Q — If marriage is such a great sign of Christ’s relationship with us, his Church, how come so much emphasis has been placed on consecrated life? Are we not all consecrated to Our Lord by baptism? It was implied — at least to my generation — that if you loved God, you became a nun, priest, etc. 

A — The question is a very timely one given the fact that the church this year is celebrating the “Year of Consecrated Life.” Yes, we are all embodied in the Lord through baptism, put “in Christ” through this sacrament, in the words of St. Paul. In that precise sense all Christians are radically equal, one to another. This is how St. Paul put to it to the Galatians in the 50s of the first century: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.27-28).

While this is absolutely fundamental, the church has never been without ministry, even if the data do not allow us to have a complete picture of this from the beginning. Also from the beginning there have been what we might call “charismatic” persons in the church, persons called and endowed by the Holy Spirit to perform some service in the church. St. Paul in 1 Cor. 12.27-30 describes both ministers and charismatic persons in the church. At the same time he is equally insistent that “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12.12).

Throughout the history of the church there have been times when those in ordained ministry or those in the consecrated life have been thought of as very special in the community, sometimes to the detriment of the laity, of the baptized. That is one of the reasons why Vatican II in its Constitution on the Church, chapter 5, insists upon “the universal call to holiness in the church.” Holiness flows from baptism, is there for all equally, albeit differently, depending upon one’s vocation. “Each life is a vocation, shaped by our response to the voice that we first acknowledge, perhaps, at the font, but which keeps on calling us,” according to Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP (“Take the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmation,” London-New York: Bloomsbury, 2012, 60). We listen to God calling us in different ways, and we shape our lives accordingly, all living out of and towards the holiness embedded in our baptismal placement “in Christ.”