Question: As students, there is a great pressure put on us about education and careers. It is easy for us as students to separate school from relationships. I am looking for answers about the "real world", after graduation. More specifically, in married life, what is the order of vocations? i.e. God, spouse, jobs, children, etc.
I would also appreciate it if you could recommend any further readings, insight, or reasoning to better learn about prioritization.
Answer (by Kristine Cranley): In order to answer the question ‘how are we to act’ regarding the various obligations of our life, we must first ask the question of ‘what are we created for’. If we know the end goal of our lives, we have a better sense of how to order our actions toward that goal. Thus in his exhortation which addresses family life, (Familiaris Consortio) John Paul II begins by defining the human person. In paragraph 11 he writes:
“God created man in His own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love
God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being”
In other words, the human person is created in order to share in the divine communion of love through Jesus Christ. We are created by love for love. Through the total self gift of Christ on the Cross we receive the grace to become sons and daughters of God in baptism, and thus sharers in divine life. However in order to fully participate in this divine communion of love, we must respond to His grace by giving ourselves back to God in total self abandonment to Him. The more we surrender ourselves to Him, the more we are purified of selfishness and become vessels of His love to the world. It is for this reason that John Paul II so often quoted the famous passage in Gaudium et Spes 24 “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself”.
Thus our first priority in ordering our lives as Christians is always to give ourselves over to God and to obey His leading in all things. It is for this reason that whenever anyone would attended a silent retreat with St. Ignatius in search of God’s will for their life, the saint tailored all their prayer meditations to lead up to the praying of the Suscipe prayer at the end of the retreat:
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
Living the ‘vocation to love’ according to one’s state in life
This “fundamental vocation to love” is going to be fulfilled differently in every individual human life, according to the plan of God for each of us. Generally speaking however, the ‘finding of ourselves through a sincere gift of self’ will for most of us take the form of an irrevocable vow or promise spoken on the day of our wedding or our consecration to the Lord’s service. Continuing his thoughts quoted above, John Paul II writes:
“Christian revelation recognized two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being “created in the image of God.”(FC 11)
Through marriage or consecrated celibacy, a person gathers up the whole of one’s life, past present and future, and gives it to God in a specific state in life. From that day forward every activity in one’s life will be a fulfilling of (or in the case of sin, a denial of) the sincere self-gift offered to God. One’s professional life at work must therefore be imbued with the spirit of fidelity to the vows one has made to God. One is no longer one’s own. Professional work is placed at the service of the total self gift of love to God and one’s family. In this way work is made into love, and as such into liturgy – the worship of God and offering of ourselves to Him.
What does Love Require?
If it is true that the fundamental vocation of every human being is to love, then questions regarding professional life must be answered in light of the essential question “what does love require”. This is a question which ultimately can only be answered in dialogue with God and in consideration of those you have vowed your life to serve.
The Sisters of Life, a religious community in
New York City,
make a 4th vow to “protect and
enhance the sacredness of every human life”. They often receive requests for their service
in various aspects of Church life. Each
request must be discerned in light of the vows they have made. Would
this request help further their mission to protect vulnerable human life or
distract from it? Are they already so
overworked that granting it would erode their time for intimate personal
communion with Jesus in prayer, through which they draw their strength to
remain faithful to their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience?
In married life it is necessary that a family earn the means to feed and care for their children. Catholic Social teaching speaks of the importance of employers providing a family wage in which breadwinners are able to receive adequate compensation which enables them to support their spouse and children. The loss of this practice within society forces many families in our day to have two wage earners, making it difficult if not impossible for a parent to refrain from professional work in order to be home with their children.
This is not to deny that women, including mothers of families, can be actively called by God into the professional work force. All have different gifts which God has given for the purpose of building up His kingdom here on earth. I know a woman doctor who believes God has called her to serve Him in the hospital, despite the fact that she has young children and a husband who himself had a good income. She has been a great force in helping her hospital retain its Catholic roots, and patients that are in critical condition are frequently healed under her care in what seems to many to be an almost miraculous rate. I believe she truly has been anointed by God for this work in the world. Even so, she admits that she must daily ask the Lord to guide her as she discerns how much time to spend at work and how much time to reserve to family life.
The words of St. Edith Stein speak poignantly to women (and men) in my friend’s situation:
“Many of the best women are almost overwhelmed by the double burden of family duties and professional life – or often simply of only gainful employment. … Where are they to get the needed inner peace and cheerfulness in order to offer stability, support and guidance to others? … To have divine love as its inner form, a woman’s life must be a Eucharistic life. … Whoever seeks to consult with the Eucharistic God in all her concerns, whoever lets herself be purified by the sanctifying power coming from the sacrifice at the altar, offering herself to the Lord in this sacrifice, whoever receives the Lord in her soul’s innermost depth in Holy Communion cannot but be drawn ever more deeply and powerfully into the flow of divine life, incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, her heart converted to the likeness of the divine heart” (Woman p. 54, 56)
Those of us, still waiting upon the Lord to reveal what form of life He desires our self-offering to Him to take, have a greater availability for professional work or missionary activity. Perhaps He may ask us to dedicate the whole of our lives to such service. However if this work is to help us fulfill our ‘vocation to love’ then it must be embraced as a means of loving God and those He brings in our paths.
Edith Stein writes “Whoever regards his work as a mere source of income or as a pastime will perform it differently from the person who feels that his profession is an authentic vocation.” (Woman p. 44)
Professional work can be made into self offering to God when it is embraced in the spirit of mission. In an exhortation no less binding for men, St. Edith Stein reminds her feminine listeners, “Whether she is a mother in the home, or occupies a place in the limelight of public life, or lives behind quiet cloister walls, she must be a handmaid of the Lord everywhere.” (Woman p. 54)
Do whatever He tells you (Jn 2:5)
In conclusion, although the above mentioned principles can assist us as we discern how to prioritize our obligations in life, ultimately the answers are going to come from dialogue with the Lord in prayer. Has he ‘anointed’ me to work in the world or to stay at home with my family? In what way can I best fulfill my vows to Him in my state in life? Is my work so consuming that it is interfering with the fulfillment of the vows I have made to my spouse and to God? What does love require of me in this situation? If we are taking our questions to Jesus in the intimacy of prayer and choosing to respond as we believe He is leading us we can trust that He will cover over our mistakes and weaknesses and work all our efforts for His glory and the good of those we love. In this approach we have no better guide than Our Lady, patroness of both married and consecrated life, in her advice to the servants at
whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).