“I was very happy living with the sisters, living in community,” Luz Manrique says. “Still, there was always that persistent call from God: ‘I have another life for you.’
“Even when I was a little girl, I felt the calling to be by myself. I feel the Lord embraces me in the silence. Even if I am alone, I don’t feel alone. I am with my God. I walk with God, I talk with God. I listen to God. There is always this conversation with God.”
That call to be alone with God led Luz to leave community life and into the ancient but little-known vocation of a consecrated virgin. “In 1978, when I entered religious life, I knew of consecrated virgins but I didn’t think they still existed. It is the oldest form of consecrated life in the church, but it became disused after monastic communities rose in the fourth century.”
Luz earned a master’s degree in education and three years later became a member of the Religious of the Virgin Mary in 1978 in her native Philippines. She served happily in a variety of ministries. But through the years, she says, “There was this persistent call within to live alone, to live very simply, and to serve the underprivileged.”
In 1994 and 2001 she felt a call to strike out on her own but drew back. “In 2006-2007 there was no stopping me, no matter what people will say of me and no matter what difficulties and uncertainties I will encounter.” She remained a member of her order but lived on her own for three years, working as director of religious education at St. Paul Parish in Sacramento. Then in July 2010 she received dispensation from her vows.
“I knew I was embarking on a very difficult journey, but I had the Lord’s assurance of loving providence and guidance,” Luz says. “I lived alone and worked to support myself financially. When I came home from work, I felt embraced by God in the silence. I had so much time for prayer, for Scripture reading and other spiritual exercises. I felt like I was in my natural habitat, something my heart has always longed for, the kind of life that our good Lord wanted me to pursue at this point in my life.
“Even after having been dispensed from my vows I continued living the same lifestyle, since there was no letting up in my desire and commitment to pursue God’s call to the consecrated life. Focusing on a simple life lived alone for God, I thought the call was to be a hermit. Then I found an article about consecrated virgins living in the world. I prayed about it and in 2012, I wrote Bishop Jaime Soto to request permission to live as a consecrated virgin. On Aug. 15, 2015, Bishop Soto consecrated me as a virgin living in the world.”
Consecration adds a new dimension to the single life, Luz says. “When you are consecrated, Jesus is your spouse. When you do ordinary things you still dedicate your whole life, your virginity, to your spouse, Jesus Christ. I give quality time to prayer, daily Mass, confession, spiritual direction, annual retreat, fasting, abstinence and other spiritual disciplines. I pray daily the Liturgy of the Hours and I pray daily for Bishop Soto and all the priests in the Diocese of Sacramento.
“I pray that more women who are living as single will listen to the call God has planted. It is hard in this world, with all the noise, to listen to the call. I encourage them to read about consecrated virginity, pray about it, listen to the Lord, talk to a spiritual director and learn more about the vocation.”
For Luz, living alone with God doesn’t mean isolating herself. In high school and college, she was inspired by women who dedicated themselves to serving the poor. In 2008, she founded the Divine Mercy Human Development Foundation to answer the call to serve the poor. “Our mission is to make education accessible to the poor,” she notes.
In Sacramento, the foundation provides 20 college scholarships this year and offers assistance to young people who wish to go to Catholic high schools. The foundation also offers free tutoring, kindergarten through high school, and a life experience program that brings children to leadership workshops and educational trips. In the Philippines, the foundation has helped 25 students earn college degrees and become teachers. A microfinance program lends money to support small businesses in the Philippines.
The foundation and her work as director of religious education at Divine Mercy Parish in Sacramento since July 2005 keep Luz busy. Still, she finds time to be alone with God.
“One time I was coming out of the office and I thought, ‘Oh, dear God, what will I eat tonight?’ It was an ordinary conversation you have with your best friend, someone who is always there for you, and right there was a car and the driver said, ‘We have food for you.’”
Luz, a cheerful, outgoing woman, speaks freely and easily about her best friend. She feels at home traveling with him on a road less taken. “I am very happy to be of service to God as a consecrated virgin living in the world. It’s beautiful if you are called to that life. I am with my God. I walk with God, I talk with God. I listen to God. I serve God.”
About the vocation of a consecrated virgin from the website of the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins at https://consecratedvirgins.org.
About the Divine Mercy Development Foundation and its programs at http://divinemercyfoundation.org.