Second in a series
RE-READING “Beginning Your Marriage” by John I. Thomas and David M. Thomas (ACTA Publications, 1994) has been a fascinating experience for me. Much of what the authors write about the commitment that married people make to each other and to God has set me thinking about the life commitment that every person is called to make. Discussing some of the dimensions involved in a marriage the authors write:
“Another dimension of the love investment is emotional and psychological. Spouses grow to care deeply about each other and to support each other’s deepest psychological needs. Married couples often become ‘best friends,’ who know each other’s worst fears and weaknesses, who share each other’s greatest joys and sorrows, and who are ‘there’ for each other whenever needed. The nakedness that married couples share during lovemaking is symbolic of their emotional and psychological closeness.”
That is a beautiful description of the marriage relationship. I suspect that there is no interpersonal relationship between two human beings that can match the possibilities for personal growth that a marital union affords. Close friendships are a great blessing but I don’t see how they can hold out the same opportunities for growth that a marriage may provide. When the marriage union is sacramental, I think that increases the possibilities.
As someone who is not married, I may have an excessively idealistic view of marriage but I don’t think so. Catholics believe that the sacrament represents a commitment on the part of God to provide all the grace and blessings that the couple needs to have a fulfilling married life. The couple can count on God’s presence throughout their life together. Probably at every wedding, the bride and groom receive many gifts. God’s gift, which is God, is the most important and beautiful.
Whether a person is a doctor, a lawyer, a business person, a secretary, or whatever, whether a person is married or single, celibate or a bachelor, every person has a basic vocation, a call from God that is built into the person because of the way God has designed human persons.
The way that I articulate that vocation is to say that every person is called to be a gift-giver or every person is called to be a lover. The terms “gift-giver” and “lover” are basically synonymous in my view. God has created human persons as God’s image and God is Love. This, I think, is the ultimate reason that human persons are called to be lovers. Philosopher Jacques Maritain has expressed the radical vocation of every person beautifully:
“Thus it is that when a man has been awakened to the sense of being or existence, and grasps intuitively the obscure, living depth of the Self and subjectivity, he discovers by the same token the basic generosity of existence and realizes, by virtue of the inner dynamism of this intuition, that love is not a passing pleasure or emotion, but the very meaning of his being alive.” (Existence and the Existent, 1957)
I love the idea that persons are called to live as self-givers. I suppose that there are as many ways to express the basic vocation as there are persons. I am hoping that the young couples I instruct before their marriage will give evidence of their basic vocation by their unselfishness and loving presence to one another throughout their married life. I hope they will live as gifts to one another. A parish priest will express his vocation in a way different from the way married people express their vocation. I try to express my basic vocation by being a caring priest-professor. Just as there are no unimportant or insignificant persons, there are no ways of living that cannot be animated by love.
All of us have been blessed by knowing exceptionally unselfish people. They become models for us. Married couples, who are living examples of unselfish love, may have no idea of the good that they do and the inspiration they provide by the way they live. Whether they are aware of it or not, they are perhaps the best teachers of what marriage should be. They can also be wonderful examples of existing in the manner of a gift.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.