“I am discerning between getting married or being a religious” is a phrase I often hear from men I talk to. In the end, these are not as different as they seem! Theologically, we speak of marriage as both unitive and creative. Let’s look at each of these:
In marriage, the two give of self to the other in a faithful, and loving, relationship. “The two become one” (Gn 2:24, Mk 10:6-9, Mt 19:5) as they give of themselves completely to the other; body, soul and spirit. This is to fulfill the human design, we are made for love, we are made to be in relationship. However, scripture also tells us, that this is the way God, especially in Jesus, relates to us (Eph 5:25-32)! We are all called to be first in a loving and faithful relationship to Jesus. Giving ourselves totally; body, soul and spirit to him, as He completely gave Himself to us. This is our first and most important “marriage”. I believe most humans come to this deep relationship with Jesus, only after many years of struggle, and often our marriages teach us to love and to be loved, thus allowing us to have a more loving relationship with God. But in the end, our spouses will all pass away. The only relationship that will save us, and last forever, is our marriage with Jesus. Human marriage is a shadow of our true heavenly marriage. Some people have been given the gift of a relationship with Jesus that will sustain them outside of human marriage. For these, religious life is a possible way to serve. But in the end, we are all the same, only our relationship with Jesus will save us.
In Genesis, we read; “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gn 1:28). God is Love and Love begets life. As humans, in a marriage relationship, we share in the procreative aspect of love; we beget new life. This indeed is one of the great joys of marriage. However, even parents, who are able by God’s design and cooperation to beget children into this world, cannot impart to that soul salvation. So, although there is great joy in begetting children, for parents of faith, there is still greater joy in seeing the day of salvation of the souls they beget. At the end of our lives, from the point of view of heaven, as we look back, there will be no joy greater, than to help save another soul. This joy is available to all of us, those who have begotten souls through parenthood, and those who have not married, but dedicate themselves to share in the mission of Jesus Christ, and seek the lost, and share with them the Good News of Salvation.
Which is God calling me to: Marriage or Religious Life?
No one can answer that question for you. God has given us free will, and he is even waiting to see which you decide. For a gift of Love must be freely given! Here is an exercise that might help.
Imagine yourself on your death-bed, looking back on your life. Allow the importance of your faith at that time, to guide your point of view. From that faith perspective, there are only two things that really will matter; how strong is your faith and relationship with Jesus, and how many souls have you begotten into heaven. (Or said in a different way, the well-being of those you love.) Which choices now will make these two aspects of our “Marriage with Jesus” the most fruitful? What do you want people to say at your funeral? What greater privilege can there be than to have many stand up and say, because of you, they found salvation in Jesus Christ? That is true if they are your children, or not.
I believe, to hear God’s will for you, you must tell God that you are willing to be married, single, or be a religious or priest, whichever will best serve His Kingdom. This requires “death to self” and a willingness to give your life, in Love, as a gift to God. If you can sincerely do this, I think the rest will fall in place. In the end, marriage is not really a choice we can make anyway. It requires another. It is a miracle. If it is from God, it requires another that God sends. It requires another with similar values and faith. If we truly wish to serve the Lord with our lives, can we marry another who does not share that same desire? God who loves us will give us a “sign” about how we can best serve, but only after we’ve given God permission to do so, by telling him we want to do only what is best for his Kingdom. But, God does not give signs as lightning bolts from heaven, rather God speaks to us through our experiences. As we chastely date, as we get to know religious orders, as we serve in the church and in the world, as we pray, God will speak to us through the desires in our heart. Does prayer life feed you and fill you with consolations? Do you desire to serve, and find joy in it? Do your worldly occupations leave you longing for more? Do you find joy in speaking of Christ to others, and sharing with them your faith? Have you had the joy of “saving a soul”? Has God still not revealed to you someone you could marry that shares your passion to serve God? These are some of the questions that indicate you may be called to Religious life. But, you will never know if you are called, unless you make the effort to meet Religious Brothers and Priests, experience the ways of Religious Life through your parish, your ministries, through retreats, and Come and See experiences. Just as you must date before you marry, so too, if considering Religious Life or Priesthood, you must go out and seek to learn more about that way of life, and then prayerfully examine your experiences. Come to our next Come and See Experience April 28-30, or click here for other dates or ways to learn more about religious life. May God Bless You in your discernment.