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Marriage – a Vocation

holding hands

I still hear people (all the way to bishops) use the word “vocation” as shorthand for a call to priesthood (or possibly “Religious Life”). Marriage is a vocation. [For some, singleness is a vocation; for some celibacy; for many, I hope that their job is a vocation…]

How much energy does the church put into the vocation of marriage? How much formation is there for Christian Marriage in your community [and you can ask the same questions about other ways of living that God calls us to…]

My friend, Fr Robin Koning SJ, recently put one of his sermons on marriage publicly online. The whole is worth a read. Just some extracts:

It’s easy, even for Catholic people, to think of Christian marriage as something that is simply natural, something most people will choose, the usual pattern of human life. Other commitments, like the commitment to lifetime celibacy for priests, sisters and brothers, is something special, something that involves a call, a vocation, a special intervention of God into the normal pattern of things. Hence, I often get the question of how it was that I sensed that call, how did I discern it, how did God speak to me so that I ended up feeling it was my vocation to be a Jesuit and a priest. Now, if I turned that question back on many married Catholics – if I asked them how they sensed that marrying was their call, how they discerned it, how God spoke to them so that they sensed it was their vocation to be married to this person – I would often get a blank look. They would say, well, we met, we fell in love, we felt this love would last, that it was the marrying sort of love, and so we did what everyone naturally does if they can -we got married.

And yet, for the Church, marriage too is a vocation, a calling, something which has a rich meaning in the life of the Church, in its service of God and its care for the world….

This new covenant, of course, is the covenant initiated when God became flesh in Jesus Christ. God enters into a fleshly union with humanity. God, who is love and who has loved us from the beginning of creation, now embodies that love in the humanity of Jesus. He expresses his love in ways we can see and hear and feel and touch – in the hand stretched out to lepers, in the gracious words from his lips, in the washing of our feet, in the bleeding, broken body on the cross. This embodied love of God for us in Jesus is what Christian marriage symbolizes…

Christ is saying to us: “This love of Jean and Marcus for each other is an image – the strongest possible image in the world I’ve created – of my love for my people. If you want to know how intimately and passionately I love my Church, my Body, look at how intimately and passionately Marcus and Jean love each other as they make this life long commitment today.”…

I pray that day by day, you will know your need for the power of God’s Spirit in this marriage. That day by day you will embrace this marriage, not as your own creation, but as given to you by the Creator of all good gifts. That day by day, you will bring your vulnerability to each other and to the Lord, so as to deepen your intimacy with each other and with the Lord. That day by day you will surrender yourselves and each other and your marriage into the hands of Christ, who did not cling to equality with God (Phil 2:6), to his strength and power, but surrendered himself into our hands to hang broken and vulnerable on a cross, touching our vulnerability and making possible genuine intimacy with God. And making possible that graced intimacy with one another which you now pledge.

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6 thoughts on “Marriage – a Vocation”

  1. How is it that somehow the concept of marriage vs celibacy has been turned on its head between the ancient Church and today’s church? Today we hear that marriage is the norm and celibacy is the calling and yet as I read the Pauline corpus, so precious to evangelicals and traditionalists, celibacy was the Christian norm and marriage was for the weak!

  2. And of course we could invert Fr Koning’s observation too: might we not hope that a genuine vocation to the priesthood or the religious life would feel like “the marrying kind of love”? I once attended a seminar given by an American Benedictine. My Belfast Protestant professor expressed regret that post-Vatican II Catholicism had done away with much of the deference shown to persons like him who had made such sacrifices for their faith. He replied that it wasn’t a sacrifice at all: it was just a matter of finding out where you belonged.

    My wife briefly considered becoming a “family mediator” (which basically means “divorce negotiator” but not always). One of the things she learned was that “faith-based” marriage preparation made no difference to the probability that a couple would divorce in the future. However, “skills-based” marriage preparation reduced the likelihood of divorce by thirty percent. An excellent book for the prospectively married (not to mention the already married) is John M. Gottman’s *The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* (http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Principles-Making-Marriage-Work/dp/0609805797). I think every engaged couple ought to do a self-diagnosis with chapter 2 (“How I Predict Divorce”).

    As a supplementary reply to Br. David’s question, I offer the following quotation from Martin Thornton, *English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition* (London: SPCK, 1963), p. 61

    “One of the functions of ascetical theology is to adapt doctrine and discipline to particular circumstances. The first centuries of ascetical experiment were overshadowed by two things: first, the idea of an imminent *parousia*, and secondly, the fact of persecution. It is only to be expected that the spiritual teaching of this age was grim and austere. If Christ is returning next week to consummate all things in glory, there is no place for marriage, family life, and the domestic virtues; if martyrdom is certain there is no use for slow, progressive schemes, scales, and methods of prayer. Rigorous mortification, celibacy, and fasting were seen as training for martyrdom; which, under the circumstances, was very sound ascetic. But it does not mean that these things are essential parts of the Christian *askesis*, nor that gentle, patient effort is of no importance. Situations change and it is part of ascetical theology to change with them.

    “After persecution came popularity. At the conversion of Constantine the Church was faced with the alternatives which still confront us: either we defy laxity and luxury so that the Christian light shines against the surrounding darkness, the candle firmly aloft on its candlestick, or we try to exert a more subtle influence upon the world, serving it, loving it, salting the stew, leavening the lump. Should we follow St Francis or St Benedict?”

  3. Around here Marriage is the only important sacrament and vocation. Nobody really cares if you’ve been baptized; you can have the other sacraments without it, but being single in the church is anathema. There are lots of groups and studies for married people and divorced people(helping to get them to learn the lessons of the 1st marriage so they can get to their next ASAP). And, of course the push for gay marriage so they aren’t left out. The focus of the church has turned almost solely toward married people. Their personal faith is also often irrelevant; you just have to be married.

    Brother David’s point is apt, but I think singleness was more an ideal than the real state of things. Jewish men were expected to marry and the Roman empire had more than one type.

    I can’t help think that part of the shrinking of the church is because there is no place for singles in it. Depending on demographics 20-40% in different areas of the U.S. are NEVER getting married. Those that do marry later. Churches here have youth and college groups, but after college singles are ignored until they marry. So people wander out and by the time they marry, they’ve made a lifestyle without the church. I don’t know if there is a similar trend in NZ.

  4. Bro David makes a valid point about the value we place on celibacy in a society which is obsessed with sexuality and personal rights.Unfortunately,some in the Anglican Church ANZP have set out on a misson of conforming the standards of the Church to the standards of secular and permissive society. If we cannot stop this unconstitutional and unlawful tampering with the Constitution and Doctrine of our Church;then there will be little value placed on Holy Matrimony,let alone on the celibacy of those who wish to serve Christ in that way. Blessings Bro and be loyal to your decison.

    1. To be honest, I’m a widower and my Anglican solitary vows leave open the opportunity of a companion.

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