It's a love story like no other.
Everyone dreams of a perfect relationship... a perfect marriage... a perfect love. But just like any good any good love story, there are challenges and self-doubts. We often wonder if the love we chose is worth it in the end and we struggle to make every relationship work.
Carmen Briceno went through all these on the path to her marriage... with God. Now, before you scrunch up your face in that incredolous look, Briceno is not a nun. She's a "Consecrated Virgin," and there is a great difference between the two vocations.
In a narrative article for Good Housekeeping, Briceno recounts her love story and how she came to realize that a marriage with God is exactly what she wanted and needed in her life.
Just like any other love story, the main characters start off as strangers.
"Growing up, I was what you might call a 'cradle Catholic' — my family went to mass every Sunday, but we weren't incredibly religious, more culturally Catholic. I didn't have a deeply personal relationship with God in any sense," she recounts.
Briceno got the opportunity to get to know God and her religion more when she met a Christian friend, who awakened in her a curiousity about her own relationship with Jesus.
"[She] was instrumental in demonstrating to me what a relationship with God could really be like, because in her I saw a deep, tangible love and a personal connection to Jesus Christ. Watching Jesus alive in her, I thought, That. I want that," she said.
After a trip to Cologne, Germany for International World Youth day, an annual event organized by the Catholic Church for young people, something stirred in Briceno, a "blaze" of faith. She learned about consecrated virgins, and believed that the vocation aligned with what she believed and understood about "God's gift of sexuality."
According to Wikipedia, a consecrated virgin is a woman "who has been consecrated by the church to a life of perpetual virginity in the service of God. [They] are to spend their time in works of penance and mercy, in apostolic activity and in prayer, according to their state of life and spiritual gifts."
Consecrated virgins are not nuns. They live ordinary lives that also weave in to their spiritual life, and they have existed for centuries, dating all the way back to the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome.
Throughout this love story, Briceno was challenged by oppositions and doubts from her family. But she was already in love. "Living as a consecrated virgin came from love, and it was that which so appealed to me," she said.
Just like any relationship, she had to discover for herself if this was what she truly wanted. She lived in a house with other women considering the consecrated life where, in addition to living their every day orindary lives, they also filled their days with prayers and reflections.
In August of 2009, Briceno made her decision and petitioned to become a consecrated virgin. She was marrying God. And she has never been happier. "It's sacrificial, and I'm aware of that. I am completely filled with joy and happiness," said Briceno.
Of course, being in a marriage with God is not without its challenges. She has to answer many questions about why she chose this life, if she ever gets lonely, and if she ever wants her own children.
"When it comes to human sexuality, they think they know what the church teaches and why — and they make up their mind against it," she concludes. "But when you explain the meaning of the human body and sex and the beauty of the church's teaching, they often understand and fall in love with how God made them."
All photos: Good Housekeeping