Marriage is a covenant (that is, a sacred, life-long interpersonal promise) made between a man and a woman. It is directed toward the good of the couple and the procreation and education of their children.
As a sign of God’s love for us, the gift of marriage has been raised by Christ to become a sacrament – a physical sign of a spiritual reality. Like God’s love, marriage is a full and unreserved gift, freely given, faithfully lived, and open to the fruitfulness of new life. Because the bond of marriage is an image of God’s love, a love which is never ending, it is a bond that cannot be broken.
Like all vocations, Christian marriage is not an easy way of life, rather, it is a long path toward sanctification. This is because all vocations are an invitation to discipleship, to take up our cross and follow Christ. On the cross Christ showed us that love seeks to give even when it hurts. Love demands self-sacrifice. Married couples who have reached old age together will testify that the moments of delight are never won without some pain and self sacrifice. But in the same way that Jesus Christ showed us that love demonstrated in faithful perseverance and self-sacrifice brought him glory, it is the love won through patiently giving ourselves to our spouse and family that we find life’s greatest reward.
Similarities between Marriage, Priesthood and Consecrated Life
Although you might think marriage and priesthood or consecrated life are quite different, there are actually many similarities between these vocations. We should not just assume that we are called to marriage as a ‘default’ vocation or because it is ‘easier’. In being able to appreciate the gift and the beauty of married life, we are able to understand more about what it means to be a priest or consecrated person.
Love takes shape in different forms in every vocation. A unique gift for married couples is the ability to express their love and unity through sexual union. The love and care parents display for their children is also a powerful witness to the world, imitating the love that Christ has for the Church in laying down their lives. Priests and consecrated people also lay down their lives in the service of God and His people. Furthermore, consecrated women are espoused to Christ and priest’s participate in Christ’s identity as chaste spouse of the Church.
Many people think that becoming a priest or nun is a big sacrifice, but marriage is certainly not the ‘easy’ way out! Sacrifices are made day in, day out in a marriage (just ask your parents). Both of these vocations require a giving of oneself; a taking up of one’s cross (Luke 9:23).
In the Genesis story, Adam receives the command, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:28). Through sexual union, husband and wife receive the gift of new life. Priests and consecrated people are fruitful in a different way. Their lives produce fruit when they lead people to encounter God.
In a marriage, husband and wife experience physical fatherhood and motherhood in receiving the gift of children and taking responsibility for raising them. For priests and consecrated people, they experience a spiritual fatherhood and motherhood in caring for God’s people. This experience of being a father or mother is a core dimension of their masculine or feminine identity, which is by no means lessened because they do not bear their own children. In fact, because they are a father or mother to many people, their experience of fatherhood or motherhood is lived out in a non-exclusive way.
Both vocations are oriented towards the salvation of the other.
See this article and video from Pope Francis on the Three Secrets to a Successful Marriage.
Read Pope Francis’s catechesis on the Sacrament of Matrimony from a General Audience in April 2014.
You can also read this article, ‘The Power of Matrimony’ and check out other resources on the Marriage Resource Centre website