The consecrated virginity vocation has been around since the beginning of the Church were women consecrated their virginity to Christ and to the service of the Church. One such woman is Kathleen Spiteri from Malta. She has been a member of the Order of Virgins (Ordo Virginum) since 2012.
Kathleen says that she had had this desire to know God for a long while, “God has placed a desire to know Him in my heart; a desire to know the truth. Both faith and reason were important in my journey to discover the truth.”
What is the consecrated virginity vocation?
You cannot tell if a person is a consecrated virgin. There is no outward sign. Kathleen does not wear a habit or a cross, “We are called to be like the salt in a pot, which is not seen but gives taste.”
Consecrated virginity is a relatively new style of consecrated life in the Maltese Islands. It was introduced in 2008 under the guidance of the then Archbishop Paul Cremona. Currently, there are two consecrated virgins in Malta and four in Gozo. “The Church has always recognised the call given to a virgin to dedicate her perpetual virginity to Christ, in imitation of the Virgin Mary. Such a vocation has its roots in the times of the Apostles. During the persecutions of the 4th century, a number of virgins decided to live in communities to pray together. When the persecutions were over some of them decided to go back to living individually within society. This is part of our calling, as we are called to be in our vocation. Others continued to live in groups. Consequently religious life stemmed out from these communities.”
Nowadays, Kathleen and other consecrated virgins, live a completely normal life. Kathleen lives in a house not a convent. She works and prays. Kathleen plays the pianoforte and the guitar, and she also likes to swim. “We are consecrated virgins but we do not live in a community. Every consecrated virgin lives her own charisma. My charisma is to work with children and contemplation.” Kathleen works as a Kindergarten teacher and also teaches catechism to children. “I also like to play music as a way to sustain my faith”, she says.
Kathleen was brought up in an active and practicing Catholic family: “I was brought up in a family of seven, my parents, four brothers and myself. My experience of God began to widen in a gradual way. At home we used to pray together everyday. When I was a child I used to attend a Catholic school. In the afternoon I attended catechism classes. Then, as a young person I attended various youth groups.”
Kathleen’s consecrated virginity vocation
One of the youth groups which Kathleen attended in her youth was the Franciscan Capuchin Youth Group called Gi.Fra. During this time she matured in her faith. She also realised what her calling was. “This youth group sustained me a lot in my faith. The multiple experiences and the different people I met in this group helped me to encounter God in everyday life. I started to experience God in every circumstance; in good and tough ones. During one of these meetings I encountered God in a deeper way. In that meeting I realised that He was asking something from me. At that moment I felt confused. A lot of questions popped up in my head like, ‘Why me?’ ‘What about the other dream I always had; to have my own family?’ ‘What would my style of life be as a consecrated person in the world?”
Through spiritual direction and prayer, Kathleen started sorting out her questions. She reasoned them out logically but always through the eyes of faith. “In time I started to confront and accept that God was calling me to know Him more radically; to be totally His.”
Getting ready for the big day
After being accepted in the Order of Virgins, Kathleen started her formation. “This time of formation was challenging. In this time I began a process of self-transformation. This time of formation also helped me to continue to persevere in my faith and to grow holistically. Throughout the seven years of formation I gained more knowledge about the image of God. Formation included attending meetings in Italy, with other consecrated virgins, and carrying out studies and research” Kathleen has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Spirituality from the University of Malta. “I chose to enroll for the M.A. in Spirituality because spirituality opens many windows on the human experience. Through spirituality I got to explore universal themes like altruism, wisdom, truth and compassion.”
Kathleen’s consecration took place on the 16th of September 2012 with the revised rite for consecrated virgins of 1970. “We were two consecrated virgins, myself and another one, the first two from Malta. Since in Malta this type of vocation is new, I still attend meetings abroad to sustain me in my call. These meetings are an opportunity for me to learn more about consecrated virginity. I also get to share experiences with my sisters in Christ, who live the same vocation. Our common charisma is virginity.”
Kathleen’s relationship with God and with others
Kathleen finds God in the people she meets, “Through my studies of theology, I became more conscious of God’s goodness and greatness and of my weakness. In my weakness I cannot describe who God is. However, through the person of Jesus Christ, I understand that God is always longing for a relationship of friendship with His people; with us. I realised this in my profession as an educator, as a catechist, and through other experiences in which I am involved. Working with children has helped me to perceive that God is communicating with me through them: That He is present in each and everyone of them. My work in education has taught me that Christ is present in every circumstance I face; everyday.”
Kathleen continues to recall her experience with children. “Kids are great professors. They taught me to surrender. As a Kindergarten teacher, I am the first person they encounter after the time spent with their parents. Thus I replace their parents while they are at school. A strong relationship is forged during this time spent together. Children share their love, their smiles, their hugs and their cries. They also share their experiences, even though they are very young. All this creates a resonance in me, to someone who is bigger than me; someone who is following and leading me. As the Russian story writer and journalist, Fyodor Mikailovich Dostoevsky says, in one of his books, ‘The soul is healed by being with children.’”
Sustaining the faith
Kathleen sustains her faith mainly through her work, following retreats with Carmelites, and doing voluntary work. “All these experiences continuously sustain my faith. Carmelite Spirituality focuses on the transformation and psychology of the human being. Thus I learnt that, to sustain his faith, the human being is to be transformed in all virtues – human and spiritual. I also found that voluntary work is another means that helped me to persevere in faith.” Kathleen did voluntary work in Kenya and Albania. “These experiences have helped me to continue to get to know myself more. They also helped me see what is essential in life – faith in God. As Saint Augustine writes in his autobiographical work: ‘Because you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.’ Faith is nothing without love and hope.”