Marriage was never an option in my discernment. I could tell from my gifts, interests, strengths and weaknesses that my calling would be something particularly unconventional.
Marriage? Dull. Kids? Adorable, but spiritual motherhood fosters a much bigger family and is far more frequently neglected.
The second stop for my discernment train was clearly religious life. Everyone thought I would be a nun when I was growing up, and my decision to pursue a degree in theology only further cemented that impression.
Despite my sincere desire to make it work, though, it quickly became obvious that God hadn’t designed me with a convent in mind.
Only one vocation possibility remained: consecrated single life.
Really, it was the perfect fit and this particular fork in the road was delightfully untread. My dear friend and role model Colette Kennett had a similar vocation and taught me much about the beauty of such a call. Still, there were two major problems. Firstly, I knew this vocation wouldn’t challenge me to grow out of some of my key faults and — much more importantly — I had no true peace about living such a life.
Today, I’m happily engaged to a young man of unbelievable caliber. The very first vocation I threw out was exactly the one for me.
So, what changed? What moved me from racing down the road less traveled to stepping in line behind literally millions of brides-to-be?
I had learned the difference between mundane, secular marriages and the most rarely pursued vocation of all: sacramental marriage.
Secular marriage doesn’t refer to non-church weddings, although it can. It can also refer to weddings initiated with a church ceremony out of mere obligation or because grandma demanded it or for the pretty backdrop. Even marriages sealed enthusiastically with the actual Sacrament of Matrimony can slump into secular marriages by ignoring its special grace.
Secular marriages are dollar-store marriages. They’re low-cost and low-return. They can be dressed up once a year so that all of Instagram acknowledges the occasion, but behind the filter, they’re ultimately sub-par and joyless.
This is the kind of marriage for which the human heart merely settles.
The soul is driven to fill the emptiness with other things, for it is made to overflow from within, not to cram full its vast cavities from without.
Secular marriage is conditional. It’s sufficient sometimes, but more often requires tools to make it interesting or to distract from the glaring humanity of the other spouse. It causes the wed to toy with temptations, swiping right, chatting secretly, meeting up “just once.”
It’s called “secular” to mean “worldly” — nice, but unfulfilling and ultimately passing.
Like a subway ride, it’s easy, insignificant, and bleached with dizzying, artificial light.
Secular marriages are a mere (in)convenience, and they’re everywhere.
But sacramental marriages are a different thing altogether.
Some sacramental marriages start off with the Sacrament but others — particularly in the case of those who later have a conversion of heart — begin with good hearts lacking only special graces. Still others are overtly secular at their inception. But in all cases, a sacramental marriage ultimately requires the intentional involvement of God. Without him, the sacramental succumbs to the secular.
Sacramental marriages are designer-brand marriages. They cost literally everything and never stop charging, but the payoff is equally endless. They are so overflowing with joy and love — even in heartbreaking times — that there’s no need to dress them up for an anniversary post. (Although, why not? #instaworthy)
This is the kind of marriage for which the human heart longs.
This mutual spousal pursuit of holiness strengthens the mind while the heart overflows from within, abundant in supernatural grace and love.
Sacramental marriage is unconditional. It shines more over time, aging as its ageless Creator. It’s endlessly demanding and difficult and — depending on the daily choices of the spouses — can devolve into secular marriage at any time. But sacramental marriage doesn’t tend towards devolution. Instead, by its very nature, it tends towards virtue, towards self-sacrifice, towards Heaven. It carries spouses through and past temptation, vice, and despair.
It’s called “sacramental” because it is the outward sign of an inward reality: the endless participation in the very union of persons shared by God himself.
Like a mountain hike, it’s difficult, exhausting, breathtaking and — even in its darkest nights — glittering with the light of Heaven.
For the spouses, it’s an unimaginable blessing.
Sacramental marriages are rare.
The callings are many, but the commitments are few.
From the outside, the secular and sacramental look nearly identical and many are fooled by cheap knock-offs. Of those who understand the distinction, even fewer have the courage to pursue the divine. Yet, all the courage in the world is insufficient when sacramental grace is lacking. And so this vocation, in truth, is very rare.
So, hidden in plain sight, I have found the daunting call to this seemingly impossible vocation. It’s rare, it’s terrifying, and I have never felt more peace.
My vocation isn’t just marriage, it’s sacramental marriage.
— Forest Hempen
Marketing and Communications Associate