First, Mary Bastedo got to know Jesus through the L'Arche community. As a result, she followed a call to celibacy – not through a religious order, but rather, through the Order of Consecrated Virginity.
Bastedo is one of 10 women in the Archdiocese of Toronto who has been consecrated to the Ordo Virginuum since the first local consecration in 1983. Across Canada, about 50 women are following this call, says Bastedo, who assists locally with the formation and discernment process for women contemplating this ecclesial vocation. France and Italy have the highest number of vocations to the order, with 620 and 600 respectively.
Unlike most orders of women religious, according to the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World, there is no particular service or spirituality imposed upon the consecrated virgin's time. They live and work in the community as members of general society, rather than as part of a religious community. They are guided to spend time in works of penance and of mercy, in apostolic activity, and in prayer. As well, they are strongly advised to recite the Liturgy of the Hours daily and are committed to praying Morning and Evening Prayer. The Code of Canon Law states: "She is betrothed mystically to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church." Outwardly, this bond is symbolized by a ring that she wears.
"I find it a privilege to be walking with other women who are discerning the call to consecrated virginity," says Bastedo. "I've experienced the peace that's given through the consecration and the fruitfulness, too."
In the Archdiocese of Toronto, the rite is celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau, who meets with the women twice per year. In addition, the women also attend a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Thomas Collins every year and meet with him afterwards.
"At our gatherings, after Mass, the women have an opportunity to share with other members of the order aspects of their life and any significant developments in their vocation," says Boissonneau. "I mostly listen and enjoy with them a cup of tea or coffee. They are guided by their spouse, Jesus Christ, and their individual spiritual directors."
Consecrated Virginity does not have an apostolate or activities or an agenda other than the women being in love with Jesus Christ as His bride, says Boissonneau.
"Its witness is mostly hidden and their presence mostly unnoticed. There are few human metrics to measure its importance, except to proclaim in faith that first and foremost it pleases God and in our culture – when it becomes known – offers an alternative vision. The purpose of the order is the former."
For Bastedo, part of the beauty of the Order of Consecrated Virgins is that the women can live out missions that are unique to the individual areas to which God is calling them. Her own mission involves assisting those with intellectual disabilities, who can't walk or talk, after studying occupational therapy at the University of Toronto. Over the years, she lived her call within L'Arche. But other consecrated virgins work in parishes and in fields ranging from nursing and accounting to teaching.
"The experience of the Order of Consecrated Virginity is one of holy simplicity and with little need for organization, strategies and planning," adds Boissonneau. "When you are deeply, exclusively and contemplatively in love with Jesus, that is the end in itself."