The Epic Vocation of Marriage
As I was reflecting on my blog post topic for this month with you all, the Good Lord landed some great insights in front of me to re-inspire my love for my vocation. You see, with a busy mission and being in the weeds of entrepreneurship (or Catholicpreneurship as we like to call it) it is easy for me to want to run away from the true call of my vocation, or at least down play its amazing dynamism in the salvation of my soul and that of my family. So today I want to unpack with you some deep thoughts for you who are married and anyone in discernment of marriage — primarily to wake me up from my slumber and hopefully offer you some value in the time you spend reading this.
Fr. Nathan Cromly, CSJ, is a dear, dear friend and spiritual father to me. He has been there for me in the toughest and rockiest moments of my marriage. I know him like a brother; we met 18 years ago when he was a novice and I was in discernment of religious life in a convent in France. He was my translator of spiritual conferences and philosophy classes and we shared a common and deep love for my patron St. Jane Francis de Chantal. I knew from those days that he was one of those people that the world will look back on and marvel. I stand by that prediction still. I suspect, to date, he has already accomplished more than ten average men achieve with their lives and the work of his ministry is really just taking on steam. Be sure to check out eagleeyeministries.org and the saintjohninstitute.org. You will be greatly blessed by linking arms with these movements in the Church today. Much of what has inspired this post comes from him.
I currently feel like I am holding up the world of my family with my work and my efforts on so many fronts and yet, too often, I feel like I am letting Our Lord down by my absence from devotions, retreats, spiritual reading, extreme acts of penance, and so on. It is easy to drift into a doubt about God’s call and mission on my life as a married woman and lay person. I find myself day dreaming of the ease and rhythm and perfection of religious life. Perhaps that is where the riches of holiness lie?
In times like this, when we feel as if we have just fallen into marriage and family life is engulfing us with the human demands of our existence it is important to remember that God has what Father Nathan calls, “a divine expectation behind marriage.” It is a real vocation. We have to strive not to let the natural demands of our life blind us of the the supernatural dimension we are privileged to live if we choose it.
Father says that the astounding reality is that God dares to speak his Divine Word through our human life and that marriage is to break open our humanity toward the endless vista of the love of God. Wow! That sounds epic. And in certain ways, my life feels epic — epically chaotic and full of drama! There are not only bills to be paid and kids to be taught and meals to be prepared, but there is a mission to be grown, a blog to write, people to train and teach and inspire. There are mountains to be conquered — of laundry, that is. There are messes to be cleaned and books to balance. There is order to install and discipline to dish out. I have crunches to do and walks to take, sick kids to doctor up and footballs to through and catch. There are science fair projects to laud and support. What about the braids to be braided and the toenails to be clipped? There are rosaries to be made and prayed and of course there are bums to clean and bumps and bruises to kiss. It is an epic life.
Do we believe in the Incarnation enough to believe that God wants to take hold of the culture of our homes? Do we believe that it is his Word that he wants to speak through our flesh? Can I hold on to the call that my vocation goes far beyond the day to day and yet my mission never precludes my daily duties? I have quoted it too many times to count, but it is the mantra of our ministry and the mantra of my life, from JPII, “It is necessary that the heroic becomes daily and that the daily becomes heroic.”
It does take a daring soul to be married. Father Nathan is right! He says, “It takes a daring soul to live the ordinary with an extraordinary capacity of mission.” It sinks into the depths of my heart as I write this. I want to accept this call to live an intact human love. I want to radiate Christ to my family. Father says that the call is to convert our conversation, our leisure, the way we understand our body, our possessiveness, our eating habits — all the things I bear on the shoulders of my responsibility as a wife, mother, mentor, and friend — and to lay claim to that whole humanity and lift it up with the grace of Christ.
What I love about Father’s spiritual direction to me is that he never chastises me for my human struggle. He doesn’t want to over-spiritualize my challenge. He reminded me gently and with the inspiration of a true friend that my vocation is supernatural in and through my human loves and existence, not in spite of them. In fact, my supernatural vocation manifests itself in the ability to love like Christ loves, with divine charity only when it rests upon a genuine human life and a genuine human relationship.
Here is were the rub has always been for me. In many respects, I feel as if I can care for all the world and the demands and needs of all those “out there,” but can I love my spouse, clean myhome, love my kids, care for my bodily health? The rubber meets the road here. My vocation that will impact the world begins in my home and with my humanity.
Father is quick to remind me this is where the work of sanctity is done in the married vocation and it is futile to resist the work of God’s grace as he offers me a true humanity to place at the service of love. We can’t discount the basic needs and dimensions of our nature and our bodies. Too often, we conjure up the idea that our nature is somehow the problem, when it is in fact the pathway. We need to allow it to reach its perfection through the daily progression of our human existence and all that goes around that. This is why, for example, it is so important to nurture our health with wholesome food, to work hard to provide the necessary goods to nurture our well-being. This foundation allows us to build upon it good movement, good thinking, productivity, friendship, and ultimately even procreation as our nature expands outward toward its natural perfection. This is living an authentic human life and we have the freedom to pepper in our preferences, our style, our tastes and our loves. Even more so, in our vocation we get to seek to harmonize our humanity with another.
I am inspired as I write, thinking of all the tensions that exist in my marriage as Peter and I try to harmonize our humanities into a family. He sees my flaws, my scattered, spontaneous modality. I see his rhythmic precision and his love of order. He knows my tender heart that often caves when it should stand firm and I know his firm heart that should often cave when tenderness is needed. And yet, as we grow our daily life, with all its warts and wobbles, we have come to find certain areas were we can come together and become exceptionally strong and produce much life. This is the real work of marriage. The healing of our brokenness in our humanity through authentic human exchange. We don’t have to lay the mystical life on thick or drench ourselves in guilt. All we have need of is to keep seeking to live our human life well.
So I challenge you with the challenge Father left me, “Is your human life excellent? Is there beauty in your home? Is your car clean? Are you living the style of life that makes you thrive?” He would say that to say, “Yes,” to those questions is to live well the vocation of marriage. The supernatural call rests on this pursuit. Here is where Christ asks us to allow him to work through us and with us. Here is where he asks us to be the face of God to our kids, the support and presence of God to our spouses, the radiating love of God out into the world. It is in these simple human choices to live well that we can be the saints we are called to be where we are. This is where we can start to think big about the missionary call of our vocation.
What is my family doing with its vocation to spread God’s love? This is where we dive deep to identify our “Family Why,” as my husband and I so often call it. Father says, “look toward the mission that only you can accomplish through the resources, the time, talent, the networks your marriage and life as a lay person offers.”
Familiaris Consortio 17 says that our vocation is to guard, reveal and communicate God’s love in the the world. Guarding our families means we are keeping our families and nurturing them, life a fire, stoking and feeding the divine love in our home. This calls me on in big ways as I reflect on what I have been allowing to be watched in our home, what truths I have failed to champion and what goodness I have fostered. What beauty can we nurture, what family encounters can we offer our families that will fan the flame of divine love in our homes?
The rest of the call is to reveal and communicate God’s love in the world. Is my home serving as a beacon of hope to others? What priests, co-workers, friends of my children, hurting families am I welcoming into my home? Of course, we have an active ministry that affords us many opportunities to practice these kinds of gestures, but often I fail to see just how important these simple actions are. You, too, can take on the missionary option of the family simply by reflecting on the natural opportunities that are right before you.
Like Father says, “Your home is a fire that is intended to enkindle fires that enkindle fires until they spread over the whole earth. Your vocation is that fire. Summon it, allow the fire of God’s love to take possession of you. You are proclaiming Jesus Christ in an eloquently beautifully way. Don’t be put off that God wants you in the world. It’s where he went. He lived your life and now he is calling you to live his with your spouse and with your family.”