The following is written by Fr. Chris Lemieux, Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
In any homily I preach on vocations, I am mindful that it would be an oversight to speak of any religious vocation without speaking about the vocation that is the bedrock and foundation of all others – the vocation of marriage. It is from the home, the family and the vocation of marriage that all others pour forth. Even our Lord’s vocation found footing in His family life with Mary and Joseph. It would be an oversight to believe that Jesus’ freedom & ability as the Son of God to respond to the Father’s love didn’t find its foundation in what was offered Him at home.
In Mark 10:2-16, Jesus seems to take a very strong position on the ‘Law’ and seems to raise the bar even higher. The Mosaic Law allowed for divorce, and Jesus seems to challenge that. This has caused some discomfort and difficulty for us to this very day whenever we talk about marriage and divorce as Catholic Christians. When Jesus is challenged, He provides His disciples (that’s us too) with a clearer sense of the teaching, Jesus is calling us to: a deeper love, a deeper sense of commitment, a deeper sense of selflessness and self-giving. He is not casting judgement on broken marriages or people hurting in any way. He may not mention it right here, but we know it permeates everything our Lord Himself says through to the very moment of His death on the Cross where He says “Forgive them, Father for they know not what they do…”
We cannot truly embrace any kind of relationship, be it marriage or otherwise, without a radical sense of forgiveness. We cannot grow deeper in our commitment to love if we don’t allow ourselves to grow in forgiveness. I am not indicating that this will solve every problem, but I think we all can acknowledge that what causes the greatest damage to any relationship in our lives is an inability or difficulty to forgive. I know it well. I have struggled and still struggle with hanging on to things; not asking for or offering forgiveness.
t’s hard to forgive; it’s hard to love; but our faith calls us to go beyond feeling. We must forgive when we don’t ‘feel’ like forgiving – that is, to act, to tell ourselves over and over again we forgive and to love in the same way. Love & forgive are verbs. They are action words, that can only happen if we act. If we stay close to our Lord and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can be assured by faith that healing is going to happen. Healing, forgiveness and a commitment to love when we don’t always feel like it help us in all our relationships.
In my ministry as a priest, I have seen that healing is possible if we let it happen. I’ve worked with people as they’ve sought annulments, and I know that this can be a healing experience too. I have seen good marriages and people have shared with me their insights on what it takes to develop a healthy marriage. In many ways, I try to model my own priesthood on the vocation of marriage and what Jesus teaches us about marriage and relationship.
For priests, this is our ‘marriage’ in a sense to the church and our relationship with God and those whom He loves – you, the people we serve as a priest need to be at the centre of our lives. If we look at it any other way, we soon lose our priestly identity and our lives might as well be to live as comfortable Catholic bachelors, but that’s not what most of us want, and it’s not what the men who come to see me want out of life. Just as our identity as husbands & wives, mothers and fathers are also important; and if we don’t identify ourselves with the roles we have; we lose sight, focus, a sense of ourselves in relationship with each other. We are teaching these men based on our own experiences to care for others and to journey with them.
We are teaching them never to judge people or apply legislation to them; but to meet them, embrace them, love them, help them.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the Synod on the Family. Our Holy Father has themed joy and mercy in his papacy; he has included a desire that we as a universal faith community consider our families and relationships too. Many of our bishops worldwide, including Cardinal Collins have gone to Rome for this discussion. What we need to do here is pray, because no matter what happens, no matter what takes place there– it is a blessing in our time that we are talking about these things and we as a global community of believers are talking about one of the most important relationships we have in this world; the family. Our consciences should be raised to consider families because the way we see God, each other and the world depends upon it. The way we reach out to others and love others depends upon it too.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Mark 10:2-16 is a Gospel of love, not of law. Jesus teaches that love and relationships are the most important things we have in this world. They are what heaven is about too. In the reality of the world we live in, relationships do break down and this is when our faith community must be at its best, helping and embracing our brothers and sisters in pain, who are hurting. We must help and not hurt those who most need us. We must set the example of good relationship at all times, by giving ourselves 100% to love, to commitment, to forgiveness.
The essence of a vocation, any vocation is to meet God and to give ourselves to what He has called each of us to do in a particular and unique way. He calls many of us to be husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. He calls some of us to be priests and some of us to be religious sisters and brothers. But no matter what it is the Lord calls us to do with our lives, He calls us to do it with fidelity, commitment and love. I ask you to pray for vocations, all vocations but perhaps today in a special way for the vocation of marriage. The world needs powerful witnesses in this way. May God bless you.