We got a real treat tonight at the 5 pm Vigil Mass at the Basilica - Bishop D'Arcy was the presider. There was apparently a bioethics conference on campus today, and it seems the Mass was part of their conference events. Consequently we had a larger crowd than usual at Mass. I noticed a group of religious sisters sitting to our left - all habited, some wearing matching veils and some in mantillas. I was struck by their youthfulness and joyful demeanor. I love seeing sisters in traditional habits, and I love seeing people who are so obviously happy in their vocation.
This Sunday is apparently the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and Bishop D'Arcy's homily was centered around the topic of vocations. He emphasized the sacrificial aspect of the priesthood and religious life. Jesus loved us enough to sacrifice his life for us and give us his very flesh to eat - how can we not respond by giving our lives to Him? For some this self-giving love is manifested in a calling to the priesthood or religious life. Others are called to give of themselves in married life or single life.
It's pretty obvious that priesthood or religious life calls for radical sacrifice. One only needs to look to the drama present in the Sacrament of Holy Orders or the profession of vows. Picture the men to be ordained lying face-down before the altar, or the nun entering the church in a wedding gown and leaving in a plain, dark habit. The ceremonies themselves make it clear that the new priest, nun or brother is dying to his or her old life.
What is often forgotten, though, is that marriage also calls for sacrifice. I don't think of it as a big, dramatic turning away from the world - but rather as a gradual dying to self. I've often thought that someone of my temperament finds more challenge in married life than in religious life. When I visited the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, I thought that the cloistered life might be very appealing. How easy to love Jesus when contemplating him in the Blessed Sacrament! How much more difficult to love him when He presents Himself in a stubborn, irritable spouse! I tend to be self-willed and solitary and I sometimes find it challenging to deal with my husband. Marriage is definitely not just "happily ever after" but requires work and sacrifice. I see it as carrying lots of little crosses for one's spouse, every day.
Perhaps we would see more men called to the priesthood, if they realized that marriage also requires total self-giving. It's not a question of the struggles of priesthood versus the ease of married life - but a question of which way of self-giving one will choose. Loving your wife as Christ loved the Church is a tall order, after all.