The month of August is filled with the graces of sun, heat and family vacation, as well as many beautiful feast days. A few in particular seem to bookend this month — reminders, as it were, of the intrinsic relationship between the vocations of marriage and religious life as paths to holiness: St. John Mary Vianney (Aug. 4), St. Monica (Aug. 27) and St. Augustine (Aug. 28).
St. John Vianney, patron of diocesan priests, comes to mind as I look forward to this weekend's annual Serra-sponsored seminarian Mass and cookout, to be held this year at St. Mary of Sorrows Parish. It is always such a joy for me to be with the seminarians and their families as I witness the personal relationships of love in which the seeds of priestly and religious vocations have been nurtured. How precious are a husband and wife to whom the Father has entrusted a child to their care that He may draw him or her to Himself through the ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life!
Later in the month, the feasts of St. Monica and her son, St. Augustine, point our gaze to the awareness that marriage, the priesthood and the consecrated life need one another. St. Monica fulfilled her responsibility to educate her offspring in sanctity; her prayers mothered Augustine's heart to conversion and, ultimately, sainthood (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1601). This reminds us of Pope Benedict XVI's message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations this year: "The care of vocations, therefore, demands a constant ‘education' for listening to the voice of God." The space in which to listen and grow in response to God's call is powerfully held within the family. This is why Pope John Paul II could write, "The future of the world and Church passes through the family" ("Familiaris Consortio," No. 75).
Persons living in marriage, priesthood and consecrated life are called by the Church to both a grace-filled privilege and a challenging task. "The sacrament of matrimony and virginity for the kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other: Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity" (CCC, No. 1620). Therefore, it seems it cannot be a mere coincidence that a world in which people speak of a vocation crisis is simultaneously a world in which divorce rates are high and politicians threaten to pass legislation redefining marriage contrary to that which has been given to us by God as the union between one man and one woman.
Marriage fruitful in children is where love comes home to itself. The family then becomes the womb of sanctity in which children grow in humanity and faith. The Catechism again states: "In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the ecclesia domestica (domestic church). It is in the bosom of the family that parents are ‘by word and example … the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation'" (No. 1656). When a child is given away in marriage or to the priesthood or religious life, there is understandably a feeling of loss and sorrow within parents, but also at the same time deeper and wider joy for the gift of the response to God's love given in service of Christ and His Church.
May the Holy Family, which is an earthly model of the Holy Trinity, be the constant example and inspiration for each domestic church that, united in communion, gives life to our diocesan family. May our prayers for true vocations to marriage, the priesthood and consecrated life never cease to deepen our response to God Who created us and calls us to love, reminding us that we love because He first loved us (cf. CCC, No. 1604; "Deus Caritas Est," No. 17; 1 Jn 4:10). Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us, that the "yes" of our lives uttered through our vocations may always echo your fiat of purity and perfect obedience!