As the weather starts to heat up, the mailbox starts to fill up with invitations to all kinds of joyous events. At my stage of life and with the company I keep, I tend to get invited most often to two types of celebrations: weddings and ordinations. With any luck, I may be able to attend some in person this summer instead of watching through a screen. Thanks be to God!
As lifestyle choices, these two “sacraments of vocation” may seem completely divergent. Holy Orders often include the promise of celibacy, while marriage requires openness to new life. The priest pledges obedience to the local bishop, the married person to their spouse. One centers on life in a church, the other in the home.
The Church groups them together, however, for a specific reason. Other sacraments pertain to personal holiness, but these two sacraments of vocation are uniquely ordered toward the salvation of others. The priest’s goal is to ensure the salvation of his flock; the spouse’s goal is the salvation of the family.
Put another way, the other sacraments represent our desire to get to heaven. For sacraments of vocation, it’s a desire to get to heaven together.
As a veteran attendee of both weddings and ordinations, I think they could benefit from some cross-fertilization.
First, both vocations should be normalized. A lifelong promise of fidelity — whether to a spouse or to the Church — is not an antiquated ideal, irrelevant to our post-modern existence. An enduring commitment to service is a completely rational response to a world that obviously needs the help.
Second, we need to be more clearly challenged by the Church’s teaching about the salvation of others. Neither of these sacraments is about self-fulfillment or even mutual affection.
One of the most moving parts of the ordination rite is when the candidate lies prostrate — flat on the ground — as the Litany of Saints is sung. This posture so clearly communicates the role of self-sacrifice in the service of others. One could hardly imagine making a bride lie on the floor in her beautiful gown! But the sentiment should be the same — the call to serve.
These two great vocations of marriage and holy orders benefit so much from one another. One of the great treasures of my life is the many close friends I have who are priests, deacons or studying for these vocations. Every married couple should be so lucky, and every priest should seek to include married couples and other laity in their social circle.
We all share in the same common priesthood of the baptized; we are all trying to save the world.
Finally, both events — weddings and ordinations — are a lot of fun. Both include lots of prayer, lots of food and drink, great music, reminiscing with old friends, and making new ones. They are celebrations of the diverse ways in which God calls us to be holy.
If the past year has taught us anything, it is that when God gives us a chance to celebrate, we should take it.
So here is my wedding/ordination season toast (please raise your glass): May God bless you in your chosen vocation, and as you journey toward heaven, may you take many others with you!