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Live as the Lord has assigned ~1 Corinthians 7:17

During the almost 27 years of his papacy, Pope John Paul II canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 blesseds. But except for Gianna Beretta who was married and Giuseppe Moscati who was single, all the other 480 saints were either martyrs, clerics or members of religious communities. And of the 1,338 blesseds, only 14 were single and 7 were married. All the others were martyrs, clerics or members of religious communities when they died.

So why are there too few married saints when the overwhelming majority of Catholics are married and have families? Is not the call to holiness universal as taught in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church? Is the vocation to a married life inferior to the vocation of a priestly or religious life?

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul has this to say: Because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband… To the unmarried and to widows, I say: It is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry… Everyone should live as the Lord has assigned, just as God called each one. I give this order in all the churches… Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called… I give my opinion… This is what I think best… that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries. (1 Corinthians 7:2,8-9,17,20,25-28). St. Paul seems to favor celibacy over a married state but he also strongly emphasized that “everyone should live as the Lord has assigned.”  

The fact that there are very few married saints may be attributed to the complex and lengthy process of canonization and the documentation that it entails. For most married lay persons, unlike those who belong to religious congregations, there is no formal organizational structure to support the lengthy and laborious process of documentation required of canonization. While there may be plenty of married persons who live saintly lives, their exemplars of holiness are not evident and remain undocumented. 

Yet we know that the two greatest saints of the Church, Mary and Joseph, are married. Joseph, in particular, is recognized as a great saint primarily because he faithfully discharged his duties as a husbandtaking care of the very much pregnant Mary during their long travel to enroll the family in Bethlehem in obedience to the decree of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-5)—and as a fatherprotecting the child Jesus from Herod by bringing the family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). Joseph did not go out to preach. He did not write sermons, homilies or books to bring people closer to God. But he lovingly fulfilled his duties as husband and father by nurturing his family’s faith in Godfor example, bringing his wife and son to worship in the temple in Jerusalem each year as prescribed by the Torah (Luke 2:41-43). 

We also know that St. Peter, the chosen leader of the apostles and the first pope, was a married manhe had a mother-in-law! (Mark 1:30). Of course, we know nothing about his wife or even her name or whether they had children. But we could presume that his wife must have also lived a saintly life. 

Then there is the husband and wife pastoral team of St. Aquila and St. Priscilla. Aquila and Priscilla met Paul in Corinth. They shared the same trade of tentmaking (Acts 18:1-3). Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians when they met Paul and they immediately volunteered to become Paul’s “helpers in Christ Jesus” (Rom 16:3). Being of some financial means, they offered their presumably large house as a meeting place to the community of believers (Corinthians 16:19, Rom 16:5). Aquila and Priscilla must have been well-versed in the Scriptures. In Ephesus, they met Apollos, “an eloquent speaker and an authority on the Scriptures”, and yet, Aquila and Priscilla found it necessary to “explain to him the Way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-26). They were a husband and wife team who risked their lives in order to save Paul’s (Romans 16:3-5). 

The lives of these married saints ought to inspire us. As husband and wife we could be like Mary and Joseph, where Joseph is the silent partner. Joseph never speaks in the Scriptures. It is Mary who “travel in haste” to share the Good News (Luke 1:39-45) – but we can presume that Joseph accompanied her silently during the 120-km walk from Nazareth to Ain Karem. Or we could be like Peter and his wife, where it is Peter who rises to prominence while his wife remains unknown. 

Or we could be like Aquila and Priscilla who are a pastoral team, equally known, always working together. When Paul went to Ephesus, both Aquila and Priscilla went with him (Acts 18:18-19). Priscilla did not choose to stay home but went with Aquila to preach and evangelize together as a couple. After they heard Apollos preach, “they took him home with them and explained to him the Way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-26). It was not just Aquila who gave the teaching, but both Aquila and Priscilla. Finally, it was not just Aquila or just Priscilla who risked his/her life to save Paul’s but both“they risked theirs” (Romans 16:3-5). Their being a pastoral team is evident in the fact that in the six times the couple is mentioned in the New Testament (three times in Acts and once each in the letters of Paul to the Romans, Corinthians and Timothy), their names are always mentioned together as Aquila and Priscilla.

It is possible for married persons to become saints. The call to holiness is universal. Jesus sanctified marriage by performing his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Like the ordinary water in the wedding in Cana becoming the tastiest of wines, ordinary couples struggling to support their growing children and keep their marriages intact can become like Mary and Joseph, Peter and his wife, or Aquila and Priscilla in the hands of Jesus. If we “live as the Lord has assigned”faithfully and lovingly doing the duties and responsibilities that God has assigned to us as husband and wife, as father and mother, then with God’s grace, we could be the married saints the Church utterly lack. (Reflections of Jun and Jean Uriarte)

Added on Tuesday, September 29, 2015


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