On a beautiful spring evening some years ago, I enjoyed meeting my nephew for dinner over in the downtown area. As the evening went on, he asked me a question – actually he struggled to ask a question. He wanted to know my thoughts about commitment. Looking back on that conversation, I recall how overwhelmed this great young man felt by the very concept of making a commitment. I understood his point – I think. In younger years, having wondered seriously about making a commitment to married life, and having accepted the invitation to commit to life as a priest, I had some idea about what my nephew was asking. To make a commitment is hard, and more, it is frightening.
I’m not speaking about a commitment like taking a job or choosing a home or brand of car. I’m talking about real, life changing and ongoing commitments, like marriage, having a family, religious life and priesthood. The more we truly understand the nature and significance of this type of act, the more daunting it seems. Everyone tries to make the best choice possible, with prayer, research, consultation, etc. However, it seems to me, that the biggest commitments are ultimately decided not on a cerebral level, but rather from the “gut.” It is the inner self that informs us, draws us, and brings us to a place of peace about the big choices.
Every week I have the pleasure of meeting at great length with couples preparing for marriage. I seek to draw out of each person how it is he/she has come to this choice. More often than not, individuals cannot find the words to accurately explain their decision. That is to say, every explanation they give seems inadequate. For example, to say: “She’s my best friend” is a beautiful thing – but so not enough to describe a reason for a marriage commitment. Something more is called for.
Vocation is the word that describes – quite literally – one’s “calling”. To be a cabinet maker or a scientist, a teacher or mechanic and to really feel at peace and fulfilled in your chosen field would accurately describe a vocation. And how about marriage – is a person “called” to marriage? I believe one is called, and not only to married life but also to other life options. If this is true, who is doing the calling?
In truth, it is God who calls each of us – who has a plan for everyone, and we are fulfilled only when we hear and respond to that plan. Not long ago I heard the vocation question framed this way: God calls each person to BE in that place where the person’s deepest joy encounters the world’s greatest hunger. At so many levels and in so many ways, I believe this is how God manages our being called to the place and way in life that completes us. And the response to the call requires a commitment.
Many men and women find their vocation in married life. Marriage is a gift from God to women, men, children and society. For me, the key word in the above phrase is “gift”. No one can simply choose a life partner or religious life or priesthood on his/her own – it is a gift. And therefore living it out calls for one to live with a grateful heart and also a heart trusting that all that is needed to go forward, God will always freely give.
NB: Next weekend all married couples will be invited to restate their vows to each other as we celebrate World Marriage Day at all of our Masses.