On September 18, 2021, at the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Claire Gallagher was consecrated to a “Life of Virginity Lived in the World.” It is one of the oldest sacramental customs of the Catholic Church, dating back to apostolic times. Gallagher, who teaches religion at St. Mary’s Dominican High School, her alma mater, reflects on her journey to become a Consecrated Virgin and offers a prayer that all come to realize “when we begin preparing…our hearts are ready to receive God’s gifts.”
“Trust in Him and let Him lead the way”
One of my fondest, most consistent, and most vivid memories as a young girl growing up with three older brothers is, unsurprisingly, Christmas morning. What I remember so well is “the rule”— no one could go into the living room to open presents until everyone was awake. So, every year, one by one, we’d each wake up and run downstairs into the front foyer and wait. We’d sit there at the bottom of the steps, resisting the urge to peek around the corner, sighing in exasperation over whoever was taking the longest to come down, arguing over who should go back upstairs and wake up the Grinch. Then, the pure bliss and joy would come when that last sibling would bound down the stairs and we’d all rush into the room to see what Santa had brought, and then the joy, happiness, excitement, and love would abound.
I remember also, once my brothers were in high school and college, realizing that they had grown to value sleep more than opening presents on Christmas morning. I found myself alone, sitting and waiting for all three of them to get up and come down. It made me a little sad, but not for very long because the gifts were still waiting. The excitement was still there. They eventually came down and the tradition continued.
I remember even better, though, the first time I was the only one still living at my parents’ house on Christmas morning. It was just me, too old now for “waiting in the foyer.” It was just me, coming downstairs, eating breakfast with my parents, and enjoying quality time. I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to open my gifts, but I said no. I wanted to open them when my brothers were there, together, like we’d always had. It just didn’t feel right otherwise. I wanted to wait. Perhaps this was when I truly began to realize not only that Christmas morning was more about time spent with my brothers than the gifts, but that there is value and purpose in waiting when you know that something better awaits.
As I grew up, many other situations in my life called for waiting. Waiting for college acceptance letters. For hurricanes to pass. For test results. For concert tickets to go on sale. Waiting.
The longest and most difficult waiting period of my life, however, seemed to be waiting for “Mr. Right.” For pretty much my entire life, I waited. Waited to meet “the one.” Whenever I’d thought maybe I had, I waited for the sign. Waited for God to make it clear. Waited for the conversation to happen. Waited for the feeling. Waited for the day that I would know. I waited. For a long time. Eventually, I became much like the exasperated little girl waiting for her teenage brothers to wake up on Christmas morning. I would think of Jesus the same way I’d think about whichever brother was taking the longest. “Doesn’t He know I’m waiting?! I’m ready! I’ve been waiting!”
About an hour after what ended up being my last dating relationship ended, I went to the adoration chapel and told the Lord I was done waiting. I had decided…I will wait no more. “I will wait for Mr. Right no more, because you obviously have no one for me, Lord,” I said to Him in my prayer. “I guess You want me to be alone. I am done.”
That was when I stopped waiting and started preparing. I didn’t see it that way at the time, of course, but Jesus did. I put aside the anticipation of dating and marriage and prioritized my relationship with God. I went back into a regular rhythm of spiritual direction, adopted a regular weekly Holy Hour, started attending daily Mass as often as possible, and while I still had a social life, I spent more time in solitude than I ever had before. It was not easy. I got back on the dating apps two or three times before I could really stop waiting for “Mr. Right.” But the less I waited, the more comfortable I became with preparing. I had no idea what I was preparing for, but the Lord slowly revealed that to me.
As I discerned my vocation and discovered consecrated virginity, I found myself thinking over and over again, “This is what God has created me for!” In my two years of formation, I began to realize how true it is that what we want for ourselves and what we ask for from the Lord looks nothing like what He has planned for us. More importantly, I learned that when we truly trust in Him and let Him lead the way, the Lord will fulfill the desires of our heart, in ways we could never even dream of. The Lord revealed to me that my desire for a loving, faithful, charismatic husband would be fulfilled, but not in the way I’d imagined. My desire to continue doing ministry and serving the church and have children would be fulfilled, but not in the way I’d imagined.
I thought He wanted me to be alone, but what the Lord so gently and lovingly revealed to me was that He just wanted me to know the peace and joy of being with Him. I thought I would never have children, but He has given me more spiritual children than I can count, many of whom call me “Mom.” I thought I had to choose between having a family and dedicating my life to Jesus and His Church, but He has shown me otherwise.
On the morning of my consecration, moments before the ceremony began, I was in the Cathedral rectory with my parents, my attending women, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond. After the archbishop prayed with us in preparation for the ceremony, the moment came for me to go downstairs. As I stood at the top of the stairs and prepared to walk down to the foyer of the Cathedral, I could not help but think to myself in my excitement and anticipation, “I feel like a little girl on Christmas morning!” As the excitement and anticipation in my heart grew, I glanced down and saw all my closest priest friends — my brothers in Christ — at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me, waiting for me. For the first time in my life, my “brothers” were waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. Not just my brothers in Christ, but there, in them, was Jesus — waiting for me. At this moment, it was made abundantly clear to me that He would, indeed, fulfill my every desire. He had used every date, every break-up, every period of confusion, heartache, exhaustion, and frustration in the waiting to lead me to Him and to prepare me for this very moment. Here is the family that I always wanted. Here is the assurance that He does not actually want me to be alone. This was affirmed for me so many times throughout the day of my consecration, and beyond. Through my family, my friends, colleagues, students (or “spiritual daughters”), and beyond, the Lord has made so clear to me that He is blessing me with an even greater, more loving, and more fulfilling family than I ever could have imagined.
In this period of advent, it can be easy to get caught up in the waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting for Amazon packages to arrive, waiting for your family members to send a wish list, waiting for Christmas break to begin. Waiting for Christmas morning. My prayer this advent is to not spend so much time waiting but to truly prepare for the coming of Christ. I pray that all will come to realize that when we stop waiting and begin preparing, our hearts become truly ready to receive the incredible and unexpected gifts that He has for us, and those gifts will bring us ultimate joy and fulfillment beyond anything we could ever hope for.