The world watched in awe and wonder as Jessica Hayes, a 38 year-old high school teacher from Indiana walked down the aisle of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne in a white wedding gown and married the love of her life – Jesus Christ.
According to Today’s Catholic News, the ceremony took place on August 15 in a rite celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes. In attendance were Hayes’ students from Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne along with friends, fellow parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne, along with priests, brothers, seminarians and religious sisters.
“God has called Jessica to be more closely united to Himself and to be dedicated to the service of the Church,” Bishop Rhoades said in his homily. “It is God who gives the grace of virginity. He gave this grace to the young woman of Nazareth, to Mary, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to choose the life of virginity. Mary made a personal decision in faith to remain a virgin, to offer her heart to the Lord. She wanted to be His faithful bride.”
“Thus, Mary became the model for all those who have chosen to serve the Lord with an undivided heart in virginity,” Bishop Rhoades added. “It seems most appropriate that Jessica gives herself totally to Jesus, is consecrated to a life of virginity, on a feast of Our Lady, who gave herself totally to God as the virgin handmaid of the Lord.”
During the Rite of Consecration, Hayes approached the sanctuary holding a lighted candle and accompanied by two attendants, Kelly Fogarty and Emily Weimer.
Bishop Rhoades then called the candidate and said, “Come, listen to me, my daughter; I will teach you reverence for the Lord.”
Hayes responded, “Now with all my heart I follow You, I reverence You and seek Your presence. Lord, fulfill my hope: show me Your loving kindness, the greatness of Your mercy.”
In a moving ceremony, Hayes stated her resolution to persevere in the holy state of virginity as a bride of Christ, then told the Bishop: “Father, receive my resolution to follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity which, with God’s help, I here profess before you and God’s holy people.”
After kneeling before the bishop as he said the Prayer of Consecration, she was given a veil. “Receive this veil, by which you are to show that you have been chosen from other women to be dedicated to the service of Christ and of His Body, which is the Church,” the bishop said.
He then presented her with a ring and said, “Receive the ring that marks you as a bride of Christ. Keep unstained your fidelity to your Bridegroom, that you may one day be admitted to the wedding feast of everlasting joy.”
Hayes told Today’s Catholic she felt a “deep gratitude for the Church and for being Catholic, knowing whatever desire is placed upon our hearts by God, the Church has a place for us. And this is my place.”
In an op-ed written earlier this year, Hayes said she decided to choose this route after much prayer and discernment about her true vocation. She achieved clarity after realizing that where she found the most happiness in life was in studying and teaching the faith to youth, serving family and parish, and praying in the quiet solitude of her home.
“I longed for one thing I didn’t yet have: to give myself in a way I couldn’t take back. It seemed that the idea of consecrated virginity lived in the world appeared to me through this discernment of my joys. In a moment of perfect clarity, I felt I was being offered everything I most wanted.”
One day, she was asked by a student in her Women’s Dignity class why she decided to become a consecrated virgin rather than a religious sister.
“Because I wanted to stay with you,” was her immediate and honest response.
Without missing a beat, the student replied, “We wanted you to stay with us, too.”
The exchange brought to light the spiritual motherhood that was already bearing fruit in the lives of her students.
“I have long referred to them as ‘my kids’ — sometimes to the confusion of those who didn’t think I had children — and it has been my greatest joy to discover the reality of spiritual maternity through them. I know that the questions they ask and the spiritual guidance they seek from me are my privilege; I am invited into this sphere of their lives precisely because I am not ‘mom.’ I am their mother in a way that their own mothers are not, and my role is essential to their growth in the life of grace.”
Hayes joins the ranks of about 3500 consecrated virgins living in the world today. A vocation that dates back to ancient times, consecrated virgins are Catholic women who choose to remain celibate for their entire lives. Unlike nuns, they live their religious vocation outside of the convent.
For Hayes, it was a perfect fit.
After the ceremony, she could only express her gratitude to the Church for making a place for each and every one of us!
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