Growing up in a Catholic home-school family, I often read stories about the saints—stories of great men and women dedicating their lives to God in extraordinary ways. They would leave behind all their possessions to the poor, fast for long periods of time, practice acts of self-denial, and spend hours each day in meditation and prayer. They chose to consecrate themselves as perpetual virgins for the Lord, and truly answered the call to leave behind everything to follow Him.
I too wanted to be a saint. And I recognized that this extreme asceticism was not everyone’s calling, and that some of the saints were even advised by their superiors to stop certain extreme practices. I knew that there was more than one way to sainthood, that each of us is called to a different vocation. But at the same time, as I grew older and started discerning my own vocation, I started to wonder: Where were all the stories about married saints? Was marriage not an equally holy vocation?
Although there are a few stories of holy married couples if you look for them, I didn’t see these much when I was young, and this emphasis on asceticism and religious life in the lives of the saints made me feel like this was the “better” way for those who were truly dedicated to God (although I didn’t realize this assumption consciously until years later).
Thus, as I started praying about my vocation, I had a desire for marriage early on and yet felt a pressure that maybe I should be a religious sister, that maybe God’s calling for me was different from my desires. I was so impatient and tortured myself desperately trying to discern what God wanted me to do with my life; and I was terrified that He would call me to religious life. Eventually, one day, I told God: “Alright. If you want me to enter religious life, I’ll do it. Just give me a sign.”
I opened up my Bible, and it opened to a little insert about the beauty and holiness of both religious life and the sacrament of marriage! I was blown away. Of course that wasn’t a direct sign about which vocation He was calling me to, but it was God telling me, “It’s okay, they are both beautiful vocations and I will let you know when it’s time.”
After this, I continued to have a strong desire in my heart for marriage, and a couple years later, I had another experience that made me feel even more that this is my vocation. During a retreat as we began evening prayer one night, we all sat in silence for a moment. At the time I wasn’t even thinking about my vocation, but all of a sudden, as I closed my eyes, I got this vivid image: a woman in a white dress and veil. This deep joy came into my heart and I just had the sense that the woman was me.
I still keep an open mind about my vocation, just in case God shows me some stronger sign or plants a new desire for religious life in my heart, but after that experience it seems to me that all signs (so to speak) were pointing towards marriage. And I was overjoyed!
Throughout high school and college, I watched pretty much any video I could find and went to just about every ministry talk on relationships, dating, and vocations. (If only I could get a date, I thought.) But regardless of my lack of dating experience, I learned so much about the beauty of marriage, and I fell in love with Theology of the Body.
I learned how the purpose of marriage is to lead one another to Christ, how it is a symbol of God’s love for us. I learned how the Church is the Bride of Christ, and how just as Christ loves the Church, so husbands should love their wives, and wives follow their husbands as the Church follows Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33). I learned how the union of marriage is a symbol of our union with God, offering oneself to one another as Christ offers Himself in the Eucharist (a union fulfilled in Heaven)! I learned how the love between husband and wife reflects the love between the Father and the Son, a love so powerful that it creates another person (the Holy Spirit)! How beautiful and holy is this Sacrament of Marriage!
If you’re discerning your vocation and aren’t sure what God is calling you to, don’t worry. I know it can be frustrating to hear, but God will reveal it to you in time (whether through signs or desires He has planted in your heart). Just seek to be holy and fall in love with God in whatever stage of life you’re in, and know that both religious life and marriage are equally beautiful vocations. We as a Church desperately need both holy religious and holy married couples. Especially in our modern world that is so lost and confused about our sexuality, the dignity of our bodies, and the meaning of marriage, we desperately need holy marriages to witness to the truth and beauty of the Sacrament that God created.
So: Where are all the married saints? Let’s become them.
May God bless you and keep you!