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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Vocation: Marriage and family

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          These readings may not seem at first to be very illustrative for the vocation of marriage.  At first glance, we only see the mention of Simon’s mother-in-law, which means he must have been married.  Now instead of any of the hundreds of possible bad jokes that could be said on that point, it is better to simply focus on another: the first reading is actually an even worse text (on the surface) for speaking about marriage: “life is a drudgery; things are miserable, and I’ll never see happiness again.”  Okay that has nothing to do with marriage, and in fact it is a good point to remember, one that was often stressed in seminary: no vocation is ever going to “fix you” and magically make life into rainbows and cotton candy.  The person you are before you are ordained (or married, or consecrated) is the same person you are after.  Life is difficult, but that is one thing that allows it to be so beautiful.
          In marriage we see a parallel to God. This comes straight from the word of God, where in the book of Genesis, man and woman are created in God’s image and likeness to be a gift of love to each other and thus to bear fruit beyond themselves - to be for each other and thus to be for others beyond themselves.  In marriage we see an exalted, even in many ways the most exalted, form of what human relationships are supposed to be like. 
          Marriage is meant to be more than just the two.  If it’s orientation is turned inward, then it already fails at its exalted vocation to be a sign of God’s love in the world.  In some ways children starts that outward focus, which is perhaps the biggest reason I would encourage married couples to not put off parenting out of financial fears or any other kind sense of unreadiness. You’ll never be fully ready and you risk your marriage turning sour with self-focus.
          I just heard a story from an engaged couple that I think illustrates this very well. They had planned a mini-vacation to travel south and see the man’s grandfather so they could announce to him in person that they were engaged. However, when they arrived it was clear that grandpa was in very poor health and needed some serious care. So they naturally got busy with everything they could to help get him on the mend and prepared meals for after they had left. Despite losing some relaxing days of vacation and filling them with all this needed work, they found the experience very uplifting and beneficial for their relationship. They got closer doing these things together for another, especially someone so important to them.  
          I told them this seems to be a perfect example of how we were created to live for others, and that is true even for marriage. 
          In a real sense, marriage is not so much “us vs. the world” as it is “us toward the world”!
          We really can see this truth about marriage in today’s Gospel: symbolically, marriage is the safe haven to which the world comes for what the world cannot get anywhere else.  The house of Simon, because Jesus dwells there, is turned into a house of healing.  So too marriages are meant to be turned outward, toward the world, so that the good preserved within their marital love is ultimately poured upon others.
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”  Saint Paul’s words today are meant not just for apostles, or missionaries, or priests, but for married couples as well.  “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” – if our marriage is focused only on ourselves.

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