Over these last four weeks, we have been considering the call to both marriage and the religious life. We have studied their fundamental differences and have also discovered their mutual complementarity. These reflections were an attempt to highlight the beauty and the richness of both of these vocations so as to aid some readers in their personal discernment. I certainly hope this goal was accomplished. Yet, I want to close with a word of caution and an exhortation.
First of all, the word of caution: In your discernment, don’t get lost in the world of lofty theology and overly-sentimental idealism. The theology is beautiful brothers, and it is all true. However, our knowledge and understanding of marriage and the religious life is helpful only insofar as it leads us to a true encounter with Jesus Christ! Sacred Scripture tells us that Jesus is the author of our salvation. If that’s true, then that means He is also the author of our vocations.
Vocational discernment and vocational choice take place in the context of a relationship with Jesus. And as our relationship with Him grows, eventually he asks us the same question he asked those two “vocation visitors” in John’s Gospel 2,000 years ago, “What do you seek?” (Jn 1:38). And so begins the dialogue, the open and honest dialogue with Jesus regarding the deepest and truest desires of our hearts. On one hand, the answer to the question “what do you seek?” is “You, Jesus! I come seeking you.” That response is true regardless of what marriage we are called to.
But, we also recognize that Jesus is calling us to something specific, something personal. And it takes time and it may take struggle—struggle with ourselves and struggle with God—in order to arrive at a place where we can freely choose the vocation that God is calling us to.
We may be really attracted to religious life while also having a deep desire for marriage, secretly wondering, “Can I really be happy without a wife and children?” Or maybe our hearts contain a question or a fear of a different sort: “Can I be holy without becoming a priest or religious?” The answer to both questions is YES, ABSOLUTELY, DEFINITIVELY...as long as God is not calling you to that respective vocation! Our happiness and holiness will be found in whatever vocation God is calling us to! The Second Vatican Council states quite clearly that “all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love” (Lumen Gentium 40). So again, the question is “which marriage or which vocation is God calling you to?”
Discovering the answer to that question will depend largely on the answer to another question, and here comes the promised exhortation. The question is: Can we trust God? The answer and exhortation is: YES! Can we trust that God has a plan for our lives? YES! Can we trust Him with the deepest desires of our hearts? YES! Does he want us to be happy? Can He make us happy? YES! YES! And He will do so if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2), the one who “came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
God bless you all!
Fr. Isaac Mary Spinharney, CFR
St. Joseph Friary