BEFORE THE CROSS | Marriage is a vocation, a gift from God

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Joseph Kenny | jkenny@archstl.org

I have been writing about marriage and family life a lot lately. When I wrote about the seven sacraments during Lent, I reflected on marriage as a sign of God's love for us. When I wrote about the Church's teaching on social justice, I shared the Christian view that marriage and family life are essential to our understanding of the meaning of human society. And when I wrote about religious freedom, I argued that we do not have the right to "redefine" marriage, because it is a gift from God, not an arbitrary political or social contract.

Today, I want to write about marriage as a vocation. The primary vocation, or calling, of every baptized Christian is to grow in holiness. Our mission in life is to reach our full potential as human beings, to grow in wisdom, to be loving and compassionate, to be honest and just, to develop all our gifts and talents and to return them to the Lord with increases. To be holy does not require perfection, but it does require us to grow spiritually and to mature in our ability to love God and one another.

The vocation of marriage is the way that most Christians are called to pursue holiness. I have a good friend who says that his primary responsibility as a husband is to help his wife get to heaven. Her job is to help her husband, and together they help their children journey toward their heavenly home. I think this is a wonderful description of the vocation of marriage and family life.

I have always been amazed at the powerful illustration of marriage as a vocation that is contained in the Old Testament's Book of Tobit. On their wedding night, Tobiah and Sarah reflect on the "noble purpose" that is their calling. Getting to this point has involved many dangers, and their future is far from secure, but before they spend the night together as husband and wife, they pray:

Blessed are you, O God of our fathers, praised be your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve to be his help and support; and from these two the human race descended. You said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like himself." Now, Lord you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age. They said together, "Amen, amen," and went to bed for the night (Tobit 6:8-11).

Many important insights into the vocation of marriage are contained here: God's presence in the relationship of Tobiah and Sarah reminds us that marriage is holy; their equality (partnership) as woman and man shows that neither should dominate but both are called to help and support each other; sexuality unites them as one flesh "not because of lust, but for a noble purpose;" and, finally, their unwillingness to abandon each other when they are no longer young and attractive but instead "to live together to a happy old age" speaks of the permanence of the marriage vocation in spite of all obstacles.

We trivialize the vocation of marriage when we forget that it is a calling and a gift from God. We abuse this marvelous gift when we take it for granted or allow it to be separated from its "noble purpose," the holy and indissoluble union of one man and one woman in love and the generation of new life as a participation in God's work of creation.

Eveline Goodman-Thau, a Jewish philosopher of religion, has commented on Genesis 2:18 saying, "The man and the woman are partners in God's creation, which they take care of and maintain, in good times and bad."

May God bless all married couples. May He help them be good stewards of creation and allow them to live together to a happy old age. Amen, amen!

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