Sunday, October 21, 2007

Blast from the Ecclesiastical Past: Marriage as Vocation

(Dan Writing) Whilst I was snooping around the bookshelf in my office at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights the other day, I happened upon an interesting little volume apparently discarded by the school's library. Titled Marriage and the Family: An Integrated Approach for Catholics, this neat little work crams in some rather generous amounts of theology, philosophy, and sociology in between its covers, all in an attempt (it would seem) to be a basic "marriage handbook" for the average, decently-educated American Catholic of its day.

And what a "day" that was! The book received its imprimatur in January 1956 - a full 6 years before the start of the Second Vatican Council - thus it completely avoided the infamy of being published during or after the general wackiness that sadly dominated American Catholicism in the years following the council (of course it goes without saying that this reaction was completely out of proportion to what the council documents themselves actually stated). Refreshingly free of this nutty postconciliar zeitgeist, the book cogently presents a thoroughly orthodox and sane look at both the blessings and the challenges of Christian married life; the book's author, a Mr. Alphonse H. Clemens, was apparently for some time the director of the Marriage Counseling Center at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (where he was also a professor of sociology), and his writing clearly demonstrates a deep sympathy of and sensitivity to the various problems that can plague Catholic married life in the modern world. However this sensitivity is, at the same time, paired with a firm commitment to refrain from watering down the Church's moral & spiritual doctrines regarding the marital bond. Sacramental marriage, as Prof. Clemens correctly points out, is a vocation and, like all vocations, it will inevitably demand sacrifices of those who are called to it. As Prof. Clemens writes, marriage "is a call to the higher realms of spirituality...

Christian marriage is a source of great holiness, a most effective means of advancing in spiritual perfection to the sublime height of heroic sanctity. Few couples as they walk down the aisle on their wedding day seem conscious of this call to a higher life. No priest, brother, or nun on the day of his ordination or taking of vows would fail to sense this fact; but many, if not most, couples do. And marriage is a state conducive to holiness, not in spite of, but precisely because of the circumstances of married life. Were this known more widely, doubtless many would advance in holiness more quickly and would appreciate their vocation more fully. (pg. 34)

Good stuff! I'll probably be posting some more enlightening excerpts in the near future!

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