by Elizabeth McFarlane
Zara Tai aspires to be a consecrated virgin, celibate for all her life. She will request to pursue this form of consecrated life when a bishop is appointed to the Diocese of Parramatta. Zara refers to herself as a consecrated celibate.
Zara’s consecrated life is founded on her remaining chaste and being obedient to the local bishop. “My celibacy is set aside to God and not to man in a marriage,” she said.
Saint John Paul II wrote in his apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata: “The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit … In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an undivided heart.”
Zara’s calling to the consecrated celibate life is different to simply following the single life. “God was calling me to a permanent exclusive relationship, consecrated to God, but outside of a religious order,” she said. “Being single and being a good Catholic didn’t satisfy the yearning for God within me.”
A consecrated celibate commits to a life of celibacy, daily prayer, and service to the local church under obedience to the Bishop. Zara felt a strong calling to serve the Church and dedicated many years to reflecting on where she was called to be. As well as regular prayer times, Zara is expected to engage in a structured and regular time of Christian service.
“After discerning religious life since I was 15, I decided by my mid-20s that I wasn’t called to it. However, I still felt a strong desire to live a vowed life, but not as a member of a religious congregation,” Zara said.
Zara worked and lived in the Blue Mountains between 1998 and 2003, and it was there that she heard God’s call.
“It was during the times of deep solitude in the bush that I really worked out where God was calling me,” she said. “The Gospels tell us that Jesus spent a lot of time in deep solitude with His Father, particularly before He did anything really important. I like to think I followed Jesus in that way.
“However, I do believe it was the Holy Spirit that led me to the bush to pray and to discern.”
Zara’s search came to an end when her old university chaplain suggested consecrated virginity.
“My search for where I was called to be had come full circle; where I was called to be was exactly where I was,” she explained.
“Loving God in the way I am called is the most life-giving experience. I am finally ‘at home’. The joy is like one who is totally in love.”
Zara sees that she lives her consecration within the context of her workplace. “Witness and service is a wonderful part of it, whether I am down at the beach or at work.
“People are surprised when I answer their questions about whether I am married. I get asked about faith and God and it is wonderful for me to answer the questions.”
When asked what advice she had for women or men who were considering the consecrated life, Zara said the core of any religious vocation was being in relationship with God.
“If what you see in the various forms of consecrated life does not ‘fit’ with what God is calling you to be, keep looking,” she said.
“The vocation you discern should reflect who you are and make you the best person you can possible be.”