s just not something that young women chose.”
Hayes visited religious communities to see if that path was for her, but she did so half-heartedly — in the same manner that she dated, she said.
“I could see marriage and religious life as good,” she said. “In the deepest part of my life, I knew neither one of those were for me.”
She believed her vocation was to marry and have children since she was young, she said. As her life went on, she met more women in religious orders and started to see the religious life as a possible path for her, though it was not something she truly wanted, Hayes said.
“I knew it was a good thing,” she said. “It was a beautiful vocation and I was seeing women live it joyfully, but at the same time, I knew that wasn’t where my heart was.
“For me, for all of this time, there was either life in a religious community or married life. So I thought, ‘If I’m not called to [the religious life,] then I must be called to marriage and I just haven’t found the person yet.’ That was my attitude for some time.”
According to Hayes, the main role for a consecrated virgin is to commit her life to prayer above all else. Hayes is able to hold any occupation, and throughout history, consecrated virgins have been doctors, teachers, accountants and other odd jobs, but the job the women choose cannot take precedence over the life of prayer, she said. She also has to be of service to the parish and her community, Hayes said.
Hayes, who is a teacher of theology at Bishop Dwenger High School, did not want to live in a religious community because she wanted to continue being a spiritual mother to her students, she said.
“I really enjoyed my students,” she said. “All of us are called to mentor some people. My students were allowing me to guide them in that life. They had good questions about prayer, and I really enjoyed being a mentor to them in that way.”
According to Hayes, she was guided to her consecration by studying the Theology of the Body during her later life.
“That’s when I started realizing how much I love learning about the faith,” she said. “I think learning the truths about the theology of the body and how stamped it is into our very being teaches us much about how we are called to love and be loved.”
Hayes found a spiritual director to help her navigate through the difficulties in life regarding her occupation, she said, but he recognized his guidance was needed to help Hayes figure out her vocation, instead.
“He really challenged me to think more deeply about how I was going to give myself,” she said. “I had someone posing challenging questions and then holding me accountable for those answers. I couldn’t just think about them and then not get anywhere — he wanted an answer.”
According to Hayes, her decision to become a consecrated virgin came through the process of trying to figure out what she truly loved. She realized she loved the faith, teaching teenagers about the faith and being around her parish community.
“There were so many things about my life that I already liked, and I think this priest could see that in a way that I couldn’t, because, to me, there was still this one unanswered question that I didn’t want to talk about,” she said. “He could see there were places of joy for me and wanted to help me to draw those out.”
She had to think critically about whether her life plans were what she wanted or what others wanted for her, she said.
“There [was] so much pressure, which I didn’t notice up to that point, to marry and have kids,” Hayes said. “They’re all really good things to want, but I could finally explain that these were not the things I wanted. … I needed to have the courage to take the next step forward.”
This decision helped her fill in the gaps she had been trying to fill throughout her life, Hayes said.
“For a really long time, I had tried to get myself to accept that I was going to be single,” she said. “I moved from accepting it and putting up with it … to a whole-hearted desire that this is all I really wanted in my life is to be united with Christ in a spousal way, where I give myself completely and publicly over to him, but also in the world, so that I can continue living in the way that has brought me so much joy, but now with that extra step … because I choose to.”
Hayes said she wants to be an example for women to demonstrate there is another way to fulfill their vocation.
“We know what marriage is, and we know what the religious life is, even if we haven’t experienced it by living around religious communities,” she said. “But there is this other way, this union with Christ, but where we live in the world.
“I think [with] the witness of women living in the world as consecrated virgins, there’s this constant reminder that living a chaste lifestyle is one that brings great joy and it looks really weird because no one thinks about living that way by choice — it’s more by consequence. But I think that kind of a witness is really powerful, because it makes a woman available to those around her in a way that she can’t be if she’s living in a religious community, where she has those responsibilities to community life or to the life of a family.”
According to Hayes, people have thanked her for her courage and for giving her life away, though she believes it is the easiest and most natural part of her life.
“In any discernment, what is really is more than anything is knowing yourself,” she said. “Whenever it is, we find what God is calling us to — there’s really no sense of loss. It’s like he’s offering you the opportunity to be yourself in the greatest way possible, in the greatest joy possible.”
Hayes said she feels she truly found her vocation in becoming a consecrated virgin.
“In my discernment, I feel what happened is it opened up my whole heart,” she said. “Now, I live with my whole heart and it’s a much better live than not really knowing ourselves.”
According to Hayes, looking into the life of Mary and Mary’s acceptance and willingness to be the mother of God helped her realize this was what she truly wanted and what God wanted for her.
“I feel like for me, a common thing with Mary’s annunciation was that I had that one moment of absolute clarity that this was what the Lord was asking of me and this was what I most desired,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever have that for the rest of my life, but I don’t know that Mary did either. But she was absolutely certain that this was what the Lord wanted. … That was true with me, too.”