A Singular Vocation


rings, wedding, marriageWhen my fiancé and I were still just dating, we approached our priest and spiritual director and asked him how we might discern if we were called to marriage together. He leaned back in his chair and said, “You have to know how to pray, and what to ask when you pray.”

Father went on to explain that marriage is always described as a gift, that the individuals give themselves to each other on the altar. “But really,” he clarified, “you’re not giving yourself. You’re receiving the other person. Look at the vows, you say ‘I take you,’ not ‘I give myself.’” He suggested that in our prayer, we ask God if this the person He wants us to receive.

This got me thinking. Before my then boyfriend and I started discerning together, I had been pretty sure that I was called to marriage in a general sense. All I had to do was find somebody that filled the need. However, now I was approaching marriage in a very specific way. Suddenly, my vocation was not dependent on some abstract idea of a vocation, but rather on a specific event; it was dependent on the outcome of a particular relationship.

Then I realized: I wasn’t called to marriage.

This may strike you all as odd, given that I’m now engaged to the man. But, I’m not called to marriage. I am called to marry my fiancé. That is an important difference. As I waded through my prayers of discernment, I realized that if marriage is a reception rather than a gift, then maybe that means that you can only truly discern it if there is another person for you to potentially receive. Otherwise, how can you ask God if He wants you to receive the other in the Sacrament of Marriage?

Moreover, I began to see that my call to marriage is intimately linked to the one who fulfills it, such that if I’m not called to marry this person, then I’m not called to marriage at all. In other words – I am not called to some general vocation that I then find someone to insert to make it work. Rather, I am called to marriage because I’m called to marry my fiancé, the specific calling to be with my fiancé is what makes the general call “vocation of marriage” true in my life. Not the other way round. If I weren’t called to marry my fiancé, then I wouldn’t be called to marriage. I am only called to marriage because he exists.

As I began to take this new approach to discernment, I began to wonder if it worked with religious vocations. I mean…don’t people discern their call to the religious life and then find an order to join? As I began talking to friends who were discerning the religious life, those in seminary, those becoming postulants, I began to realize that the same rang true for many of them. Many of my friends stated, “If I were not joining X order, then I don’t know if I would become a religious at all.” That is, that just as I was only called to marriage because I was called to marry this person, so too, those joining religious orders are only called to the religious life because they are called to be Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Salesians, pick your favorite order.

I see so many people struggling with their discernment and I wonder if they’re not approaching it a bit backwards. We stress over and over again, “Discern, discern, discern!” We have this odd idea that if we discern the general idea, we can then figure out the specificity of that call. We seem to miss that, perhaps, the general vocations exist on account of the specific calls to either a person or an order. People want to argue that the specifics of vocations – person, order, diocese, etc. – come from the generalities of vocations. “Oh, once you’ve discerned that you’re called to the religious life, then you choose an order.” But, it may be the other way. General callings only exist on account of the individual callings. We can only speak of the “vocation of marriage” because there are millions of people who are called to a specific vocation with a specific person. So when someone says “the vocation of marriage” it is just a way of referencing millions of specific couples in specific vocations. Thus, to discern vocations generally may be impossible for some. I mean, you can’t know if you’re called to marriage if you have no one to potentially marry. You’re only called to marriage if you are called to marry someone.

So I wonder if our answer to the vocational crisis we face isn’t to just calm down a bit. Don’t stress the vague notion of “Discern! Discern! Discern!” when the youth have no one with whom to discern. Rather, perhaps to answer this vocational crisis, we need to focus on building stronger relationships with God, stronger relationships with the Eucharist, and holier interactions with other people such that those specific relationships can be potential opportunities for clarity. We need to give our young people specific relationships to delve into, as delving into a vague idea of a vocation is often much more difficult than it may seem.

This article originally appeared on Ignitum.com and is used with permission.


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  • Margaret Mary Myers

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Although I am a wife of 36 years, with six children; yet, I still found the insights you shared very helpful, as I’ve been puzzling over “later life” educational and “career” goals, what direction to take, and, at the same time, trying to relax and leave it to God. As I read your article, a light bulb went on, and all the pieces seemed to come together. God bless you and your fiance.

  • Larry Bud

    “I mean, you can’t know if you’re called to marriage if you have no one to potentially marry. You’re only called to marriage if you are called to marry someone.”

    Precisely what I’ve been saying to people who write articles bemoaning the supposed abundance of virtuous Catholic women who can’t find any suitable men. (Never the reverse. But I digress.) They just _know_ that they’re “called to the vocation of marriage”, that they have “discerned” it and all that. But have never attended a parish social where they might meet their Prince Charmings – because parishes stopped having such events about 30 or 40 years ago.

    Why did our Church get so screwed up? Beating young people over the head to “discern” and then abandoning them to flounder?


      “virtuous Catholic women ” Unfortunately, the only virtuous Catholic women under 80 I know are already are married to Christ – I.e. the nuns who live at the St. Thomas convent and the Poor Clares in Tonopah.

      LOL! – well not really ):

      • Larry Bud

        Happy, since you also live in the Diocese of Phoenix, you may find this amusing. On the blog of a local mommy-blogger who has started writing books and has a fairly large following on social media and also in the Catholic media, I commented like I did above. That there are plenty of single Catholic men who simply have no way to discover the single women in their parishes.

        Her response? “trust me, if you are a good Catholic man with good hygiene and social skills, and a job helps, you will find a woman! I cannot tell you how many middle aged women are desiring a Catholic husband!” (you can google this to find the larger conversation)

        And indeed she didn’t tell me who these women are, or where they are. But “trust her”, she knows. Her tone was insulting, as if single men are mostly unemployed or dirty or socially inept. This is the attitude that we face.