In the previous post at Life At 25, I discussed the importance of approaching marriage with a sacramental and vocational mentality, because the sacrament of Matrimony is a vocation in much the same way that the diaconate, priesthood, and religious life are vocations, callings that ultimately come from the Holy Spirit, and I pointed out that the Diocese of Knoxville’s Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment might be able to better help us do that. So what are some of the key differences in the way the Catholic Church views marriage as opposed to the way that the wider American culture views marriage. Here are a few of the ways that the Catholic view of Matrimony is different from both the secular view of marriage and, we must admit, the perception of marriage that comes from some of of our separated brothers and sisters:
Marriage is sacramental-We’ve beat this horse several times on Life At 25 because the issues of the day have made it topical to do so, but the point can’t be emphasized enough. The Church defines a sacrament as an outward and visible sign that was instituted by Christ to confer grace on those who receive it. St. Paul goes so far as to define the matrimonial union as being an outward sign to the world of the union between Christ and his Bride, the Church, and that a husband is literally to be Christ to his wife because of this (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). Just as the Church is really a sacrament of salvation to the wider world, marriage or Matrimony is a sacrament, or an outward and visible sign to the world of what the unity of the Church is supposed to look like, and how the Church is to be united fully to Christ. Further, the institution of the family (father, mother, and children), can be seen as a sign of what God is like. God is a Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and so designed humanity to be fostered in a family. When God made a covenant with humanity to bless us, he did so through a man’s family, that of Abraham (Gen.17:1-8).
Marriage is a calling from God-Just as someone might receive the calling from the Holy Spirit to enter sacramental ministry in the form of the diaconate or the priesthood, Holy Matrimony is also a calling. When the reason for marrying someone becomes our own personal gratification or our own emotional highs or good feelings, we might need to re-examine whether our plans and God’s plans for us are one and the same. Matrimony is also a ministry, a ministry to one’s spouse, but also to one’s current and future children, to other Christians, and even to the larger world which is in need of a good Christian example. When a person believes that they may feel a call to ministry, they need to discern whether the call they are feeling is really a personal desire on their part, whether the ministry that they feel that they may be called to has Christ as its source and center, or whether what they believe to be a call is really about them. Marriage is never about me, but is about Christ and his Church, and about emptying ourselves in service to those we love as an example of Christ’s self-sacrificing love. The same can be said to be true of any vocation, it is never about you.
Not everyone is called to the sacrament of Matrimony-Just as not everyone is called to a diaconal, priestly, or consecrated religious vocation, it is equally true that not everyone is called by God to marriage. In saying this, it seems prudent to clarify that this does not mean that anyone is called to co-habitation, a kind of relationship where people wish to enjoy the benefits of married life without the commitment that marriage entails and without the sacramental sign and familial covenant. If a person does not feel called by God to marry, that means that they feel called to life as a person who isn’t married, and thus they won’t pursue others in relationships that might lead to marriage or be in any way perceived as marriage.
In many ways, we live in a society that no longer sees traditional marriage as important, and certainly not as a sacrament of Christ, yet this same society looks on a decision by a Godly person to remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom of God as strange at the very least, and an unreasonable sacrifice to make at most. Yet the very same Apostle Paul who rightly described marriage as a “great sacrament” and a sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church also said that he was of the mind that the man who marries is going to be primarily concerned with pleasing his wife and the married woman was going to be concerned with pleasing her husband, while an unmarried Christian man is more likely to be “anxious about the affairs of the Lord,” while an unmarried Christian woman is likely to be “anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35) Jesus is even clear that some people are “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (cf. Matt. 19:12)
Matrimony is such a holy vocation that it is used as God’s sign to the world of his relationship with the Church. For this reason, the overwhelming majority of Christians will likely feel that God is calling them to the married state. Not everyone has a call to marriage, however. If you think you may not be called to receive the sacrament of Matrimony, what might the Holy Spirit be calling you to do with your life? In future posts, we’ll discuss some of the ways that God and the Church can call unmarried (and some married) people to service for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
This post is part of a series on vocations in the Church.