Recently, a friend of my husband’s from graduate school took vows as a consecrated virgin. Of all the vocations in the Church, this one is admittedly the one that I know the least about, and I was deeply struck by the rite and the vows she took. We weren’t able to attend in person, but I have no doubt that it would have been even more deeply moving if we had.
And briefly, there flickered a sort of insecurity about my own vocation in my heart. The Church recognizes that those vowed to priesthood or any celibate vocation are a foretaste of the life that will be all of ours in heaven (where “they will neither marry nor be given in marriage”). Sometimes, it is even spoken of as a sort of “superior” vocation, one that mostly renounces the cares of the world in favor to total devotion to God.
Although there is a beautiful line in the rite of Consecration of Virgins about the gift of marriage as the first gift given by God to humanity (and how the call to perpetual virginity in no way negates the gift of marriage) I still found myself wondering…have I chosen the lesser part?
And then, I recalled our vocation story.
The Gift of Vocation
Before getting married, my husband had considered the priesthood, and I had considered religious life. But when we were honest with ourselves, we realized that we mainly considered those vocations because we loved God and wanted to be holy – and priesthood and religious life just seemed like the holier options (as opposed to marriage). After dating for six months, God made it very clear to both of us (with a calm yet persistent call placed in our hearts) that he was calling us to the vocation of marriage. What surprised both of us was that it felt less like something we were giving to God, and more like something he was giving to us – and we were profoundly humbled in the face of that gift.
I don’t know if anyone else ever had this problem, but when I was a teenager, I remember having repeated nightmares that I had to get married, and that it was to someone that I didn’t want to be stuck with. In the back of my mind, even though I dated and wanted children, I wasn’t sure if I would ever know that a guy was “the one” – at least not with any kind of deep certainty. (Needless to say, those nightmares have ceased and I have only found myself loving my husband more with each passing year.)
Over the course of our dating and engagement, we spent countless hours in the chapels on our college campus, praying together but also just letting Jesus (in the tabernacle) be a sort of chaperone – a constant presence in our conversations and discernment. Although we certainly were (and are) in love, what ultimately drew us to the married vocation was that he was at the center of our relationship and being together made us closer to him. To this day, when we are disagreeing about something, or frustrated with each other, and we take the opportunity to bring it to prayer – it all melts away because our love for him has somehow melded into our love for each other.
This all might sound kind of lofty, and I assure you that we have a normal marriage, filled with the normal ups and downs of family life. We aren’t perfect by any means, we don’t agree about everything, and we don’t spend all of our downtime praying. We watch our favorite shows, laugh over our favorite memes, and plan home improvement projects for our little fixer-upper. But the undercurrent to all that we do is Him. Through our marriage, he is whittling away the rough edges and daily gifting us with his love in concrete ways.
That is what makes this vocation of marriage a gift.
But What About the Saints?
A couple of years ago, while discerning a shift in my prayer life, a call to a deepening of my own faith, I remember having numerous conversations with my spiritual director about marriage and the call to holiness. I was afraid that being married would sort of preclude me from “leveling up” in my faith life. After all, weren’t the higher levels of prayer and faith life reserved for priests and religious? In college, thinking that I might be called to married life, I remember digging through the library’s collection, trying to find books about married saints. My college library was thirteen stories high. I found one or two books on the topic.
With his talent for fatherly reassurance (which I am certain must be a gift of ordination) my spiritual director reassured me that loving Jesus didn’t mean that I wasn’t loving my husband well (and vice versa). Loving my husband led me closer to Jesus, and loving Jesus deeply and with longing made me a better wife.
He then went on to tell me that he had been standing in St. Peter’s Square at the canonization of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin – the first couple to ever be canonized together. He explained to me that normally, when someone is canonized, they are placed into a category – virgins, martyrs, pastors, etc. When Sts. Louis and Zelie were canonized, they were put into an entirely new category of saints – “the marrieds”.
As we talked, he and I agreed – God is calling married couples in our generation, in a particular way, to a life of deeper sanctity. The world needs the witness of married couples, living a life of love for Christ.
It is true that there are few married, canonized saints. They are still far outnumbered by those in priesthood and religious life. However, that does not mean that there are few married saints – just many whose names are known to God alone.
The Complementarity of Vocations
So, returning to our friend who recently took vows as a consecrated virgin – our vocations are a complement to each other, both showing a different side of both the love of God as manifested through the gifts of vocations and serving as images of the love between Christ and the Church, His Bride. The prayers at a wedding Mass are theologically rich and beautiful. Marriage should be entered into with the same kind of gravity and discernment that priesthood and religious life are. The married vocation needs to be reclaimed from what the world says it is – a happy conclusion to the story of two people falling madly in love – to what it actually is – the decision of a man and woman to seek union with God through deeper union with each other. Along with that is the call to embrace to cross, to suffer, to die to self, and ultimately to find a deeper joy in Christ…together.