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Married and Consecrated People in the Church

Fourth in a series

The reality of marriage, presented in a homily to Pope Francis and his associates during Lent 2016, by the Preacher of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap.

Even though we consecrated religious do not live in the married state, I said at the beginning that we need to understand marriage to help those who do live in that state. I will now add now a further reason: we need to understand marriage to be helped by it ourselves! Speaking of marriage and virginity the apostle says, “Each has his own spiritual gift [chárisma] from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor., 7:7). Married people have their charism and those who are “single for the Lord” have their charism.

Each charism, the same apostle says, is “a particular manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (see 1 Cor., 12:7). Applied to the relationship between married and consecrated people in the Church, this means that the charism of celibacy and virginity is for the advantage also of married people and that the charism of marriage is also for the advantage of consecrated people. That is the intrinsic nature of a charism that is seemingly contradictory: something that is individual (“a particular manifestation of the Spirit”) is nevertheless meant for all (“for the common good”).

In the Christian community, consecrated people and married people are able to “edify one another.” Spouses are reminded by consecrated people of the primacy of God and of what is eternal; they are introduced to love for the word of God by those who can better deepen and “break it open” for lay people. But consecrated people can also learn something from married people as well. They can learn generosity, self-forgetfulness, service to life, and often a certain “humaneness” that comes from their difficult engagement with the realities of life.

I am speaking from experience here. I belong to a religious order in which, until a few decades ago, we would get up at night to recite the office of Matins that would last about an hour. Then there came a great turning point in religious life after the Council. It seemed that the rhythm of modern life — studies for the younger monks and apostolic ministry for the priests — no longer allowed for this nightly rising that interrupted sleep, and little by little the practice was abandoned except in a few houses of formation.

When later the Lord had me come to know various young families well through my ministry, I discovered something that startled me but in a good way. These fathers and mothers had to get up not once but two or three times a night to feed a baby, or give it medicine, or rock it if it was crying, or check it for a fever. And in the morning one or both of the parents had to rush off to work at the same time after taking the baby girl or boy to the grandparents or to day-care. There was a time card to punch whether the weather was good or bad and whether their health was good or bad.

Then I said to myself, if we do not take remedial action we are in grave danger. Our religious way of life, if it is not supported by a genuine observance of the Rule and a certain rigor in our schedule and habits, is in danger of becoming a comfortable life and of leading to hardness of heart. What good parents are capable of doing for their biological children — the level of self-forgetfulness that they are capable of to provide for their children’s well-being, their studies, their happiness — must be the standard of what we should do for our children or spiritual brothers. The example we have for this is set by the apostle Paul himself who said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15).

May the Holy Spirit, the giver of charisms, help all of us, consecrated and married, to put into practice the exhortation of the apostle Peter: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen!” (1 Pet., 4:10-11).

Series: Marriage and Family in Gaudium et Spes and Today

  1. Marriage and family in the divine plan and in the gospel of Christ 
  2. What the biblical teaching says to us today
  3. An ideal to rediscover