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A Sacrament of Service

I know I said I would be posting more on health care and I most certainly will do so. There are some great questions and perspectives to discuss in the comments of my last post. However, this weekend brought another topic to mind: vocations. Sunday’s Gospel reminds us the harvest is abundant and the laborers are few. On Saturday our diocese added three new priests to its cadre of laborers. Yet Holy Orders is only one of two sacraments of service. The sacrament of Holy Matrimony is the other sacrament of service.

This past Saturday we were honored and blessed to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents. Our parish pastor celebrated their marriage at the morning Mass. The readings were those that are often used in the wedding Mass. Father’s homily spoke of the tremendous grace of the sacrament of marriage. Having all of their children as well as many of their grandchildren present was a testament to my parents’ legacy of love. More importantly, the public celebration of this wedding anniversary at a parish Mass served as a powerful witness for this sacrament.

Like Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony is a sacrament that requires discernment. It is a calling. It is a ministry. It is a vocation. Too often this vision of marriage is lost. Instead of seeing marriage as a calling to serve God through marriage, couples focus on the romance, the pageantry of a wedding, and the promise of earthly pleasures. Faithfully living the vocation of marriage is not a guarantee of earthly happiness, but it is a pathway to eternal joy. Just as God made each of individually to love Him, to serve Him, to adore Him here on earth so we can be joyful with him forever in Heaven, God calls the married couple to jointly love Him, serve Him, and adore Him here on earth so they can find true joy with Him in Heaven.

I think of my husband’s and my own pre-Cana classes. There was a great deal of checking out our compatibility with each other, but there was very little if any discussion of what we were supposed to do with that compatibility. I don’t remember any reference to marriage as a vocation. It is readily apparent that a man is not necessarily called to the priesthood because he thinks the job looks like fun and he enjoys hanging out with priests. A man and woman are not necessarily called to marriage because they enjoy each other’s company. Rather, they are called to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony if they feel compelled to join their lives in the service of God’s will. Are they ready to emulate the Blessed Mother and respond, “Fiat!” when God presents them with the twists and turns of life? Are they ready to humbly obey and faithfully live this vocation as it is revealed by Holy Mother Church? Are they ready to accept the demands, responsibilities, and sacrifices of married life? Do they see their marriage as the founding of their domestic church?

Our secular culture has perverted the institution of marriage from a sacrament of service to a pathway to earthly pleasure. The fragility of marriages, the high divorce rate, the number of couples cohabiting and the push for homosexual marriages are the consequences of this hedonistic view of marriage. If the only purpose of marriage is to be a pleasant past time, why should a couple work to strengthen and preserve their relationship through hard times? It is so much easier to move on and look for happiness elsewhere.

That is why we need to celebrate anniversaries like my parents. Their marriage began standing before God and proclaiming their willingness to serve Him together. This landmark anniversary is celebrated in the same way. After fifty years they still stand before the Altar of God and offer their assent to His will. Their response to the vocation of marriage serves as a model for those of us who follow in their footsteps.

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