Whether you're Catholic or Orthodox no doubt you have heard over and over again that we have a vocations crisis on our hands. Parents are told that they need to encourage their children to become priests, monks, or nuns. We parents need to be open to the fact that God may call our children to the religious life. This is all well and good. Of course we do need more vocations to the religious life, and such vocations ought to be encouraged.
Here is something that's been weighing on my mind this past week. So often we hear talk of how we need young men and women to enter the religious life, to embrace a "holy vocation." But often the encouragement towards the religious life is presented in such a way as to diminish the holiness of a vocation to the married life (yes, marriage too is a vocation); as if marriage is, somehow, a lesser vocation. But we need holy men and women to become holy husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, every bit as much as we need holy men and women in the priesthood and religious life.
All vocations start at home. A young person may have a calling to the religious life, but if they are not taught how to listen for that calling within the home, then the call will fall on deaf ears. The Church has been repeating to us over and over again for decades now that all religious formation begins at home. The home is the "domestic Church" where children first learn to pray, to live holy lives, where the consciences are first formed and where they first learn the teachings of the Church. The home is where a child first encounters Christ. As Christian parents we are our children's first contact with Christ. Do we model the love of Christ for our children? Do we pour ourselves out for our spouse and our family in the same way that Christ emptied Himself for us? Have we created a home for our children that would foster holy vocations to either the religious life or to marriage?
The vocation to marriage is the most fundamental to all other vocations in the sense that it is only through marriage that future generations of Christians are brought into the world. But we, as married couples and heads of our families, have a vocation to live holy lives, to model holiness for our children. We must be able to listen to and hear the voice of God so that we can teach our children to do so as well, whether it be through example, direct teaching, or both. It is only through fully living our vocation to marriage that our children will learn how to fully live out their vocations, whether to marriage or the religious life, in a holy way.
In the end we all have the same vocation. We all have a vocation to holiness. To be the light of Christ shining in a world that seems to be ever more darkened by the darkness of sin. But, if we fully live out our vocation to holiness, whether that holiness is lived out in the married life or the religious life, then our children will learn to go out and be a light unto the world. Only when holy men and women fully embrace their vocation to holiness within the married life will we have a greater increase in vocations to the religious life. Think of it this way; all the great saints had at least one parent who modeled holiness for them. Sts. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Seraphim of Sarov all had their mothers as models of holiness for them. These three men became some of the most influential saints in their regions and throughout the world. But for them it all started at home. St. Therese of Lisieux and her sisters also learned to live holy lives through both their mother and their father. It is no coincidence that the majority of the Martin (St. Therese's family name) sisters entered the religious life and went on to reach the heights of holiness. Because of her holy parents - who are now "blesseds" in the Roman Church - nearly an entire family has been elevated or is in the process of being elevated to sainthood.
So I suppose my bit of encouragement for all of us this week is to strive for holiness in whatever vocation you find yourself. Fully embrace and live your vocation. As St. Seraphim is so famous for saying, "Acquire the Spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved." We could paraphrase that to say, "Fully live your vocation to holiness - whether in the religious or married life - and thousands around you will be saved." May Heaven consume us.