‘God has my heart’

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Editor's Note: Please see a special statement below about the Order of Virgins from Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

On Saturday, Carmen Briceno, 28, will put a veil on her head, recite vows and slip a wedding band on her finger. Her spouse, however, will not be standing next to her in a tuxedo. Instead of someone tall, dark and handsome, Briceno will be dedicating her life to God — her heavenly better half — as a consecrated virgin.

According to Canon 604 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law, consecrated virgins “are mystically betrothed to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.” The U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins says that virgin consecration is “one of the oldest sacramentals in the Church,” and each virgin is “set aside as a sacred person who belongs only to Christ.”

“God-willing, when I give myself to God, He gives Himself to me,” Briceno said. “There is no fear. There is trust.”

Because Briceno is a native of Venezuela, she’s being consecrated for the Archdiocese of Cumaná, Venezuela. Venezuelan Archbishop Diego Padrón Sánchez of Cumaná is traveling to the United States specifically to celebrate Briceno’s consecration at Queen of Apostles Parish in Alexandria. Father Andrew Fisher, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, will also officiate. From that day forward, everything will change.

“I want to give myself completely,” Briceno said. “I’ve seen in saints and other people what God can do if you’re completely open. That day I want to tell Him, ‘Here, everything, everything. Whatever You want.’”

The youngest of three girls, Briceno was raised Catholic, but never really knew her faith. When she was 20, she met a girl who was “in love with God” and who started asking her questions — questions that Briceno didn’t know how to answer.

She went on a retreat and met a Venezuelan priest who became a “huge instrument” in rediscovering her faith — and “in that process fell in love with my faith again.”

But what then? She worked with a spiritual director. She prayed. And she attended World Youth Day 2005.

“That is where I say the seed of my vocation was definitely planted,” she said. “It’s an environment that screams God. There’s no way that God can’t speak to you.”

She knew she wanted to work for the Church in some way, and she knew that she wanted to maintain her virginity.

“For me, virginity was always very, very important,” Briceno said. “I knew that was a big part of my vocation, the understanding of that gift.”

When she was introduced to the idea of consecrated virginity, things fell into place. Briceno discerned for several years, wanting to make absolutely sure this was God’s call for her.

“I knew if this was something God was calling me to, I knew this was something I needed to give full attention,” she said. 

Now the culmination of that discernment is only days away. 

Marielisa Puigbo, the director of religious education at Queen of Apostles and also a consecrated virgin, said that saying “yes” to this vocational call has, for her, brought a life of complete fulfillment.

“The Church is the reason for your life and that makes things totally different,” Puigbo said. “As a mom has to take care of her children, I have to take care of the Church.” 

For Briceno, she said, it will be the same.

“The celebration won’t be the end, it will be the beginning,” Puigbo said. “She wants to give more.”

On Sunday, Briceno will lead a trip to volunteer at the Missionary of Charities in Washington — an outreach that Puigbo said is a “beautiful way” for Briceno to begin her consecrated life.

Briceno said her vocational call has been not only an opportunity to solidify herself in the Faith, but to educate others about the lives of consecrated virgins. Many people wonder what happens in 10 years if a consecrated virgin were to meet a man and fall in love, she said. Her answer: She’s already taken.

“I didn’t decide yesterday. It’s been a process of four or five years of serious discernment,” Briceno said. “I took that process seriously and this is what God wanted. God doesn’t change His mind.

“It’s not that I’m giving up marriage or I’m giving up all these things,” she added. “I’m opting for something.”

Ultimately, Briceno said, God has her heart.

God is not this thing that is up there far away. God is real. He is capable of wooing you and He wants to,” she said. “When you meet the right one, there’s no going back.” 

Reflections from Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Order of Virgins:

As our diocesan church celebrates the consecration of Carmen Briceño, we have an opportunity to consider the calling of the Consecrated Virgin – a state of living that requires much formation and maturity.

Each one of us is called to be holy, and within that universal call to holiness, we are called in a particular way: to the married life, the priesthood, the single life, the consecrated religious life or the diaconate. It is God who calls us to our particular path to holiness; we must prayerfully discern and listen to His voice.

The vocation of consecrated virginity is not just a personal decision, nor a commitment to be taken lightly, but rather a treasured and beautiful life-long vow of chastity and obedience.

The formation process is measured and solemn, like any discernment process should be, and is one that is taken very seriously in the church and in canon law. A woman who becomes a consecrated person with her proper bishop as her guide is a model of purity and self-sacrifice.

For more information, I encourage you to visit www.consecrated virgins.org or the Vocations section of our diocesan Web site, www.arlingtondiocese.org. There you can also find Sacra Virginitas, Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on Consecrated Virginity.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009