How Will I Know?

Tom and Caroline McDonald tell how to discern a possible calling to the marital vocation.

I am struggling to know whether I have a vocation to marriage or not. Even though I have been open to it, I’ve never felt any real pull toward consecrated life at all. Does that mean I’m called to marriage by default?

First, we want to affirm you for seeking God’s call in your life. All too often, we tend to think of a vocation exclusively in terms of priesthood or consecrated life. If we discerned marriage with the same seriousness and reflection, marriages would have a much higher success rate. Indeed, marriage is just as much a vocation as the call to a life of celibacy, whatever form that may take. However, from our point of view, the discernment process of marriage differs in a significant way from the process for priesthood or consecrated life.

Ultimately, since our callings in life are a beckoning from Our Lord, they will always work toward our fulfillment and happiness. God, out of perfect love for us, desires us to be all that he has created us to be, for that is the path to happiness.

Being all that we are meant to be means to live fully in the image and likeness of God. This means that we are called to a relationship of total self-giving. Human relationships have the Trinity as their model; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in perfect love for one another, and for us. If we are to model that image, we too need to aspire to live in relationships of perfect love. To be perfect, that love must be an unconditional gift of oneself. This is true of both marriage and the celibate life.

Here is where the difference arises. When a man is called to the priesthood, for example, he discerns a calling to make a gift of himself to the Church — to live in the person of Christ, the bridegroom, devoted to his bride, the Church, through the sacrament of holy orders. That is a calling to a specific self-giving relationship.

Marriage is also a calling to a specific relationship. A person is called not so much to “marriage” in general as to making a gift of him- or herself to a particular other person in the sacrament of matrimony. As one of our favorite theology professors in college once said so succinctly, “I knew my vocation when I met her.”

We’ve seen friends make the mistake of saying they had definitely discerned a call to marriage; now they just needed to find the right person. This comes too close to treating the future spouse as a means to an end: “Marriage is my calling. Hey, you’ll do just fine.”

This is a case of putting the cart before the horse. Of course, you may have yearnings and leanings toward a specific vocation — we believe God implants these good desires — but, in the case of discerning marriage, those leanings are ultimately confirmed when we find the right person.

Keep praying! And remember that, whatever vocation God has for you — whether marriage, religious life or consecrated single life — it is your path to fulfillment and happiness.

The McDonalds are

family-life coordinators

for the Archdiocese of

Mobile, Alabama.

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