Our Lord Jesus Christ presents us with a series of extremely challenging teachings. Last week, we heard St. Mark recount how the Lord declared marriage to be an institution established by God from the beginning of time as a union between a male and a female-a union which cannot be set asunder by any power on earth. We heard how his disciples were so shocked by the strength of his teaching that they asked him about it privately, only to have him repeat the same message it different words. Stunned by his response, St. Matthew recounts how the disciples exclaimed: “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
Today’s teaching is no easier. In response to a question regarding what is necessary to inherit eternal life, Christ states that it is necessary to follow the commandments. However, the questioner desired an even more perfect following of God’s will in his life. Therefore, Jesus responded: “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” He does not say sell some of your items, or your excess, or those things you don’t really use. He says, “sell what you have.” That means everything. Then, once having sold everything, his instruction is to give it all to the poor and follow him without any worldly attachments. Can you imagine doing that; can you imagine having nothing at all in this world and living only for Christ?
What we have presented before us last Sunday and today are two very challenging ways of life. One is married life; the other is religious life-the life of a monk or a nun. What they have in common is that they are both vocations. They are both ways of life to which God calls a man or woman. And I propose that the only way one can live the ideal of these challenging teachings from Christ our Lord is by understanding them to be precisely that, vocations.
Practically speaking, what does it mean to understand and approach these two realities as vocations? First, it means realizing that we can no longer decide to get married or to become a religious brother or sister simply because we want to (or don’t want to, as the case may be). Second, it means that we actually have to take the time to discern the voice and guidance of God in our lives. How do we do that? 1) Approach the question with a radical openness-not what I want, but whatever God wants for me. 2) Pray, pray, and pray-talk to God every day asking for guidance, signs, and true self-knowledge. 3) Read the scriptures, especially the NT and see how the different manifestations of Christian life resonate with you. 4) Ask the advice and thoughts of those already living these vocations as gifts from God.
For parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, you can help the next generation approach the vocations of marriage or religious life with the eyes of discernment. Talk to them and remind them that they were created by God and that He has a plan for their lives-a plan of joy. Encourage them to seek Him out so that He might reveal this plan to them.
Finally, for those of us who are already in the midst of our vocations, let us take every opportunity to give thanks to God with grateful hearts, both in our delights and in our sorrows, knowing that it is in the midst of our individual callings that He is accomplishing the work of salvation in each of us.