When it was proposed to me to write about the vocation of marriage, I thought it would be a breeze. I’ve been married for nearly eight years, after all. I started to think about different ways to approach the topic: history of it as a sacrament, the changing views of marriage throughout the years, the present challenges set against the institution. I tried to think of married saints and how they lived their vocations.
Then, my own marriage hit a speed bump. Propriety keeps me from going into detail but there were tears and hurt feelings. I suddenly felt like the last person on the planet to be writing about the vocation of marriage.
The problem between my husband and me was resolved fairly quickly. I still felt stuck, though, with a case of writer’s block. I asked my husband for his thoughts on the vocation of marriage. He sent me a long message that I’m not going to reprint (though I would love to do so) but here is a quote that I felt summed up his point:
Vocation is, of course, a calling by God. I think the calling by God to marry someone is more profound and runs far deeper than what many feel about marriage. […] [It] is God’s eternal call for two, of His choosing, to find each other in a manner that He sees fit (sometimes humorously) and to marry. These two (you and I) both need each other in a way that we both feel more complete. We both have our flaws and our faults but we each help to fill each other’s holes. We complete each other.
Marriage isn’t merely a means to satisfy lust, or to feel less lonely, or even for financial security. It’s “an intimate communion of life and love” and “ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1660). Furthermore, it “signifies the union of Christ and the Church” (1661).
It’s a vocation, a calling, because not everyone is meant for such a state in life. Not everyone is meant to give themselves to another in an institution that reflects the union between Christ and the Church. Not everyone is meant to have and raise children. In fact, not every married couple is capable of having children.
We talk about marriage in lofty theological terms, like the ones quoted above. We talk about it in terms of vocation, which is a fancy way of saying “a calling”. All of these things are true.
However, marriage is also a constant “working out”. My husband and I have been married for eight years, have known each other for ten, and yet we still manage to hurt each other. In our clumsy humanity, we say or do the wrong thing that leaves the other person wounded.
In Philippians, St. Paul says,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (RSV CE)
Salvation isn’t a one and done decision like the Protestants teach but a constant conversion, a continual turning away from self toward God (like the heliotrope following the sun). Everything we do should, in some way, point us toward God or have God as its center. Marriage is no different. Whether or not the union is blessed with children, a married couple are supposed to make their journey to God together. Their marriage must be a source of conversion, a way to help each other to Heaven. And just as we must work out our salvation, we must continually work through the misunderstandings and problems that often beset a married couple.
Marriage is very much a partnership. It is two people working together. Sometimes, that partnership breaks down a little, when two people don’t adequately communicate or a major problem arises. Partnership also means meeting the other in their weaknesses.
I suffer from depression and anxiety. At the moment, I am not on any medication, though that could change. Therefore, there are days and situations where I am not at my best. My husband meets me at those times to help me through them because we have discussed what I need at those times.
For example: Earlier this year, I suffered from my first panic attack in months. I can’t remember what triggered it but it left me exhausted, fried, and nearly non-verbal. I could not look anyone in the eye and I could not stand the idea of large crowds.
My husband took me to a very familiar Chinese buffet, which wasn’t busy. He tried to talk to me but when he saw I could not speak, he let me sit in silence. When we arrived home, he took out his small military, one-person tent and set it up for me. That sounds strange but small, enclosed spaces make me feel safe.
In my moment, he took care of me. He did not demand something of me that I could not give. This is a big example but there are smaller ones, such as being understanding when I’m so deep into a writing project that I forget to cook anything for supper. Or, sending me flowers when he knows I am upset. He even remembers that my favorite flowers are yellow roses.
Little things done out of love make a marriage work, just as it is that little things done out of love for God bring us closer to Him and our Heavenly Homeland. It is important to make a marriage work, not only because of indissolubility of the bond but also because it is an avenue of grace on which we travel toward Heaven.