I have always had big dreams. I was one of those kids that had a crazy answer to what they wanted to be when they grew up. While other kids wanted to be teachers and doctors, I wanted to be a detective (thank you, Nancy Drew), a world traveler, a National Geographic photographer, and especially a Disney animator. While these all seem like crazy dreams, I can see how God used my ability to dream big and to think outside of the box to prepare me for the path He invited me to follow.
My Upbringing as a Catholic
My name is Carmen Briceño, but everyone calls me “China” (sounds like Cheenuh), and I was born in Venezuela but I have lived in the United States for most of my life. I can honestly say that I took my Faith for granted growing up since all of my friends were Catholic. I went to a Catholic school and, culturally, most Venezuelans are Catholic.
Sure, I prayed every so often, but I didn’t really have a relationship with God and honestly didn’t know that you could or were supposed to! All of that changed when I moved to the United States as a young adult and met my first Protestant friend, Sandie. We played volleyball together and her joy and faith were so attractive to me. She loved Jesus in a way that was authentic and real and that I had never seen before. I wanted what she had. Through this friendship my faith grew exponentially not only because she taught me how to have a relationship with Jesus and to read the Bible, but also because she asked sincere questions about the Catholic faith that in my ignorance I had no idea how to respond.
Providentially, at the same time, God placed in my life a priest that through his friendship and accompaniment taught me to find the answers I was seeking and in doing so to find the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. It was Fr. Juan who introduced me to Theology of the Body which dramatically changed my life. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of John Paul II’s teaching on human love and sexuality. I burned with a passion to share this incredible teaching, especially with the young. I was convinced that if we understood the profound meaning of our sexuality and of our call to love that our lives and relationships would never be the same.
The Turning Point
The turning point came in 2005 when Fr. Juan invited me to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany with a group of young adult pilgrims. I knew a couple that met at World Youth Day. She was from Bulgaria and he was American and they met and fell in love at World Youth Day so I thought that perhaps the same could happen to me. Couldn’t I also find my significant other in the midst of over 500,000 pilgrims? As you can see, my intentions were not purely spiritual but God has a sense of humor and can use all things for our good.
Throughout World Youth Day, I was challenged to love Jesus and to be open to His will. It was here that for the first time I was faced with the proposition that God may be calling me to belong exclusively to Him. While some people say that when they were called they felt great peace, I was a wreck. I was anxious, nervous, and skeptical.
Me? No way.
I had other plans, I wasn’t “holy” enough, and up until that point I had never even considered it as an option. Yet, there was an agonizing attraction to this new possibility. I told Fr. Juan what was happening in prayer and once we returned from the pilgrimage we began a lengthy process of spiritual direction.
I was very lucky that Fr. Juan knew other women who were also discerning consecrated life and we moved together into a house of discernment. This house was not attached to a specific order, but allowed us to continue to work and study all the while living with other women who were discerning. We were able first to discern if God was calling us to belong exclusively to Him and then we could discern the concrete form of consecrated life He was calling us to. This was such a gift because consecrated life is so expansive.
When I thought of consecrated life, I only knew of religious life, but there is much more such as secular institutes, societies of apostolic life, consecrated virgins, etc.
Throughout my two years there I visited many orders and communities but I fell in love with Consecrated Virginity. Consecrated Virginity is one of the most ancient forms of consecrated life within the Catholic Church.
Even before there were religious sisters, there were women who at first made private vows of perpetual virginity and they lived with their families and dedicated themselves to prayer and the Works of Mercy. These were among the first virgin martyrs who when asked to marry a Roman noble man declared themselves already married to Christ and were denounced as Christians and martyred for their Faith.
Later, this vow was no longer a private vow but a public vow. Among the famous early consecrated virgin was Marcelina who was the sister of St. Ambrose and was consecrated by Pope Liberius into the Order of Virgins. Order of Virgins does not mean a religious order but rather the term “order” refers to a specific group of people as in the “Order of Deacons”, “Order of Presbyters”, “Order of Virgins”.
Is Consecrated Virginity the Same as Religious Life?
A consecrated virgin is not a religious sister but is a member of consecrated life. All religious women are consecrated but not all consecrated women are religious. This means that we do not wear habits nor are we called “sisters”. We do not live in community nor have a religious superior. We do not profess vows but rather state our “propositum” of perpetual virginity.
We owe obedience to our Diocesan Bishop, who is the one that consecrates the virgin, but this obedience is different from the obedience we find in religious life.
For starters, consecrated virgins must work and make their own income since the Diocese is not responsible for her financially. This means that she is free to work in accord with her talents and vocation rather than be assigned to a specific job. That is why you find a variety of professions among consecrated virgins from missionaries to lawyers, artists, teachers, doctors, and musicians to name a few.
As a consecrated virgin our charism is to be a Bride of Christ in the world with the gift and talents that God has given us.
Life as a Consecrated Virgin
After being accepted as a candidate by my Bishop, I had two years of formation. On August 22, 2009 I was consecrated into the Order of Virgins.
Throughout my years as a consecrated virgin I have been able to see God use and transform my desires and talents. My youthful desire to travel the world has been transformed into an apostolic zeal that has taken me as a missionary around the world to places like the Dominican Republic, India, El Salvador, Cuba, and Europe.
It has led to a speaking ministry where I travel and give talks and retreats in both English and Spanish to youth, young adults, and parents.
My desire to be an artist has been realized by making original and whimsical images of the Saints, illustrating books on prayer geared for youth and young adults, and creating Catholic apparel and products that are meant to evangelize the culture.
My passion for Theology of the Body has allowed me to teach a program in local Catholic schools called “The Gift of Human Sexuality.”
It amazes me how God has not wasted any of my desires and dreams but has purified, transformed, and set them on fire.
What if I Feel Called to a Vocation as a Consecrated Virgin?
For any woman who is discerning this vocation, the first step is to spend quality time in prayer and to have a spiritual director. Next, I would recommend visiting www.consecratedvirgins.org as they have wonderful resources on the history of the vocation as well as on the discernment process. They also have an informational conference once a year where one can meet many consecrated virgins as well as attend talks and conferences on the vocation and discernment process. Also, it would be very helpful to read the recent Instruction from the Vatican called “Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago” on the Ordo Virginum (Order of Virgins).
God has a unique plan for each one of us. He is calling us ever deeper to Himself. Many times, He uses our talents, dreams, and desires to attract us to Him. Let us not be afraid to open the door and let Him in. Let us not be afraid to allow Him to transform our desires. Let us not be afraid to dream big for Him.My Life as a Consecrated Virgin #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Written by Carmen Briceno. Find out more about her here.