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Marriage: the other vocation crisis

February 7, 2024

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

“To belong to God and to serve him in love is the vocation of all.” Simply and beautifully, these words of St. Edith Stein remind us of who we are and what we are made for. This truth provides a framework for understanding the “vocation” dimension of the current crisis. That word, “crisis,” always gets our attention: something is not right, and will likely become worse unless we identify the cause and apply suitable remedies. There is an increasing awareness within the Church that dwindling numbers of priests and religious actually reflect serious fractures in the family.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, in fact, identifies marriage and family life as “the most fundamental vocation crisis of all.” It is also of critical importance for the entire Church, as the archbishop explains.

“Marriage, religious life, the single vocation and the priesthood are all designed to fit together and complement each other in the life of the Church,” he wrote. “Each in its own way fulfills the fundamental human vocation to give ourselves away in love.”

Marriage is a vocation, one of the ways God calls us to make a sincere gift of ourselves in love. It is the original human vocation. When God created us male and female in his image, he created us with the capacity for communion and the promise of parenthood. Marriage is a joyous, demanding path to holiness, an authentic and sacramental means of serving God. “In fact,” writes Archbishop Chaput, “the love between husband and wife is the foundation stone upon which every other vocation is built. It is no accident that most priests and religious emerge from believing, practicing, loving families. Strong marriages and families make a vital, joy-filled Church.”

What are the steps to a more vital, joy–filled Church with an abundance of committed families and of priestly and religious vocations? The words, “believing, practicing, loving” go a long way towards the change we seek.

The Church needs married couples who understand what the Church is (and is not), and who believe the totality of what the Church teaches, including her vision of marriage. Archbishop Chaput reminds us that these teachings are not true because the Church teaches them – rather, the Church teaches them because they are true. Since Jesus promised that the truth would set us free, couples need to be educated to the meaning of Catholic marriage. This is critically important in a culture which reduces marriage to an arrangement shaped entirely by individual preference. Opposite this destructive cultural construct, the Catholic Church proposes God’s design for married love with its innate requirements (and blessings!) of permanence, faithfulness, and openness to life – a deeply personal unity that, beyond one flesh union, leads to forming one heart and one soul (CCC, 1643). This is how God loves us; this how we long to be loved.

Practicing our beliefs makes them real. Our faith in Christ, in the sacraments, in the teachings of the Church must be lived in the world and lived with faith in God’s goodness, and in openness to the gift of life. The scarcity of children in many parishes is a visual link to the vocation crisis: children who have never been born cannot grow up to become priests, religious, or parents. As Archbishop Chaput emphasizes, “Catholic marriage –exactly like Jesus himself – is not about scarcity, but about abundance. It’s not about sterility, but rather the fruitfulness which flows from unitive, procreative love. Catholic married love always implies the possibility of new life; and because it does, it affirms the future…. When God joins a woman and man together in marriage, they create with him a new wholeness; a new “belonging” which is so real , so concrete, that a new life, a child, is its natural expression and seal. This is what the Church means when she teaches that Catholic married love is by its nature both unitive and procreative – not either/or.”

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