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?
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.