Catholic marriage is nothing less than a blessing. Many couples have spent decades together, furthering God’s kingdom on earth in ways that they could never accomplish if they were single.
On the other hand…while marriage is honored and affirmed among Christians and throughout the Bible, there is no suggestion that it is necessary for everyone. Single people who either have chosen to remain unmarried or who have lost their spouse for some reason are neither incomplete in Christ nor personal failures.
However, for many people, being single represents a way station, either on the way to marriage or to a religious vocation.
Marriage is, of course, a beautiful, significant, and often awesome thing. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. God himself is the author of marriage” (no. 1603). The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of humanity as it came from the hand of the Creator. “By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God” (no. 1641).
This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children” (no. 1641). Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony” (no. 1642).
But is marriage for everybody?
In a 2010 letter, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis offered encouragement to lay men and women of his archdiocese who choose to remain single in order to make themselves available for prayer and apostolic work. In the letter he said, “Single men and women who have given themselves wholeheartedly to Christ…bind themselves to the service of others, and they participate directly in the Church’s mission and share themselves intimately with those who walk with them on the journey to Christ’s kingdom.”
Archbishop Carlson continued, “They discern God’s will for themselves through prayer, spiritual reading, and retreats. They commit to their families—parents, siblings, and extended family members. They partner with friends, co-workers, fellow parishioners, neighbors, and all whom they encounter in seeking to make our world a better place.”
Even in the New Testament, there were questions about whether an earthly marriage endured once the spouses died and went to heaven; this indicates that it’s an institution we clearly hold dear—that we want to hold on to, and keep holding on to!
And yet if we consider the whole community of faith, if we think about the myriad times that St. Paul has written about the various gifts that each member of that community brings to the others, if we remind ourselves that there are many ways to please God and hasten the coming of the Kingdom, then we’ll remember that it’s a good and beautiful thing to be married. And it’s a good and beautiful thing to be single. And it’s a good and beautiful thing to pursue a religious vocation.
Life on earth is challenging. Finding ways to navigate it is going to be specific to every Catholic, decided in prayer and contemplation and listening to God’s voice, asking God to show us his will.
And if marriage is in your future, we have some terrific authors who talk about Catholic marriage, most recently Jackie Francois Angel and Bobby Angel in Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage. If you know someone preparing for marriage, Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner is a great gift for them as they prepare for a Catholic wedding. The more you know, the better you can decide what path to take on your journey.
Jeannette de Beauvoir