In learning more about St Kateri Tekakwitha I was struck by the connecting points between her and St Therese of Lisieux. Both were orphaned. Both suffered from a terrible disease. Both died at the age of just 24. Therese was called “the Little Flower”. Kateri was called “the Lily of the Mohawks”
Pictured are two antique stained glass windows of the two we hope to purchase for the new Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, SC. ( BTWAnyone out there interested n being the donor for these windows drop me an email.)
What is the point of virgins in the church? OK. We can understand that they illustrate the virtue of chastity and remind all by their extreme example, to follow the way of purity.
But that kind of hints that sexual relations are somehow dirty or bad in themselves, and that is not why the church values virginity. Furthermore, why does the church value virginity in women, but doesn’t much mention it in the lives of men saints?
Does it point to the Virgin Mary’s perpetual virginity? It echoes the Blessed Virgin’s perpetual virginity, but there is much more to it.
The church honors virgin saints because they picture the nuptial imagery which runs throughout the Scriptures.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Scriptures can only be interpreted through the lives of the saints.”
There is a profound mystery here. The Scriptures are somehow fulfilled and brought to life through the whole panoply of saints’ lives.
In the Old Testament stories of men finding their brides there is the hint of the bride-bridegroom symbolism. Then the OT prophets declare that God himself will be the bridegroom of his people Israel. Then Jesus speak repeatedly in parables about the bride and the bridegroom and speaks about the virgin bride being ready for the arrival of the bridegroom and he refers to himself repeatedly as the bridegroom. The liturgy for the day of resurrection refers back to the psalms and pictures the Lord rising from the tomb being like the sun which is like a “bridegroom emerging from his chamber.”
The St Paul refers to the church as “the bride of Christ” and says the church “is presented on day to the Lord as a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, as a bride adorned for her husband” Then in the Book of Revelation the life of heaven is likened to the “marriage supper of the Lamb”. In heaven the bride the Church is at last one with the bridegroom in the consummation of the feast.
Brant Pitre’s book Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told explores this beautiful idea in depth.
This is therefore why the church honors female virgins as she does: because they picture the whole church as the bride of Christ. They indicate a present and future reality and the reality that applies to each one of us as individuals and to the whole church: that we are called to be finally made pure and spotless and ready for the bridegroom.
How can this be when so many of us are so wrapped up in sin, lust, anger, violence and weakness?
This is the mysterious miracle: that through the working of grace and our co operation with grace we are actually called to achieve this perfection. The destiny of each one of us is to be finally purified and made just as pure and clean and sparkling again as the virgin saints were in their mortal lives.
By being who they are they show us what we shall be.
Each one of us will have our virginity restored and re-made. This leads to a contemplation of just what this virginity is.
It is not simply that a person never had sexual relations with anyone. It is not simply a biographical or biological fact. It is a state of mind, a state of soul and a state of the heart. The virginity of Kateri Tekakwitha and Therese and the other virgin saints is a sign of a fullness of goodness in their lives–being full of grace. Their lives were swamped with grace and they were made as complete in this life as it is our destiny to be one day in the life to come (if we do not complete the work of purification here)
Finally, it is no mistake that the virgin saints are inevitably virgin martyrs, and if not martyrs in fact, then martyrs to some great suffering. Their virginity is not some sort of Pollyanna piety. Their virginity, like the Virgin Mary’s is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. They die for love if you like, and they show us that purity comes at a price.
Their tenderness is tough. If they are little flowers they are not drooping violets but steel magnolias, and as such they are examples of the little way that is the only way–a way that is strewn with flowers, but a way that also points to a crown of thorns.