The focus of this month’s West River Catholic is vocations. So often, when a person thinks of vocations, their minds generally lead them to the vocation of priesthood and religious life. Perhaps this is because of the priest shortage or a decline in vocations to religious life. The vocation of marriage oftentimes seems to be left on the back burner so to speak.
With the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia just around the corner and the Synod in Rome on marriage and the family beginning in October, I thought we might reflect this month on the vocation of marriage because the sacrament of marriage is the very foundation of the Christian family, and the family is the very foundation of civil society.
With the continuing social acceptance of same-sex unions, the recent decision from the United States Supreme Court redefining marriage and no knowing the ramifications and its impact on people of faith, all people of faith need to present the unique and beautiful meaning of the vocation of marriage and what God has intended from the beginning of time.
The word “vocation” is a very good definition of the relationship that God has with every human being in the freedom of love, because “every life is a vocation” (Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 15). In that relationship, God calls each person to love and serve him and his church in a particular state or way of life. Each person’s vocation flows from the grace of baptism.
The church teaches that marriage is an authentic vocation, a call from God, and is just as necessary and valuable to the church and society as other vocations. Like all vocations, marriage must be understood within the primary vocation to love, because every human person is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.
The vocation of marriage is not merely a private or personal affair. While being a personal union between a man and a woman, it is also for the good of the church and the entire community. The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of marriage and the family.
“As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, marriage is not a purely human institution ― the intimate partnership of life and the love which constitutes the married state has been established by the creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, 2009 Pastoral Letter: Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan)
God established marriage as a way for man and woman to participate in his love, selflessly giving themselves to each other in love. As a sacrament, marriage signifies and makes present in the couple Christ’s total self-gift of love. Their mutual gift of self, conferred in their promises of fidelity and love, becomes a participation in the covenant between Christ and the church.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa” (Address to John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, May 2006).
It is the nature of married love to overflow, to be life-giving, thus creating a family. Therefore marriage is ordained not only to growing in love but to transmitting life, and therefore is ordered to the procreation and education of those children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. (#62)
This communion of persons is also spoken of as the “original cell of social life.” St. John Paul II, in his encyclical On the Family (Familiaris Consortio, no. 75) wrote, “The future of the world and of the church passes through the family.” He often spoke of families as domestic churches, places where parents help children discover that God loves them and has a plan for each child’s life. But they are also places where authority, stability, and a life of relationships constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society.
In our culture today, even within Catholic families, the idea of marriage as a vocation — the living out this call as “a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit” — appears to have gotten lost in the malaise of secular ideals. As we have seen, when marriages and families begin to disintegrate into something less than what God has designed for them from the beginning, the impact on society is immense.
Marriage as a true vocation must be rediscovered so that families and society may be strengthened and truly become a civilization of love. To rediscover marriage as a vocation in Christ is to experience a sign of the Kingdom of God. The entire Catholic community must become involved in helping those called to the vocation of married life to live it faithfully, fruitfully, and joyfully.
“A marriage that is truly in Christ is a sign of the Kingdom that is coming. It is a blessing to the couple, to their children, and to everyone who knows them. It offers a sign of hope and a loving witness to human dignity in a world where hope often seems absent and human dignity is often degraded. It is a sign of the kingdom because the love of Christ moves the married couple to ever greater heights of love.” (Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, pg. 56)
Let us all pray for married couples and those preparing for marriage that they see their lives together as a vocation and that their marriage will be renewed in Christ’s divine love.