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The vocation to marriage as a pathway to heaven

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This is such a happy topic, but, it is difficult to put into words what our vocation to marriage means. Our marriage is a tiny speck in the history of humankind, and yet because of God's call, it is as colossal as the Grand Canyon. It is the rope that Our Lord has thrown down from Heaven. We don't have to search for another method to reach God — our marriage is our pathway to holiness. 

Our story is simple. Mark is an Army officer and I am a school nurse. We met at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., while attending Army ROTC. After an Army assignment geographically separated us, we were married in 2003 here in the Diocese of Arlington where I (Laura) grew up. As we have grown in love and in our marriage, the depth of God's love for us and his call to virtue have become clearer.

As a kid, it can be easy to confuse vocation with a career. Mark and I grew up in Army families where military service is often referred to as a vocation, or something one feels specifically “called” to do. Since high school, I believed that the purpose of marriage was to get your spouse to heaven. I figured I could drive another person crazy and would provide plenty for Mark to offer up. 

I did not fully appreciate that eros, the love that drew us to each other would transform into agape, a self-sacrificing, Christ-like love. What does that mean? How did that happen? I came across an article from 2012 by Titus and Scrofani in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity that explained our strong desire for each other is purposeful, beyond the procreative aspect of the spousal union.

What begins as erotic love guides a person to a goal outside oneself, “to another person, to the cosmos, and to God.” In turning toward each other, and caring for one another, we serve God. Wow. God, our loving Father, made us this way, to desire each other, so that we would turn toward each other and then him. This idea sounds simple, but it is not always easy to yield and choose empathy over discord with your spouse at the end of a tiring workday.

Is this what I thought it would look like? Actually, no. I spent years feeling like God was going to demand a grand gesture of me and would send me a fairly obvious sign from the heavens. We do bear the cross of infertility (which feels like being hit with a bucket of cold water regularly), but it’s really the millions of tiny ordinary things in our daily lives that are actual steps to live our vocation in a way that honors God.

This is the vineyard to which we’ve been called. We live in Northern Virginia and have long daily commutes. We are busy with, and excited about, our careers. We stretch our time to take care of our house and yard, and for socializing with family and friends. These seem like such ordinary tasks, and yet they can all be sanctified if done well, and with cheerfulness, for love of God. We look for ways to grow together in our faith, by praying together, sharing a spiritual reading, or a short Saturday morning pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington to thank Our Lady for her intercession. Our Lord knows us, and what will fulfill our hearts. With this understanding, we joyfully embrace our marriage as the pathway to heaven. 

Laura and Mark O’Neill are parishioners of Our Lady of Hope Church  in Potomac Falls and live in Sterling. Mark is an officer in the U.S. Army, currently in battalion command. Laura is the school nurse at Oakcrest School in Vienna. She is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Divine Mercy University.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018