Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Marriage on Offense - Part One

Leon Suprenant made a comment in response to Joe's post about divorce and annulments that really caught my attention:
I just think it would be cool to hear about the beauty, challenge, adventure, etc. of marriage and what it entails--playing offense instead of defense for a change.
I completely agree. It's time to get offensive.

In an effort to have a substantive response when Joe asks me if I have any posts "in the hopper," I've been trying to think thoughts worth sharing (unlike most of my thoughts that are barely worth thinking in the first place). One such thought is along the lines of hearing about the "beauty, challenge, adventure, etc. of marriage." I've been wondering: Have I ever heard someone question his or her worthiness to get married? The question is striking because when talking to someone discerning the priesthood or religious life it is rare not to hear him question if he is really "worthy" for such a vocation. In fact, most of the faithful would be concerned if that person doesn't at one point in the discernment process wrestle with a case of the "unworthies."

However, I don't think I've ever met someone who questions his or her worthiness to get married in the same way. I've heard people feel unworthy to be loved by their incredible spouse-to-be or not feel ready to get married, but I've never heard anyone question whether he is actually worthy of the vocation of marriage itself. That should raise some concerns. Is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony inherently less sacred than the Sacrament of Holy Orders? No. Is it easier to live a holy life in the married state than in the priesthood or religious life? No. Does God love priests and religious more than married couples? No. Are the promises made at holy orders or the evangelical counsels more demanding than the vows taken at a wedding? I don't think so. Then why does the discernment process in marriage seemingly lack the "Am I worthy?" struggle? Some thoughts:
  • Marriage is familiar - A simple wedding band on the hand of a stranger usually garners little attention. Walk around wearing a Roman collar or habit and prepare to receive more than a passing glance. The day of my diaconate ordination I went to Target wearing my clerical shirt. Being overly sensitive to my new attire, I paid extra attention to any reactions. The only people who I felt treated me somewhat normal were the couple in the parking lot covered with piercings and ink that said, "Hi." I guess they could relate to being treated like freaks. Another reason that marriage is familiar is because it is. Everyone personally knows people who are married. No one has to pause to think about the last time they talked to a man with a wife or passed a car with a woman who has a husband. But how many people could count five priests or religious they've run into at the grocery store?
  • Marriage is the default vocation - Think about it. No one is shocked when someone says, "I want to get married some day." But my mom cried when I told her I was thinking about becoming a priest. Why? Getting married is expected.
  • Marriage is more "secular" - Married couples live "in the world." They have normal lives with normal jobs. What is another title for priests not in religious orders besides "diocesan priests?" Secular priests. Why? Because we live and work in the realm of the married folks as opposed to a religious community.
  • Marriage involves sex - The desire to have sex is natural. Married people can have sex and chaste celibates cannot. Therefore, marriage is seen as natural.*
  • Marriage and Sanctity - Unfortunately, most of us have no problem coming up with 10 saints who were priests, bishops, or religious. The task of naming 10 saints who were married is much more difficult. Also, priests and religious are expected to pray more and serve closer to the "holy things."
There are certainly more reasons than what I listed. However, with this post I just wanted to make the point that most people seldom second guess their worthiness to receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In the next post I'll attempt to show why those discerning marriage should pause to ask, "Am I worthy?"

*You could substitute the "desire to have sex" with "the desire to have children" or the "desire to have a lifelong companion," etc. Also, I'm speaking in normative terms here. Of course there are people who are not married who have sex, children, and lifelong companionship, but marriage is hopefully still viewed as the appropriate context.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting on this topic, Father.

    I have to say I didn't second guess my worthiness to marry Chris. I more felt like I better do it because that's what God wanted. It was a strange situation.

    You gave a homily a while back about marriage that was really good and has stuck with me. You said our vows are the nails that keep us on the cross in marriage. I don't think people like to see marriage (or anything in our lives) as a cross to bear, but rather as a fairy tale. But the truth is, the beauty of the cross is better, and I see it every day. In married life, our sacrifices are not public or interesting. They're boring, repetitive and most of the time nobody will ever know about them.

    Anyway, I think you should dig up that old homily if you still have it and make it public :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a great point about the value in examining our worthiness for the vocation of marriage. I've never thought about it in those terms, but you're spot on. I'm looking forward to the next post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Stacey,

    Hopefully, no matter what our vocation, we have a sense of God's call, and His desire for us to obey. So I think that inasmuch as you were obeying the will of God, that's perfect! I think Fr. Andrew is pointing out that when someone's called: whether to the priesthood or to marriage, they should feel at once drawn towards it and aware of their own unworthiness. I think Isaiah 6 has a pretty good image of this: Isaiah's immediately aware of both his calling as a prophet, and unworthiness and sins.

    And Father Andrew,
    I liked this post a LOT, and it's good to have you back! I'm also intrigued by this Nails homily. It sounds promising!

    Joe.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Alas in some subcultures it is actually uncommon to run across someone married. The effects are not pretty.

    ReplyDelete