Marriage as a Non-Vocation

20 01 2009


From the Unam Sanctam Catholicam blog

But I want to stress this: the “discernment” came when you decided whether or not to be married at all. That is because, of course, there used to be a great emphasis on the superiority of the celibate state. However, nowadays, pop-Catholic culture would have everybody spend as much time discerning their spouse as they would the question of whether or not to remain celibate. This is because in the past 40 years, marriage has been stressed more and more as a “vocation,” or a calling. This has always been admitted, but the emphasis was different before. In the past, there was those called to virginity, and then there was everybody else. Nobody spoke of being “called” to marriage – marriage was referred to, with virginity, as a “state in life”; i.e., a state that you may find yourself in, not necessarily some heavenly calling. Obviously God has a will for everybody, and you are fulfilling that will to the extent that you conform to God’s design for your life. Therefore, God has a will or a call as to what career I should pursue in life, for example. But people don’t usually refer to their jobs as “callings” in the religious sense. God has a will for everything we do, but we don’t always apply the words “calling” and “vocation” to them. I think in the modern Church, because of the drastic decline in consecrated virginity, people are over-anxious to apply the terms “vocation,” “discernment” and “calling” to other endeavors besides consecrated virginity, in an attempt to make it seem like everybody is still seeking God’s will even though there are a drastic reduction in vocations. God, however, has not stopped calling people – but people have stopped listening.

Read the rest here



3 responses

23 11 2009
Jared B.

Except that St. Josemaria Escriva DID explicitly refer to all professions as a vocation; he was quite vehement on that point (maybe he got the idea from the Lutherans 😉 and one could hardly call his spirituality pop-Catholic culture!
I see this as a genuine development of doctrine: the older way of thinking about vocations and states in life was true as far as it went, but concepts like “Marriage is also a vocation. Every career is a vocation”, and the universal call to holiness are welcome additions that express the truth more fully.
It’s still developing, of course. Perhaps in the future, everyone will refer to their jobs as callings, but they’ll distinguish ‘lay callings’ from ‘religious callings’, or some similar language.

22 01 2009
Josh S

You might be interested that Lutherans overtly do call everything from marriage to your daily work a “vocation,” not because it requires some special discernment of a divine voice to rightly pursue, but because God is active through these things in preserving the world, so they really are holy estates.

Now, here’s a genuine question:

The institution of large orders of celibate people seems to hinge mainly on canon law, not dogmatic imperative. I mean, priests are expected to be celibate because the pope has decreed it so, but he could legitimately decree otherwise. Similarly with various monastic orders and their role within the administration of the Church–it could very well be otherwise.

So it seems to me there are few possibilities:

1. God is constantly calling a huge surplus of people to celibacy all the time, and the Catholic ecclesiastical structure expanded in order to contain them, were they to respond. The depopulation of the structure is due to people not listening to the calling, as the author of Unam Sanctam asserts.

2. God really is not calling nearly as many people to celibacy as the author would think, and the depopulation of the structure is because the structure and canon law don’t conform very well to what God is doing. This is admittedly possible, as any Catholic can find times in Church history when the administrative and operative structure of the Church have not been ideal, no matter what one’s standard. So perhaps many are called to ministry, but not to celibacy, just as in Orthodoxy–and canon law is hindering this.

3. God always does his calling in harmony with canon law. While God obviously calls many to the priesthood in Orthodoxy without calling them to celibacy, he wouldn’t do this in Catholicism because he is committed to upholding canon law, or something. Since canon law hasn’t really changed, God is still calling people in this manner, and they’re not listening.

The question: How do you know what’s really going on here?

21 01 2009

This is because in the past 40 years, marriage has been stressed more and more as a “vocation,” or a calling. This has always been admitted, but the emphasis was different before.

It might fudge the classical definition of vocation, but I think the intention is clean, insofar as it is a pastoral response to the breakdown of marriage in general, the rise of ‘catholic divorce’ in particular, and the wholesale rejection of the Magisterium with regard to artificial contraception. Hence marriage encounter weekends and theology of the body retreats. The people are being reminded of their calling to chastity and fidelity, and that gets mixed in with messages about “callings” in general. Can’t say it’s doing much harm to those “real vocations” that hasn’t already been accomplished over the last several decades, though it might annoy people who like juridical precision over the state of ones calling.

Personally, I like to think of my state of life as a vocation in a religious sense. It gives the everyday joys and sufferings of my marriage and my parenting of 3 small children some eschatological significance. But I’m not silly enough to think my work as a father is as significant as the fatherhood of my local parish priest, and I don’t think that many of pedagogical tools that talk of marriage as a “vocation: probably lead to that conclusion either.

They’re just trying to get Joe Catholic to put down the porn and his wife to put down the pill.

By the way, I pray on a constant basis that at least one of my children has a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

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