Considerations on Discerning Marriage

“Every Christian vocation becomes a revelation of Christ
and his love for humanity.”

Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God by Father Marko Ivan Rupnik

“In the unity of the Christian life, the various vocations are like so many rays of the one light of Christ, whose radiance brightens the countenance of the Church. ‘The laity, by virtue of the secular character of their vocation, reflect the mystery of the Incarnate Word particularly insofar as he is the Alpha and the Omega of the world, the foundation and measure of the value of all created things.’ ” (Consecrated Life by Pope St. John Paul II, #16)

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The Vocation of Marriage

Marriage is a beautiful vocation which is “written into” our human nature. Most human beings are called to marriage, because as humans we find our fullest human completion in that covenant of love, that special union between a man and a woman. This mutual love of a man and a woman is an image of God’s love for humanity and of Christ’s love for the Church. The purpose of marriage is twofold: the mutual support of the spouses and the procreation and raising of children.

The Sacrament of Matrimony has a special dignity as a sacrament. Husbands and wives are called to live out their baptismal call to holiness through their self-giving love to each other and to their children. Their “way” to holiness is with and through each other. By virtue of their Baptism, married couples are lay members of the Church. They are called to: “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will…. The laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives” (Lumen gentium, #31).

Here is the full paragraph from Vatican II’s Lumen gentium, comparing the “mission” of priests, those in consecrated life, and the laity:

What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. It is true that those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession. But they are by reason of their particular vocation especially and professedly ordained to the sacred ministry. Similarly, by their state in life, religious give splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transformed and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes. But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.                 -Lumen gentium, #31

To sum up, married spouses are called to find salvation and help each other to grow in holiness, to give life their children and then to raise their children with love, educating them in their faith. An essential part of their vocation is to sanctify the secular—to bring Christ into every aspect of human life and work in which they are engaged.

Particular Graces & Strengths of Marriage

The framework for married life is, of course, the family. At the beginning of his apostolic exhortation on the family, St. John Paul encourages us to discover “the beauty and grandeur of the vocation to love and the service of life.”

The love of spouses and parents requires great generosity, patience, and self-sacrifice. A mother and father’s love is exclusive and particular: centered on God, that love is to be primarily expressed through love of one’s spouse and children. In his general audience addresses, Pope Francis lists the virtues that spring from a family spirit—virtues which are especially nurtured in the family and which our world desperately needs—loyalty, sincerity, trust, cooperation, and respect.

Pope Francis has a particularly direct and grounded way of speaking about the vocation of the family. He reminds us frequently that the family is called to forgiveness and to share its love beyond itself, to be inclusive: to extend the mercy of God to all of those who are abandoned, who do not have a home, who do not “belong.” He encourages families to live their vocations because in so doing, these family values “spill over” into the world.

Resources for Prayer and Reflection About the Vocation of Marriage

From Scripture:

Genesis 1:26-31 “God created humankind in his image”

Genesis 2:18-25  “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

John 2:1-11 “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”

Ephesians 5:21-33 “ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.”

* * *

Pope Francis speaks simply and eloquently about the gift of and vocation of the family. Perhaps these gems from his recent talks–especially at the 2015 World Festival of Families–can help us reflect further on the beauty of the vocation of marriage and family:

God’s Special Love for the Family
“All the love God has in himself, all the beauty God has in himself, all the truth God has in himself, he entrusts to the family. A family is truly a family when it is capable of opening its arms to receive all that love.”

The Family Gives Us Hope
“In families, there are difficulties. In families, we argue; in families, sometimes the plates fly; in families, the children give us headaches. And I’m not even going to mention the mother-in-law. But in families, there is always, always, the cross. Always. Because the love of God, of the Son of God, also opened for us this path. But, in families as well, after the cross, there is the resurrection. Because the Son of God opened for us this path. Because of this, the family is — forgive the term I’ll use — it is a factory of hope, of hope of life and of resurrection. God was the one who opened this path.”

The Family: God Does Not Want Us To Feel Alone
“The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this ‘God with us,’ who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home. God does not dream by himself, he tries to do everything “with us”. His dream constantly comes true in the dreams of many couples who work to make their life that of a family.”

The Family is God’s Dream for Humanity
“That is why the family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless. As Christians, we appreciate the beauty of the family and of family life as the place where we come to learn the meaning and value of human relationships… We learn to stake everything on another person, and we learn that it is worth it.” – Pope Francis, remarks at Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families

The “Little Way of Love” in the Family
Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to grow in faith.

Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world…. At home do we shout at one another or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way of measuring our love. – Pope Francis, Homily at Mass for the Festival of Families

The expressions…“may I?”, “thank you”, and “pardon me”…open up the way to living well in your family, to living in peace. – Pope Francis, General Audience, May 13, 2015

A marriage is not successful just because it endures; quality is important. To stay together and to know how to love one another forever is the challenge for Christian couples. What comes to mind is the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves: for you too, the Lord can multiply your love and give it to you fresh and good each day. He has an infinite reserve! He gives you the love that stands at the foundation of your union and each day he renews and strengthens it. And he makes it ever greater when the family grows with children. On this journey prayer is important, it is necessary, always: he for her, she for him and both together. Ask Jesus to multiply your love. In the prayer of the Our Father we say: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Spouses can also learn to pray like this: “Lord, give us this day our daily love,” for the daily love of spouses is bread, the true bread of the soul, what sustains them in going forward. And the prayer: can we practice to see if we know how to say it? “Lord give us this day our daily love” – Pope Francis, Address to Engaged Couples Preparing for Marriage, February 14, 2014

Reflection questions:

  • God creates each person in his image, but it is in the union between one man and one woman that God’s image is most clearly made visible. How do I understand the beauty, strengths, and challenges that are inherent in married life? Do I feel invited to reflect the love of God through marriage with…?
  • “It is not good that the man should be alone.” I am not called to live my vocation to love alone. How is Jesus inviting me to bring forth new life and to build communion in the world?
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