According to the Catholic Church, marriage is between one man and one woman — unless you’re marrying Jesus and declaring your eternal virginity. Last weekend, a woman in Indiana did just that, complete with wedding ceremony, bridal gown, and reception.
Jessica Hayes, a 38-year-old Catholic school teacher, became a “consecrated virgin” — one of only a few hundred in the United States and a few thousand worldwide. In a video interview with a local Fort Wayne news station, Hayes sounded content and fulfilled. She was also thrilled that so many friends and family members came to celebrate with her.
While the WANE article contends that “It’s not the wedding day Hayes envisioned for herself as a little girl,” that doesn’t seem quite true. Hayes got to feel beautiful and be the center of attention like any other bride.
To hear Hayes talk about her marriage to Christ — which differs from becoming a nun because Hayes remains a layperson — her decision is in line with contemporary ideas about sexual diversity and acceptance of differences.
“I think that in some sense, we’re all called to be married. It’s just a matter of discerning how. So, my marriage is to Christ and someone else’s marriage is to their spouse. A priest’s marriage is to the church. That’s a good desire that’s planted in us by God. The real question is how, how is this lived most joyfully in me,” Hayes said. “I do think that not everybody has the same path. To be able to look at all of these different ways of life and to see people living them out joyfully is an invitation to consider a little bit more deeply what those things mean.”
“I think, especially with the young women I’ve worked with in my teaching so far, the religious life isn’t something that many of them consider because we don’t have women religious teaching with us in our schools like we used to years ago. So, many of them don’t consider that as an option anymore because they don’t see young women their own age considering it and joining it. That’s really something I try to expose my female students a little bit more to,” Hayes said.
It’s hard to imagine many American teenagers finding this option appealing.
Part of me also wonders if Hayes’ decision has to do with her own sexuality. It’s none of my business, of course, but the Church has never been comfortable with anything beyond the one-man, one-woman, in-marriage bond. I’m curious how many women who become “consecrated virgins” would be in a same-sex relationship, or part of the growing asexual pride movement, if they weren’t tied to Catholicism.
That said, if publicly declaring her virginity makes Jessica Hayes happy, then that’s great for her. It’s just not a path I see other women, even Catholic ones, following.
There is one upside to this kind of marriage, though: If Hayes ever gets a divorce, it’s going to be the greatest celebration *ever*.