One of the beauties of the Catholic Church is how diverse an institution it is. We have clergy who are celibate and clergy who are married. We have monks and hermits and nuns and religious sisters. We have couples living the vocation of marriage and raising their own children to listen to God’s will for what vocation He is calling them to lead. One thing I have loved about doing this series of interviews for the Year of Consecrated Life is seeing the diversity of ways God calls men and women to live entirely for him through the consecrated life. This month we meet Bernadette Snyder, a consecrated virgin. Continue reading to learn more about her and her vocation.
What is your name?
My name is Bernadette Snyder and I belong to the Order of Consecrated Virgins.
What is the name of your order and what is your order’s particular charism?
There is no particular charism attached to the order except to say we are called to prayer, ministry, and outreach. However we choose to live those out is completely up to us individually. This is a major part of what attracted me to the order in the first place – it allows me to live a secular life in regards to my job and how I participate at church or pray, and I get to have my own living space with my own decorations (I love interior decorating) and my two little babies (Kip and Tootie, four-legged and furry!). I became a consecrated virgin on May 25, 2008 (feast of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi), and have lived out my vocation in varying ways since. It is certainly not a boring vocation!
How did you know God was calling you to this life?
I began feeling a calling towards consecrated life when I was in 8th grade. It was during a middle school retreat that I first accepted my faith as my own – it was no longer just the faith my parents were trying to pass onto me, it was faith I claimed for myself. I fell in love with Christ and I wanted to give Him all of me. I decided to become a missionary, but a few glances through National Geographic taught me that was not the lifestyle to which I was being called. So I thought I would become a nun, as that was the only way I thought (other than missionary life) that a woman in the Church could give herself 100% to Christ. I dated throughout high school but also explored various religious orders. Each had their own charism and, while each was beautiful in its own right, none gave me that sense of peace I had come to know as the Spirit guiding me. I figured maybe I was meant to be married, even as this thought did not sit well with me, either. I could see Christ in ALL people – how was I ever supposed to pick just one through whom to serve God?
When I was 18, I helped chaperone youth from my parish as they attended a day training. It was held at Church of the Ascension in VA Beach and there was a woman who spoke of her marriage to Christ. She wore a wedding ring and normal clothes and spoke with such joy. She traced her fingers as she said, “There are many paths we can take in our lives and, if we follow Christ and worship Him, He will make us happy in whichever path we choose. However,” and here she paused on her ring finger, “there is one path God has chosen for us from all eternity and if we choose that path, God will make us happier than we would have been in any other path.” I knew in that moment I was meant to be in whatever order she was in. Only later did I find out she was in the Order of Consecrated Virgins (no idea where she was from – I was the first and am currently the only in our diocese – keeping the virgin in Virginia!). Anyway, I wasn’t totally convinced, as there were quite a few what-ifs…who would take care of me when I’m old, how would my parents feel when I don’t give them grandchildren, and those types of questions.
A few months later, my maternal grandmother died of cancer. I was blessed to be with her for the final few days of her life. The night before she died, I prayed God would take her Home so as to alleviate her suffering and I also prayed for His peace to fill me when the time came, because I loved her very much and knew how much I would miss her. The next morning, my mother woke me to say my grandmother had just died. I walked into her bedroom (my grandmother died at home), which was wood-paneled and very dark…yet in that moment, there was an almost pink glow to the room and my grandmother, who was 48 pounds when she died and had looked every bit as terrible as that sounds, looked amazing. Her skin looked refreshed and it was clear she was at peace. That same peace flooded the room and everyone in it, myself included. From the moment I felt that peace, I knew it was the only thing worth living for and the only thing worth dying for. I craved it. Six months later, I was praying in my bedroom and the thought of my vocation came to heart. I could sense Jesus asking me to be His bride in the Order of Consecrated Virgins. I looked up, mostly out of frustration at not knowing what path to take, and my room had that same soft pink glow I had seen in my grandmother’s room and the peace that held me at her bedside held me in my prayer. I knew if I said yes to Christ, that peace would be with me always. I said yes that very night, though it would be 10 years before I was able to officially marry Jesus in the Church. At first, I was upset at having to wait but now I see the benefit of such a long engagement. I needed that time to grow and prepare myself for my vocation, though to be honest, how can one ever prepare for a marriage to God? I’m still in the process of figuring it all out! 🙂
Tell us a bit about what your day-to-day life is like.
My day-to-day life is blessed. I completed my Master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling last year and am currently working towards licensure (LPC). I am employed as a full-time intensive in-home counselor and LOVE it. That is how God is calling me to live out my vocation and it is wonderful. I usually don’t work on weekends – then you’ll find me quilting, reading, attending Mass, visiting with friends and family, watching movies, cooking, listening to hockey games or watching baseball, or doing the dreaded grocery shopping (not my favorite chore!). Weekdays are never typical in terms of scheduling, but they usually involve mornings writing notes for work, occasional lunch with friends, and several client sessions throughout the afternoon and early evening. I try to attend daily Mass when I am able…not always possible with my schedule but if I can do it a couple times a week, I am glad. I do pray the Divine Office every morning and, when I can, in the evenings. I pray my rosary daily and teach 1st Reconciliation/Communion classes at church.
What advice would you give to someone considering a consecrated religious life?
My advice to women considering the consecrated life – at least, in the Order of Consecrated Virgins – is to pray, pray, pray, then pray some more. Read the Bible frequently and become very comfortable with yourself. You may be marrying Jesus, but there is definitely a component of loneliness that comes with living by yourself. Yes, you might take on a roommate, but at the end of the day, there is no escaping the fact that you are responsible for paying the bills, doing the dishes, making dinner, cleaning house, and making all of your own major decisions. It’s a lot of responsibility and can be very tiring going it alone. I would recommend living the lifestyle for a number of years before making the commitment. People are usually shocked when I say this because they like to think consecrated vocations are easy – that people who accept this life are somehow too holy to be weighed down by these everyday things. Yet these everyday things are what makes life what it is and the truth that, “if God leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it,” is valid, though not always easy or pleasant in practice. I think people would do well to meditate on the passion of Christ when contemplating their vocation – period. None of them are easy, be it marriage, consecrated, or religious life. Make sure you are surrounded by people who support and love you.
What does it mean to you that Pope Francis has dedicated this year (Nov. 30, 2014-February 2, 2016) as a Year of Consecrated Life?
I love Pope Francis!!!!!! I think it’s great he’s dedicated this year to consecrated life. The numbers of religious and consecrated are declining…maybe this will help build them up again.
What is your favorite thing to do during your down time/recreation time?
My favorite thing to do in my down time is hand quilting. I also enjoy watching ice hockey or baseball and I love to cook. I try to take at least one ethnic cooking class each year. So far I’ve taken 4 different Indian classes, Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexican. Next on my wishlist is vegan, as my teenage godson recently became vegetarian and plans to go vegan soon and I will have no idea how to cook for him when he comes over!
Learn more about Consecrated Virgins by visiting the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (USACV).