Homily for February 13, 2011: World Marriage Day

We talk a lot in this church about vocations.  Here in the parish, we have the novena to St. Jean Vianney every summer. We host a vocations fair every year, where priests and religious set up tables and talk about their different orders.  And, of course, we pray regularly for an increase in vocations.  We encourage parents to talk to their children about considering life as a priest or brother or a sister.

But this Sunday, I’m going to talk about a vocation that doesn’t get as much attention – but should.  It’s one that has affected every man, woman and child in this church today.  And it’s one that many here are living out every day – maybe without even realizing it.

It’s probably the most visible vocation in the world.

I’m speaking, of course, of marriage: the vocation of being a husband or a wife.

This Sunday marks World Marriage Day and so the church takes this opportunity to celebrate this sacrament — to honor men and women who have made this commitment to one another, to renew wedding vows, and to remind ourselves of what it means to be married.

Though this takes place just before Valentine’s Day, those who are married know: it’s not all chocolates and roses.  Sometimes, it’s sour grapes and poison ivy.   It’s socks on the floor and dishes in the sink and diapers that need changing and meetings with teachers and paying bills and fixing the car and snoring at three in the morning.  It’s not always easy.  It’s one reason why about half the marriages end in divorce.

And the culture does little to help. Down the block, at the Midway Theaters, if you were looking for a movie to see this weekend, you can find one romantic comedy about a single man and a woman who are friends and decide to have sex just for fun…with no strings attached.  Or you could go see another movie about a guy who is single but discovers that wearing a wedding ring can lead to a string of successful one-night stands.  The message is clear: who needs marriage?

Marriage is made to seem so 20th century these days.

But I think that’s because we’ve stopped understanding something fundamental.  Being married isn’t just a lifestyle choice, or a living arrangement that has tax advantages and can result in two or three little deductions.

No.  Marriage is something else.  Something more.  Something deeper.  Something greater.  Something that should inspire awe and wonder.

It is, in fact, a vocation.

But how many of us treat it that way?

How many of us – even the most faithful Catholics – look on this sacrament as something like Holy Orders?

How many of us realize that those of us who are married are a part of something sacred?

How many of us understand that this life we live as a married couple is – like the life of a priest or religious – a calling?

It is.  Make no mistake: those who are married have been called to this way of life. God has spoken to us, just as he has to priests and religious, and He has summoned us to live our lives in a radical way – putting the interests of another person, or even the interests of an entire family, ahead of our own.  He has asked us to do this for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for a lifetime.   Share this mission with me, He says.   Offer your life for this great adventure: to be a spouse, to begin a family, and continue My work of creation in the world.   That is His calling to us.

It is a wonder, and a mystery – and a summons that can’t help but leave us feeling humbled.   Married life is God extending Himself through time, continuing what began when He first called forth light and life.  The creative work of the Creator continues, through every husband and wife, who then strive to bring light and life into the world.

It’s a holy covenant.  It’s a sacrament.

And yes: it is a vocation.

And like any vocation, it requires an ongoing dialogue with God.

I asked my wife, “What do you think I should say about marriage in my homily Sunday?”

And without hesitating, she said, “It’s so important to pray.  Separately and together.  Because God knows the strengths and weaknesses of the other person better than you do.  You need His help.”

Every marriage does.  Every vocation does.  No priest or brother or sister or deacon can last long without an active prayer life.  And so it is with this vocation of marriage.  It requires what the Church has so beautifully described as “the domestic church” – each couple, each family living and praying and sharing together, finding communion together.

It is something beautiful.  And holy.

It is a vocation.

Imagine what might happen if we honestly, sincerely treated marriage that way.

Parishes would have regular marriage vocation fairs.

There would be a marriage novena to Mary and Joseph, asking their intercession to call forth more good husbands and wives.

There would be prayers offered regularly to Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin – the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, and one of the few married couples to be beatified together, as a couple.

There would be an ongoing effort, in every family, in every parish, in every diocese, to pray for holy marriages, just as we now pray for holy priests.

If we began to have that kind of a mindset, more of us might then come to see this sacred calling as, indeed, a calling that is sacred.  A marriage wouldn’t just be 50 or 60 years following a big overpriced party with a dress you only wore once.

We would begin to see it as a kind of daily prayer – an offering to God, and an offering to one other person.  An offering made once.  And forever.

Imagine what it might be mean if we all thought of marriage that way.

Imagine how that might change our church – and change our world.

Comments

  1. *bitterness alert*

    All well and good, Deacon, but when will the Church celebrate World Single Day? Makes me not want to go to Mass tomorrow ’cause I’ll have to hear about the vocation to marriage – fun times – *eyeroll*

    Am saddened and frustrated when there are blessings for married people, the moms the dads, the veterans, the sick and us single people get shafted. (Then I feel guilty for begrudging these lovely people their blessing)

    The worst slap in the face ever? The Parish Valentine’s Dinner for Married Couples. I was asked to help serve dinner. Yeah, that’s how I want to spend Valentine’s Evening – single me serving dinner to married people.

    Now I’ll try to beat down the Green Monster of Jealousy again. There we go Deacon – when’s my day?

  2. pagansister says:

    My husband and I just celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary. Guess we got it right! We met in college, at 18, married at 19, finished college, had 2 children who are now married and we have 1 grandchild. I was lucky and met my soul mate early and married in the Methodist church (to please my parents, as for us a civil ceremony would have done). Was a small wedding, my girlfriend stood with me and his Dad with him. Marriage isn’t for everyone, and those that aren’t married for whatever reason should be, IMO, celebrated by the church also. Some men and women chose to not marry and some haven’t met the right person. I can understand the feelings of the above poster. Why should she be the server for a meal celebrating Valentine’s Day for MARRIED couples? When do those who are married serve the singles?

  3. pagansister says:

    An after thought—I never thought of marriage as a “vocation”. It is what it is—the legal joining of 2 people—either by a civil ceremony or a religious one (which still requires a marriage license by the city/state to be legal even though some marriages take place in a religous environment).

  4. A beautiful homily Deacon I must say. Yea, in line with the position of the Church. My heart goes out to the Single Ladies and Gentlemen, either by choice or by design or by any other reason. Often, the Church seem not to remember them and the Holy Father seem to have made same mistake recently. Many did not find it funny. It is not being jealous as the first post mentioned, it is rather standing up to be counted. And today, I ask: If the priesthood, religious life and the married life are vocations (“being called”), what of being single? Is it a vocation too? Could it be? Or has God not called them too to some thing ? All the same happy married life to all couples this sunday.

  5. Mark Stanzel says:

    One MAJOR point I’d like to correct. Let me point out the problem with saying “about half the marriages end in divorce.” The truth is that we should use the positive statements to confirm to the world that 78% of first time marriages actually last through a life-time.

    It has been proven that harping on the negative results in a negative response, like in education or sports. If you go down the path of pessimism you become a self-actualizing prophet and the results are opposite what we hope to gain. Teachers that complain about their students not wanting to learn or just won’t do the work are getting fired and asked to leave these days because they are part of the problem. Negative soapboxes like this one in particular are producing negative results. That is how we ended up in the situation with one of the most sacred institutions – marriage.

    Though the statistics remain accurate – 78% of ALL first time marriages last, people are now avoiding marriage because of the constant negative hype based on misunderstanding statistics. People started to choose -out of fear or convenience – not to marry while citing the negative statistic instead of the positive one.

    Let’s work on trying to correct this way of stating facts. State the positive facts about marriage. People need to hear the real truth, not the one stacked against one of the most important and sacred institutions established by God Himself – the sacrament of holy matrimony. Without vocations to holy marriage, vocations to the priesthood (and diaconate) and religious life will continue to waiver IMHO.

    Pax

  6. Having had a similar conversation just recently, this track is timely. I agree that marriage is very difficult in all times, but never more so than in our present culture. I think celebration of the sacraments is always important and to be encouraged. An the graces of Marriage upheld. However, have we raised the importance of the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Marriage to a status greater than Baptism? Is not Baptism our primary “vocational” call–how we live that out can happen in any number of equally “holy” ways if we are true to the initial call. And in fact the manner in which we live out our baptismal vocational call continues to evolve and change throughout out earthly lives.

    An aside–to the best of our Scriptural knowledge, Jesus was neither married nor “ordained” to the priesthood during his earthly life–did he not have a vocational call?

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