Religious Life or Married Life?
The last two columns on the sacraments invite us to reflect on the question which is greater and holier, religious life or married life? In the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, the normal practice is for priests, sisters and brothers not to marry.
Young people have to choose between the one life and the other. If, as a young Catholic, God has called you to religious life, whether as a priest, a nun or a brother, you are greatly blessed.
Religious life is a noble calling, for as a religious person you are dedicating your life to the service of God and the Church. Your heart and mind are not divided between serving God and serving the world. You are responding to the call, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Lk 10:2).
As a religious, you have the opportunity of receiving the sacraments frequently, and in particular, the opportunity to receive Holy Communion daily.
If you are called to the priesthood, you will be in the privileged position to administer the sacraments, to serve the people of God and to preach the Gospel daily, for it is through the priesthood that the good news of the Bible is principally proclaimed. You may not have a biological family of your own, but the people you pastor become your family, your children.
So much for religious life, but let us stop for a while and reflect on the benefits of married life: There is a sense in which the sacrament of holy matrimony precedes all other sacraments, for it was instituted with the creation of man and woman.
After creating Adam, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). The Bible goes on to state: “That is why a man leaves his father and his mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
This is an indication, not only of the love between a married couple, but of the indissolubility of marriage. Jesus confirmed this when he said: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt 19:6). This union between a man and a woman reflects the love of God; and, together, the two are endowed with the power of what may be called “secondary creation”, the power to participate in the perpetuation of the human race through procreation.
There is joy in bringing life into the world and in raising and educating children. There is joy in the fact of being “the domestic church”, for the family is the first school of Christian life.
It is in the family that the faith of the future priest, nun, brother or bishop is first nurtured.
Properly understood, married life is as much a vocation as religious life is a calling and a vocation. Furthermore, without the family there is no priest, no nun, no brother, no bishop and no pope!
The question that arises is which is greater and holier, religious life or family life? Which is the nobler calling? Who is more important, the one who has the power and licence to proclaim the Word, or the one who begets the one who proclaims?
This question, together with the challenges of each of these vocations, will be discussed in my next column.