Our First Vocation is to Be Holy

Written By Patrick O'Hearn

It is well documented that many of the parents of the saints desired to dedicate their lives completely to God as priests and religious. But God had other plans that were more glorious than they could have imagined. Plans that may have first baffled these parents. Since God is all-knowing, He can look into the future and know what is best for each soul and for His Church. And God wants saints to be born!

In fact, St. Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, was in tears on her wedding night because she feared she missed her true calling. Thankfully, her husband, St. Louis, understood this cross. He also wanted to be in religious life, but his inability to grasp Latin and his health issues led him to renounce this desire. Likewise, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s mother wanted to be a nun, but the Russian rule prevented such. Years later, she and her husband agreed to live separately, so she could become a third order sister. St. Bridget of Sweden wanted to become a nun, but her father forced her into marriage. She also started an order after her husband passed away, but never lived long enough to take final vows.

Married converts sometimes wonder what may have happened had they discovered the Catholic Church in their single years. Perhaps they may have become a priest or religious. Some devout Catholics also talk about becoming a religious after their spouse passes away, which is easier said than done. Not surprisingly, many married saints are canonized for that reason…they became religious. The dearth of married canonized saints is striking compared to religious, which often feeds a great misunderstanding that marriage is a second-rate vocation when the two greatest saints in the Church’s history were in fact married: Our Lady and St. Joseph. Marriage is a vehicle to holiness.

However, if you find yourself daydreaming about the cloister in the midst of crying children or the priesthood during a splendid liturgy, perhaps living with an unhappy spouse, or you live in regret wondering if you failed to answer God’s call, Mother Angelica’s timeless vocational wisdom can help. Certainly, the devil likes nothing more than to disturb one’s peace, especially those seeking to be saints. The devil will be hard pressed to get these souls to commit mortal sins, but he can incite doubt, misery, regret, unhappiness, and scrupulosity, especially concerning one’s vocation.

During her live EWTN show on April 12, 1994, Mother Angelica said something that every married couple ought to heed, especially those who seem unsettled in their vocation. Mother Angelica was no stranger to the vocational quandary that many face. In fact, she ran away from home to join the convent, and thus did not have the purest motive for joining religious life. Above all, Mother Angelica’s response provides a glimpse into the surrender that eventually Saints Zelie and Louis Martin came to embrace and many others who have discerned the priesthood or religious life, but God led them on another road. Yes, Mother Angelica provides counsel to those who are married and sometimes wonder whether they should have been a priest or a religious sister.

The caller asked Mother Angelica, “You know the apparent lack of vocations. We know that God has granted the vocations. What are the implications for people God had given a vocation and they chose not to follow it? In other words, they married or did something else. Are there spiritual ramifications?”

 Mother Angelica beautifully responded,

“I think in the first place you have to question whether there was one in the first place. I think a lot of people mix up vocation with the desire or with the call to holiness. All of these people here have a vocation to be holy. That is the first vocation-to be holy. And everyone thinks if a boy or girl goes to Mass every morning or goes to communion you gotta be a priest or nun. That isn’t true. Maybe you want to be a holy layman. Even a holy lawyer. See God first of all calls us to holiness. That is why you were created by God. Then He calls you to different ways of becoming holy. Some people become holy through married life, single life, career life, religious life, priestly life. He calls you in that state in life you can become the holiest the easiest. Let’s say maybe you didn’t know. Let’s say just for the sake of answering your question that you did have a vocation and you did not follow it and got married. Do you think Our Lord is going to do something terrible with you? Even here the important thing is that whatever other life you choose…you live it in a most holy way. Degrees of glory, nobody can tell you that. That you live it—that you be a good wife, a holy wife, and a holy mother, or a holy single person, whatever.” 

In his incredible book, Plain Talks On Marriage, written in the 1920’s, Fr. Fulgence Meyer echoes similar words to Mother Angelica:

“All regrets as to what else might have been, had you not married, are idle and futile. What matters now is that you make the most of your present situation through good sense and the grace of God. Do not make things worse by dwelling gloomily and pessimistically on your real or imaginary mistake in marrying as you did, and by thus increasing the evil effects of it, but rather make a virtue out of necessity, and turn your mistake, whatever it was, into a stepping stone to sanctity and everlasting glory. To those who entered the convent or the priesthood without a vocation from on high, and who realized their mistake after they had bound themselves by the holy vows for life, Saint Augustine said, “If you are not called, see to it that you be called.” Similarly, married people who, after they are married a while, find that they made a mistake in marrying at all, will apply the best remedy to their hard situation not by unavailing complaints or morbid self-pity but by doing what they can to render their actual married life their real vocation.”

Make no mistake, God wants us to be holy in the vocation that He has called us to, not the one we daydream about or even regret not choosing. Our Lord leads us by mysterious paths, like  driving a car in the dead of night. Our headlights only allow us to see a few feet ahead. And we cannot see behind us. And this path, whether it is the priesthood, religious life, married, or single life, must go through Calvary to reach heaven. If we want to run from the cross, we better start running to hell. But if we want to run to heaven, we better start embracing the vocation and crosses God sends us.

The parents of the saints and their saintly children lived a life of surrender. At times, they went through the dark night of the soul. And they too struggled with similar vocational questions that we face. But they slowly abandoned themselves to God’s grace trusting in His mercy rather than living a life of regret or fear. Or best put by St. Claude de la Colombiere in his timeless book, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence,

“Let us then trust ourselves entirely to God and His Providence and leave Him complete power to order our lives, turning to Him lovingly in every need and awaiting His help without anxiety. Leave everything to Him and He will provide us with everything, at the time and in the place and in the manner suited. He will lead us on our way to that happiness and peace of mind for which we are destined in this life as a foretaste of everlasting happiness we have been promised.” 

Our first vocation is to be holy, and everything else will follow from that, God willingly, future saintly children: biological or spiritual.

Patrick O’Hearn is an author and acquisitions editor at TAN Books.  His subjects of interest include the lives of the saints and the interior life.  He is author of Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints, published by TAN Books.