Whenever we hear someone speak about the vocations crisis in the Church, our first thought goes to the challenging situation regarding the dearth of priestly vocations. While this certainly is concerning and an issue that needs to be focused on we do not give much thought to the other vocations crisis, the one concerning Holy Matrimony.
Almost every parish priest you talk to about marriage will tell you that we have seen a significant drop in the number of people that are choosing to get married. It seems that most simply choose to live together and the thought of marriage perhaps has not even crossed their minds. For some, they may have experienced the pain of divorce in their own families and are afraid of “getting it wrong” if they are married. Others may choose to get married but not do so in church, opting for a more scenic vista, getting married on the beach at sunset on the first day of spring while a flock of doves is released or some other iteration of this. This may be more of an issue in affluent communities where the resources are there to finance extravagant events. It becomes a type of “can you top this?” mentality. Now there is nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful wedding and venue for the reception, but the danger is that in the midst of all of the planning for the reception the significance of what happens in the marriage ceremony itself is lost. All of this contributes to the depreciation of marriage and a loss of what a beautiful vocation marriage is, especially when we invite the Lord into the marriage by getting married in church and receiving the sacramental graces that come from the wedding.
It is easy to lose sight of the importance of the sacrament in the midst of all the excitement and planning that go into a wedding. For Catholics, we believe that every sacrament communicates grace particular to the sacrament. So the graces received at Baptism are different than the graces received in the Eucharist. This is also true for marriage. It is the only sacrament where the people, not the priest, are the celebrant. It is the couple that confers the sacrament on each other, the priest or deacon is the witness of the Church to the marriage. I have been thinking a lot recently about marriage and the importance of this beautiful vocation because I have been blessed to be the Church’s witness to some beautiful Catholic weddings over the last several months. What a gift it is to be with young adults who take seriously what they are entering into and have made a deliberate decision to invite the Lord into their marriage. They understand the importance of the graces they will receive that day and know that these will be a source of strength in the years ahead.
Perhaps it seems odd that an article about vocations to the priesthood would focus on the sacrament of marriage instead. At second glance, the connection should be obvious. The family is the domestic church and it is from families that vocations to the priesthood and religious life come. This is not to say that there are not vocations from other situations but every indication is that there is a greater possibility of a vocation coming from a strong married relationship. In a family where the faith is important and is taught from an early age, the seeds are planted for the possibility of a future vocation. Studies consistently show that parents have an enormous influence on their child considering or pursuing a religious vocation. If the communication from parents is that the faith is not important it will be almost impossible for a vocation to be fostered in that environment. We pray for a greater respect for marriage and married life so that from this beautiful vocation we may see more vocations at the service of the Church as well.