By Kiki Hayden
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 4:19)
Each week, a different family from our parish takes home an icon of Jesus calling Simon and Andrew. The family prays all week for an increase of vocations in the Church. Whenever my husband and I take home the traveling vocations icon, we pray for more Catholics to accept the call to religious vocations: the priesthood, diaconate, monastic life, and marriage.
Yes, I said marriage. As a religious vocation. Equal to the priesthood. Remember, equal does not mean identical; equal means with the same dignity. I am different than each of my sisters, and we are equal. Marriage is different than the monastic life, and those vocations are equal. By recognizing marriage as a religious vocation, we can foster unity within the Church, encourage a healthy vocational discernment process, and we can all grow holier in our vocations.
Marriage is not lived separately from the other religious vocations. Most married couples are called to be parents, which is another sacred vocation. Married men can become deacons. In Eastern Catholic Churches, married men can also become priests. Monastic brothers and sisters pray for and minister to families. People who haven't made a vocational vow are free to serve wherever God calls them. And couples with children are raising the next generation of priests and monastics! Marriage fits in so beautifully among the many religious vocations within the Church.
When I was in college, I felt like marriage was the "easier" vocation if I wasn't tough enough to don a habit—or maybe monastic life was the "fallback" vocation if I couldn't find a spouse. I felt a lot of pressure to figure out if I was the "kind of person" called to religious life.
Later, I realized that marriage is also a type of religious vocation; marriages and monasteries have their own joys and sacrifices. I sighed with relief! The Lord had removed the pressure to define myself by my vocation. So I spent most of my twenties single and free to follow God's calling. He called me to several different countries and even to volunteer and live with some Franciscans, and finally to graduate school thousands of miles from my family. Even though I sometimes felt the "single blues", I tried to remember that God had a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11).
So I wasn't discerning whetherGod was calling me to a religious vocation, but rather which one. Who was God calling me to lay down my life for? I was looking for my spiritual family. And I looked everywhere. One summer, I even attended two speed-dating events: traditional speed-dating at a Comic Convention (long story), and a vocational awareness retreat where I "speed-dated" several orders of sisters. I'm not saying everyone has to go speed-dating, or even visit a convent, but wouldn't it be wise to spend time with friends and role models in several vocations to see how joyfully each can be lived?
When people of many different vocations spend time together, those who seek their vocations and those who seek to strengthen their vocations are exposed to love in so many different ways. We can all encourage and pray for each other, because we understand that every vocation is a call to sanctification, to service, and to God. Monastics remind us to carry our crosses with Christ and to minister to others. Married couples remind us to foster love in our communities and families. Those who are single remind us to put God above all else. We are all united in Christ, seeking holiness together. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)
A friend of mine recently took his solemn vows to become a Franciscan Friar. At the vows ceremony Mass, my friend spoke about how his parents taught him God's love. Because they were committed to their marriage and to God, they fostered within their family an openness to God's calling. In fact, two of their children have now entered monastic life.
So the next time we see the "vocations chalice" or "vocations icon" at our parish, let's pray for all religious vocations: priests, deacons, monastics, and married couples. Together, we are the Body of Christ.