by Father Luke Dundon, CHC, USN
“Not everyone is called to marriage. But every life is meant to be fertile. Every life has the power and the need to nurture new life – if not through bearing and raising children, then through other vital forms of self-giving, building, and service. The Church is an extended family of different vocations, each distinct but each needing and supporting the others. Priesthood, religious life, and the celibate lay vocation enrich, and are enriched by, the witness of the married state. The different ways of being chaste and celibate outside of marriage are ways of donating one’s life to God’s service and the human community.” (Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, Chapter 6)
The upcoming Synod on Marriage and Family is, at first glance, an ironic occurrence. For indeed, those leaders who are in charge of orchestrating the meeting, are (for the most part) people who have offered their lives to the Lord as celibates, clerics, and religious. They have offered to the Lord any possibility of having a natural family, no spouse nor children. And yet they are the same ones who gather to discuss the sanctity of married life and family life.
What a beautiful testimony this is! For indeed, it shows true fruitfulness of family life. Parents who love each other deeply then walk with each other in their desire to grow in holiness. Children who grow up in this tender environment are then nurtured by God’s love. From the witness of family life, young people are inspired not only to imitate such intimate love with a human spouse, but some are even inspired to answer a supernatural invitation as religious, as priests, as single people who consecrate themselves to the Lord and His Church. The hierarchical leaders of this year’s Synod are such products of family life. We have their parents and siblings to thank for who they are and what they are doing for the Church this coming fall.
But the calling itself, this calling to celibate life, as either a diocesan priest, consecrated or religious, is a mysterious one to many. How is it to be appreciated in this great age of the New Evangelization, and how are we to more deeply appreciate it in the context of current discussions on Marriage and Family? Great help is given in the Second Vatican Council Decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis, which discusses the beauty of the priestly vocation. In the section which discusses the functions of the priestly office, the opening words are: “The People of God are joined together by the word of the living God” (Chapter 2, Section 1, Paragraph 4). In the midst of the many functions which priests perform, they are given a special invitation to fall in love with God’s Word to such a degree that they cannot help but proclaim it with joy to all peoples, and to all families. Preaching God’s Word therefore becomes a power shared by the priesthood of all the baptized faithful, both those in the laity and those in the ministerial priesthood. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini emphasizes the importance of being fascinated by God’s holy Word through Lectio Divina, that is, meditative reading of the Bible. Through a love of God’s Word, we will all be given the graces and abilities we need to share the word of God’s love for others, the Kerygma which has changed everyone’s lives beyond all imagining!
So how can priestly and religious vocations be supported and encouraged within the context of family life? The Holy Spirit in this age seems to be re-directing us back to God’s holy Word, begun not in a classroom or meeting room or even a Church, but in the living room at home. If children see Mother and Father truly interested and invested in His Word, then they as well will want to discover the treasures found in Scripture. They themselves will be drawn to behold the Word made Flesh in Eucharistic Adoration. They themselves will want to hear the Word of God absolve all their sins, confirm them in the Holy Spirit, and perhaps one day, consecrate them to the religious life of the Church or the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. So many beautiful things will happen in this age of the New Evangelization, when we in our family life take just a few minutes each day, to behold His awesome, transforming, life-changing Word!