Of course all baptized people are consecrated to God, and each are called to participate in the building up of the Kingdom of God according to their own state of life and particular circumstances. The Second Vatican Council, in renewing the ancient phrase “the universal call to holiness,” was echoing what saints have been urging all the Faithful throughout the history of the Church.
However, throughout the history of the Church there have always been men and women who, through a special grace of God, have chosen to follow Christ’s call in a special way; devoting themselves to Him with an “undivided” heart (cf. 1 Cor. 7:34). These persons are described as living the “consecrated life,” and in 1996 Pope John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter, Vita Consecrata, devoted to those who have chosen this way of following the Lord.
Often when we think of the Consecrated Life, we think of nuns, and religious sisters and brothers, and certainly they are some of the more common examples of persons living the Consecrated Life. Yet there are other forms of Consecrated Life. There are hermits, consecrated virgins living in the world, the various secular institutes and societies of apostolic life — and there are the consecrated widows and widowers.
Since apostolic times there have been consecrated widows (cf. 1 Tm. 5:5, 9-10; 1 Cor. 7:8), and in his Apostolic Letter, Pope John Paul II encouraged the renewal of this practice, while adding widowers. “These women and men, through a vow of perpetual chastity as a sign of the Kingdom of God, consecrate their state of life in order to devote themselves to prayer and the service of the Church” (John Paul II, Vita Consecrata #7).
Now you may be wondering why I am talking about consecrated widows and widowers, well there has been a movement of the Spirit in my life. As some of you may know, my father died about 14 months ago. The last 15 years of his life, he and my mother went to Mass almost everyday and lived a life of devotion. I am not saying that they were saints (and I certainly am not), but they were actively and consciously trying to be the best Christians that they could be. Several months after my father died, my mother mentioned to me that she knew that God was not calling her to marry again, but that she wanted to dedicate her life to prayer and serving the Church. I gave her a letter that St. Ambrose wrote to the consecrated widows in Milan back in the 4th century, thinking that it might provide her something of a “rule” which she could adapt to the 21st century for herself. She came back to me and asked if they still had consecrated widows in the Church, and I told her that I did not know.
So I did what any priest/son of the 21st century would do — I googled (OK, I actually used Pro Life Search) “consecrated widows.” I found that in some other countries, the bishops have resurrected the order, and while the Vatican is working on a Rite of Consecration of Widows/Widowers, in the U.S. there was no consecrated widows/widowers as done before the local bishop for the local diocese. However, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (S.O.L.T.) had started a group of consecrated widows within their religious community. I passed the contact number on to my mother, and to her delight she found out that two members of the group lived in the Diocese of Trenton. They gather monthly for prayer and study/formation, so my mother and another woman joined them. Then they were five, and the five of them attended this week the national meeting of the group. Right now the group, which has only been around for 4 or 5 years, only take yearly promises, and the five from New Jersey made or renewed their consecration. So my mother is now a consecrated widow of the S.O.L.T. They promise celebacy, to live simply, and obedience to their rule. They pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and Mass daily. They reflect on one of the rules in their Rule each day in meditation, they will continue to gather monthly for prayer and formation/study, and they have taken St. Josephine Bakhita as their patron saint, with an apostolate (at least of prayer) of helping women who are being exploited.
But it continues. I have started a School of Community (part of Communion and Liberation, one of the new ecclesial movements) at my parish, and someone in the group asked me if I knew anything about consecrated widows, so I referred her to my mother. And today another woman asked me about consecrated widows. Clearly the Spirit is moving.