Monday, December 17, 2012

Marriage as a Vocation

By Kristen M. Soley
What is the vocation of marriage?
The word “vocation” has its roots in the Latin word vocare, which means “to call”. Thus, a vocation is a calling. The Second Vatican Council clearly stated that we all have a call to holiness. But within that universal call to holiness, there are different vocations, hand-picked by God, for us.  Our vocation is our path to holiness, to sainthood if you will.  It is our path to knowing, loving, and serving God, by growing in the Cardinal virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Thus, a vocation is a personal call. It is offered freely and must be accepted freely. Attraction to a certain way of life or to a specific person can be a good sign of being called. Most often a person comes to recognize and accept a vocation gradually. This process, sometimes called discernment, is an opportunity for growth. It can be helped by prayer and guidance from trusted mentors, friends and family. 1

However, what begins as attraction must deepen into conviction and commitment. Those who are called to the married life should be ready to learn what their vocation means and to acquire the virtues and skills needed for a happy and holy marriage. 1

The vocation to marriage is a call to a life of holiness and service within the couple’s own relationship and in their family. As a particular way of following the Lord, this vocation also challenges a couple to live their marriage in a way that expresses God’s truth and love in the world. 1

To some extent, every priest and nun, even the Pope, is called to marriage, insofar as they are human beings. Theologically, this can best be understood in what Blessed John Paul II called the “spousal meaning of the body.” This means that the ensouled body, the person, is meant for the gift of self, particularly in marriage. Marriage is something to which every human person is called; it is the “default” vocation for all humans. So marriage, at its most basic level, is a natural vocation, a call written into our very DNA, into the very structure of our being. The married person is called to give himself totally to one person in love, while the celibate is called to give himself to all. 3
The Vocation of Marriage, Once Upon a Time…
I had never ruled out the vocation of consecrated life, but I felt God had called me to the vocation of marriage, even when I was young.  I had dated in my Sr. High and college years, but had discerned that none of the suitors were the man that God had in mind for me, as my husband.   They just did not make me a better person, in fact, I was sadder in a relationship with these people that I was alone.   I understood that a marriage is a union of two people that not only love each other, but lift each other up, and make each other a better person. 
After college, I began working at a reinsurance brokerage firm in the contracts department, which relied heavily on the Information Technology (computers) arm of the business.  
At our first “reports” meeting with the IT consultants, I was introduced to my future husband, Nate.  He was very kind, handsome, helpful, and even funny.  As time went on, I had the opportunity to work more one-on-one with him and in the meantime, had taken on some part-time work of my own, building a small computer application for a friend.   Nate was very kind to me.  I knew he had at least one other part-time contract he had taken on and was burning the candle at both ends with work (working 50+hours per week).  When I explained that I was struggling a bit with the application that I was writing, he volunteered to help me.  I almost fell over…  why would he want to help me, he is so busy?
When we “knew”
Within the same week, Nate was near my work space, talking with a work colleague of mine and I looked at him, not joking, standing near a window, the sun was shining through and all I could see was his silhouette.  Well, his silhouette was that of my step-Father’s… my late step-father. 
Now my Step-Father was a man who came into my life, at a time when I really needed Him (God has a way of doing that).  I was a Junior in High-school and in need of a man in my life, to love me, unconditionally.  Yes he loved my Mom, but he just accepted me for who I was and simply loved me.  He encouraged me, lifted me up, and made me a better person; he believed in me, and made sure that I knew it. 
It was at that moment, I knew… I knew that Nate was the man God had chosen for me… the moment was bigger than me and I just sat there and took it all in.  From that point forward, I never looked back. 
Well, God being, God… coincidentally, Nate, in the mean time had taken a liking to me.  He thought I was cute and nice, and enjoyed working with me.  He even told one his friends that he’d like to date a girl like me.
We were together at a big release party (an outing with co-workers, where we celebrated a year’s worth of planning and hard work as a team, to design, build, and deploy an internationally accessed, computer application for the company we were working).   I, not very subtly, let him know that I was interested in seeing him outside of work, and he reciprocated.  We went on several dates, and I just could not get over how kind he was.  I had never felt more comfortable and at ease, just being myself, than I had with him. 
When Two Became One, and the Love Multiplied
Short story long, about a year later, on Mission Beach in San Diego (visiting CA for a Packers/Chargers game), he went down on bended knee and asked me to be his wife.  Overjoyed, I said “Yes!”  Six months later, at The University of St. Catherine, on March 4th, 2000 (late winter), on an unseasonably warm 70 degree day, the priest said “If weather is any indication, God is already smiling on this union.”
In our wedding video at the wedding reception, we had a picture of Nate and I with 3 of our nieces and nephews; I was holding one, Nate was holding one, and we were holding the hands of the third, the caption said “Our future?”
We had no idea, what our future was going to look like together, but neither of us worried and we had such hope; again, God is so good.
God blessed us after our first anniversary of marriage with the promise of our first son, and has continued to show His generosity about every 18 months thereafter, to the tune of almost 7 children. 
Our Marriage, as a Vocation
What we have shared in our marriage, as a vocation, has made us a better, happier, and holier couple.   Here are some of the things we have shared, and why we thank God for having been lead to this beautiful vocation:

-          Marriage represents a Trinitarian relationship; imagine a triangle with God on top, and Nate and I completing the triangle.  Without God on top, it does not work…
-          When God is first in our marriage, everything works and peace permeates our home. 
-          God loves us unconditionally, and through our marriage we become channels of God’s love to each other
-          We are also channels of His love to our children
-          Marriage is about spending your life with your best friend
-          We love each other unconditionally and do so in spite of our imperfections (nobody is perfect)
-          We celebrate each other’s strengths and do not dwell on our weaknesses
-          With God’s grace, we are growing in holiness and trying to overcome our faults
-          We enjoy making sacrifices for each other; sacrifices borne of love…
-          We respect each other, a mutual give and take and no order barking submission
-          We love each other enough to not always have to be neither right nor first, we have actually disagreed because we were trying to out-sacrifice the other…  “no you have the last piece of cake, no you choose the show to watch”, etc.

A Solid, Loving Marriage is the Bedrock of Family Life

Nate and I each play a distinct role in our marriage. Nate is the head of our household, and I am the heart of our home.

My confessor put it perfectly. Each of us brings such different, but complimentary gifts to our home. I am to respect and honor Nate’s judgment in matters of the head. He, in turn, should respect and honor my judgment in matters of the heart. God works through Nate as a channel of grace, and I, in turn, am a channel of grace for him.

The Holy Spirit works powerfully through Nate, lovingly guiding me, through him. Nate never ceases to amaze me. The Holy Spirit guides me beautifully through the wisdom he has given Nate.
I am called to honor and obey Nate as head of our home; true, but who am I really obeying?
Romans 13:1
“Every [a]person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

God is the true head, and he has placed my husband, here on earth, as His representative for my home.

Ephesians 5:21-33 sums up perfectly this call, my vocation:

“…and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her… So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself”
This is not always easy to understand and can sound a little too humbling; we, nevertheless, need to take God’s word for it, assuming we call Him God for a good reason.

What do you think / Please share:
My husband and I decided to see what our children thought:
1.        A word to describe marriage
2.       A word to describe Mom & Dad’s marriage
Andrew (11):
1.        Man  & Woman
2.       Love each other
William (9):
1.        Man and Woman
2.       Love each other very much
Elizabeth (Libby) (7):

1.        When people are a couple and have babies together
2.       Like kissing and hugging
Charlie (6):
1.        Married People
2.       Having Babies
Thomas  George (3):

1.       Christ
2.       Alive and Happy

Patrick (2):
1.       “Daddy”
2.       “Daddy!”
Please share with me your thoughts on marriage.  Use your own words to describe the vocation of marriage?

What the Church Teaches
CCC 1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: "And God blessed them, and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'"
The sacrament of Holy Matrimony is the only sacrament that is administered by the couple rather than the priest. Holy Matrimony is a covenant between a man and a woman whereby they give their free consent to enter a covenantal partnership that is permanent. The marriage, "by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring."(CCC1601) and finally, CCC 2378 – “the supreme gift of marriage is a human person”
Your Vocation or Call

Do any of you have plans for your future?  Do you think you are being called to a particular vocation (marriage, consecrated life, single)? 
God has a plan for each of you and the only way you can possibly know what His plan is, is by talking with Him.  Well, my husband and I are fairly confident that we are living the vocation we have been called to, as here we are, married with 6, almost 7 children.  God has shown His blessing on our choice to cooperate with Him, in our vocation.    The Catechism teaches in 2378 – “the supreme gift of marriage is a human person.”
What we try to teach our children, is the same thing… God has a plan for each of them, just like Mom and Dad.  We pray to God, as a family, every morning “teach us the wisdom to best discern Your will for us in our lives…” and at the end of our prayers, we, along with our children, pray for their future spouse, if they are called to the vocation of marriage.  It is NEVER, EVER, to early to begin the discourse with God about your vocation, and if, by chance you are called to marriage, the sooner you can begin to pray for your future spouse the better…  even if it turns out that you are not called to marriage, God wastes nothing and your prayers will be used for His Divine Purpose elsewhere. 
Regardless of the vocation to which you are called, the intent is to reflect and magnify God’s love within that vocation. 

As Christians, understanding that God has a plan for each of us… a perfect plan; the need for worry is eliminated.  You don’t need to worry today for what God has planned for you tomorrow and you needn’t bother trying to force a vocation.  The best thing you can do today is pray.  Pray for God to open your heart and mind to His Divine Will for you in your life.   Again, His plan is perfect for you and following His will, brings the promise of peace, joy, and success beyond your comprehension. 

Thank you.

2.     Catechism of the Catholic Church
3.  My

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Judging Others - The Cool Red Car

Matthew 7:1 says " Do not judge so that you will not be judged." I believe, a major part of our human condition, is that we are prone to judging others and to thwart this tendency, we must, with God's grace, pray and work hard to overcome this fault.

I learned from a dear friend, and atheist, that we simply cannot judge without looking at things from all sides. 

My husband and I spent a good number of nights with this friend, trying with all our might to convert him. One night, we were listening to some really cool, contemporary Christian music and called his attention to how great this music is.  "Just listen to the words!"  We prodded him to answer us as to how he could not possibly, simply, love this great music!?

His explanation helped me in so many ways, when it comes to understanding others, and in turn, understanding how we are understood.  He said:
"To me, this song is no different than a song about a cool red car.  In fact, all these songs are about the same red car.  I love my red car, it's the best red car, my red car has saved me, I worship my red car, etc.." 
Never, had such an idea occured to me.  I simply never thought of it that way.  Just because I believe Jesus is God, the Savior and Redeemer, and I adore and worship Him, does not mean that eveybody else can understand what that means.  To others, like my friend, Jesus may simply be another cool red car! 

I took it a step further and tried to imagine if I saw a group of people, in a building, kneeling, standing, singing to, and worshiping this same red car.  I'd probably think they were a little crazy, especially if I had no interest in red cars.  I might even become repulsed.  That is what I look like at Church, to somebody who does not believe that Jesus is Lord.

Just as I cannot expect somebody to drop their disbelief in Jesus and become a devout Christian, they absolutely could not ask me to renounce my ways and begin to worship the cool red car. 

We all have people in our lives, whom we love dearly, struggling with their faith.  God has placed them on our paths for a reason, and we are called to love them, or should I say, let Him love them through us.   Our place is not to judge them, as I hopefully have demonstrated with my friend's perspective, as we likely just don't see things in the same light. 

Whether we agree or not, we are all God's children.  I pray we can all take this bit of wisdom and see how it applies to our lives.  Don't judge, love.  We can do nothing without Him, we need only have faith, pray, and leave the rest up to Him.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent in Our Home - Traditions with a small "t"

Oh, another Liturgical year has come to a close, and we now anticipate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ through a period of preparation; Advent. Advent is such a magical time in our home, rich in tradition, chock-full of joy and jubilation. It has become even more magical for us over the years. My husband and I have continued with the traditions of our youth and have, very gradually, added some new ones. Many of the new traditions we have added help us truly focus on the reason for the season and prepare our hearts, as a family. It is a period of prayer, scripture, work, sacrifice, giving, anticipation, and preparation. In all of it, there is joy, a joy that can only come with the promise of Christmas. Our hope is, with God’s grace, to help our children grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and love, which are core in our Christian faith; and, liturgically speaking, it begins with Advent. It is our hope, that with these traditions, Jesus will find a proper dwelling place within each of our hearts.

The home I was raised in displayed the Nativity scene. We always had an Advent calendar to help us help us count down the days remaining until Christ’s birth (at the time, for me, it was all about the chocolate hidden behind each door). The Christmas tree was lit; house decked-out; and music of the season joyfully filling the air (and had been since the first snow fall, I remember Bing Crosby most). My family tradition was rich in joy and I loved every bit of it. My husband’s childhood home looked similar to mine and thus, when we began a life together, we brought these traditions into our own home, where we would share these magical and joy-filled memories for our children to carry with them, into whatever vocation God calls them.

Thus, in keeping with the tradition of our youth, shortly after Thanksgiving, the tree went up and the house was ready for dear old St. Nick to bless us with his generosity. The evergreen-scented candles were lit, garland and tree decorated and illuminated, stockings hung, nativity scene set, and the joyful and festive Christmas music of Crosby, Sinatra, Ives, and Dino played without ceasing.

It never occurred to me that there was any other way of preparing for and celebrating Christmas. I have since learned that many people prepare for the coming of Christ in different ways. Each of my friends has a slightly different tradition (tradition with a small ‘t’ as one of my friends so articulately put it) and they are all beautiful, rich, joy-filled, and loving traditions, which help them to celebrate and prepare, in a way that brings back the magic of their youth, as well as creating and embracing new family traditions; all with Christ as the center and reason for their hope.

Over the last three years, I have also learned, that some of my family traditions appear quite different, and even in line with the secular celebration, from the outside. I have been blessed with some friends whose families’ traditions look nothing like mine. Some wait to put up their tree until the 2nd or 3rd week in advent, some wait until Christmas to even turn on a light in celebration of the season. Their homes look completely different than mine during Advent. Some of this learning, for me, was difficult, as a couple of friends lovingly reproved me for my tradition and called out my family’s preparation in front of others as different and not to expect that sort of thing in their home. At first, I really took this hard (a pride thing)…

I began to wonder… is my tradition, wrong? I really began to feel insecure and questioned myself and the 41 years of tradition that had historically made my season so bright.

In keeping with my unending search for truth, I added this to the list of “must learns”. I needed to learn what the Catholic Church teaches. If my family tradition is contrary to Church teaching, out of obedience and love, we would need to prayerfully move toward what the Church teaches. And so the research began.

What I have found, is that the Church herself is rich in tradition, but does not draw any definitive line on this subject. Everywhere I look, I can find something to support all of the traditions I have grown up with as well as the other beautiful traditions my friends enjoy in their homes.

As a dear friend pointed out to me, when I asked my Mother’s group about these things, “things like Jesse trees or Advent wreaths or even Christmas trees are a matter of culture and (small "t") traditions. None of those things are liturgical, therefore there is nothing wrong with the Holy Father lighting up the largest Christmas tree in the world on Dec. 7 last year in Italy.” In 2011, the tree in St. Peter's Square was up and lit by December 16th.

Our Holy Father, “Pope Benedict said these seasonal traditions are a ‘part our communities' spiritual heritage … which we must seek to conserve, even in modern societies where consumerism and the search for material goods sometimes seem to prevail.’” (Catholic News Agency)

I asked my spiritual director about this as well, and his response resonated with that of the Holy Father. He also said, “continue to pray and follow God’s lead. He will guide you and encourage you to celebrate in a way that most glorifies Him.” He also said, “for the sake of the children, continue to embrace the magic of the season.”

I have prayed and read, discussed with my husband and friends, and after all of this have found consolation in embracing the new without losing the magic of the old. Though, our Advent has become far more Christ centered than in the early years of our marriage and family, from the outside, it does not look much different from many of yours.

Our tree now goes up the 1st Sunday in Advent, lit and decorated, only with far more purple than before, the liturgical color for Advent. The garland is lit throughout the house. We have a few different Nativity scenes on display. The only difference, is the wise men are not even close to the manger yet; the children will move them closer to the manger as each week passes, until the celebration of Epiphany (when the wise men find the Baby Jesus).

We place an Advent wreath with candles in the center of the family dining table. The children make the candles from Emmanuel Books made with sheets of bees wax, rolled around a candle wic.  We dim the lights at the dinner table and as a new candle is lit, each Sunday in Advent, the light becomes brighter in anticipation of the true Light to come into the world on Christmas. We follow this tradition as well as others, that I found in the book Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in the Domestic Church, by the Fournier Family (see below).

We have also added the Jesse Tree, which enables us to track Jesus’ lineage throughout Advent, beginning with creation (Genesis 1:24 – 28) all the way through the Nativity (John 1:1-18). It is Jesus’ family tree. We read the scripture passage for each hand-colored ornament and the children stick their ornament on the hand-drawn Jesse tree we place on the wall (nothing fancy, but it works).

We all learn a new prayer each Advent, it typically is one that the children are to learn for their family-formation class at Church.

On the feast of St Nicholas, we have a fancy breakfast with candles, china, and bright table cloth.  The children enjoy the goodies that St. Nick left in their shoes from the night before (typically chocolate coins and clementines.)

We celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, typically with read alouds, the CCC movie on Juan Diego and Our Lady of  Guadalupe.  Sometimes we play pin the tail on Juan's donkey and would like to (at some point) add a pinata.

We make one family sacrifice, that will continue to keep our hearts and minds focused on Jesus; this year we are abstaining from sweets with the exception of feast days, solemnities and other family celebrations (birthdays, Home School gatherings, etc.)

This year, we are reading a book each day, including the Tomi DePaola books I found in a unit study. I found a neat blog that recommended wrapping each book in purple paper (the liturgical color for Advent) and one child may open a book each day, and that is the book I will read aloud to them. Some of them are marked based on feast days and solemnities that fall during Advent (i.e. Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Feast of The Immaculate Conception and the Feast of St. Nicholas) so we read them on the correct day. I also read a chapter each day from Bartholomew’s Passage.

We also have a re-usable Advent Calendar. Each day, there is a mini-book-ornament that we read aloud at breakfast and then one child hangs this on a mini tree in the kitchen.

We also start the O'Antiphons on the 17th of December and they are the children's copy work for school.

We all sing O Come Emmanuel each morning at breakfast before the daily Jesse Tree and Advent Calendar readings.

Advent Plan Resources

- As a family we learn a new prayer over Advent and Lent (Advent we plan to learn the Anima Christi in English, then in Latin for Lent.)

- We love the Holy Heroes Advent Adventure

- As a family reduce the level of sarcasm in our home (following the Gospels "let you no mean no and your yes mean yes... anything else is from the evil one.")...

- The Advent Unit Study on - Advent Unit Study

 Read Jotham's Journey or one of the other books from this series.  The children love these books.  There is a chapter for each day in Advent,  and the children beg me to continue to read beyond the day's chapter, every day. 

The Advent wreath (the children make the candles from Emmanuel Books) and we use 4 crystal/glass taper candle holders in the middle of a 12" holiday wreath.

The Jesse Tree...  we read the scripture daily and each child colors an ornament-sized picture for the day and pastes it to the HUGE tree that I draw and we all color.  It hangs on the wall in the kitchen... (I use theAdvent, Christmas, Epiphany in the Domestic Church book by the Fournier family" for the ornaments and readings.

The Advent Calendar - we read this daily at breakfast and then on child hangs this on a mini tree in the kitchen. 

- Starting 12/17 The O'Antiphons are the children's copy work.

Here is a link to the feast days and solemnities for 2012 - with some recommended books for the season as well.

In an nutshell.  Christ is the center of our Advent and it is an eclectic mix of old and new tradition.  The tree is up and the house is ready for dear old St. Nick to bless us with his generosity. The evergreen-scented candles were lit, garland and tree decorated and illuminated, stockings hung, nativity scene set, and the joyful and festive Christmas music of Crosby, Sinatra, Ives, and Dino played without ceasing.