Last week we considered briefly the vocation to married life in light of the Lectionary readings for the 27th Sunday in ordinary time. Next week I would like to offer a brief consideration of the vocation to religious life. This week, however, as a bridge between our reflections on the vocation to marriage and the vocation to religious life, I would like to make some practical observations about marriage and discernment.
The Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage (see e-letter of 10/10/12) is quite rich, and very beautiful. Let’s face it, it’s downright attractive! And authentic discernment of religious life demands that we are honest about the attractiveness of it. Therefore, if someone discerning religious life feels a desire for the vocation of marriage, that desire should not be ignored! We need to face the desire for marriage, think about it, pray about it, speak to our spiritual directors about it—it is a holy desire, “ordained by God and ordered to his purposes,” (Fr. Robert Barron, Magnificat, October 2012, p. 99).
And even if we are called to the priesthood and/or religious life, that does not change the fact that we are made for another, made for marriage! It is written into every aspect of our person—spirit, soul and body. So, even though one may be called to religious life, his sexual desire will not mysteriously disappear. Moreover, his emotional/affective desire for another will not mysteriously disappear. And finally, his desire to be a father will not mysteriously disappear. In religious life, all of that becomes part of that gift of self made to God in living out the vow of chastity. In fact, for the religious, these desires become power for loving God and others in a free, total, faithful and fruitful way, and in this they are uniquely fulfilled.
Religious life is not an escape from marriage. It is not a safe place for those who are uncomfortable with or afraid of their sexuality or for those who are emotionally immature and afraid of relationships. It is a place where one must face and fully embrace his sexuality and his emotional life and with the help of God’s healing grace seek to integrate them fully into his personality and his life. From this standpoint, the expectations of one called to religious life—psychological and sexual maturity—mirror those for one called to married life. And this makes sense, for as we’ll see next week, the question is not whether one is called to marriage or not, but which marriage is one called to? Until then…
God bless you,
Fr. Isaac Spinharney, CFR
St. Joseph Friary
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