Mario and Ana prided themselves on having a strong and affectionate marriage. Whenever they had a disagreement, they made an extra effort to talk it through without arguing. Every day, they strove to be attentive to each other’s needs and to show affection throughout the day. And they understood that they needed God’s grace to keep their love for each other strong, so they set aside time at the end of every day to pray together.
One year, as an anniversary gift to each other, they decided to attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. After fifteen years of marriage, Mario and Ana believed they knew everything there was to know about each other. They saw the weekend as an opportunity to get away from their daily grind, get some rest and spend time alone together. They were not expecting to learn anything new about each other or to discover that there were still some areas in their marriage that needed improvement.
It didn’t take long, however, for them to discover just how wrong they were. From the first talk on the weekend, they began to see flaws in the way they communicated with one another. The activities they were given opened up new areas of dialogue for them. They were both surprised by how much they were learning about each other just by talking about their feelings. As they put it, the weekend rekindled some of the excitement of their first dates when they were eager to know more about each other.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter not only improved Mario and Ana’s communication but it gave them a deeper sense of their marriage as a sacrament. When she witnessed to her parish about what the weekend meant to them, Ana said, “Before Marriage Encounter, we saw our marriage as a lifestyle choice. Now we see it as a vocation.” They now understood that they were brought together by God not only to enrich themselves personally but to serve others by showing forth to the world the love of God.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called, “Good Shepherd Sunday”, because we reflect on Jesus, the Good Shepherd. It is also known as “Vocations Sunday” because it is a time also for us to discuss the meaning of vocation in the life of Christians.
When we talk about vocations, however, we seem to think first and foremost of the call to religious life either as a consecrated woman, a deacon or priest. These certainly are important and central vocations in the life of the Church. However, they are not the only vocations.
Primarily, every Christian has a vocation because of our baptism. All of us are called to live the values of the gospel and to grow in holiness. This vocation is for all believers and is the foundation of any other vocation we may receive. Whatever our state in life may be, we have a vocation to bring Christ into the world by our works of mercy.
Besides baptism, most Christians are called to marriage. Marriage is a beautiful vocation in the life of the Church because it reflects the love of God. The Sacrament of Matrimony reminds us of the greatest commandment, to love one another. By the way they care for each other, a husband and wife are called to teach the world what love is.
This love that the husband and wife display in the Sacrament of Marriage is not primarily a romantic, emotional or affectionate love. Rather, it is the fruit of daily choices to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the other. It is a love that endures difficulty, that overcomes obstacles and that transforms hardships into joy. That is why couples vow to love and honor each other for richer and for poorer, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. It is that enduring love which more than anything shows forth the love of God who did not spare His own Son to save us.
Holy Matrimony is different from the other sacraments in one important respect. We receive the other sacraments through the Church’s ordained ministers. For instance, we receive confirmation from the bishop or are baptized by a deacon. However, in marriage, a man and a woman BECOME a sacrament. It is not a one time event that begins and ends on their wedding day. Rather it is a daily, ongoing reality that begins on their wedding day and ends only with their death. In everything they do, a man and a woman are called to show forth the love of God from the most mundane of tasks to the most heroic of sacrifices.
So, on this day when we reflect on vocations, I would like to challenge all married couples here today to grow in their understanding of their marriages as a sacrament and a vocation. The best way to begin is by praying together as a couple every day. Whether it be simply praying the Our Father together and interceding for each other or praying the rosary after dinner, it will be a way of opening your hearts to how God wants you to live as husband and wife. Ask God in your prayer time what He expects of you as a couple and for the grace to say yes to whatever love demands of you. Then your sense of your marriage as a sacrament and a vocation will certainly deepen.
And for those who are single but hope one day to be married - what are you doing today to ensure that you will be a holy and loving husband and wife in the future? Are you praying every day for the person who will one day be your spouse? Are you keeping yourself pure in mind and body so that you can one day make a total gift of yourself to another person? Are you practicing patience, forgiveness and sacrifice with your family members now so that you will be able to practice these virtues more easily with your future spouse? The choices you make today can already help determine how pleasing to God your future marriage will be.
Jesus calls each of us to follow His example of total, self-sacrificing love - the same love He displayed for us on the cross and the same love He renews each Sunday when He gives us His Body and Blood. No matter what our vocation may be, let us love one another as God has loved us. There is no better way to serve each other and the world than by loving one another. That is the call each of us has received through baptism and that the Sacrament of Matrimony reveals to us in such a beautiful way.