On any given day, you’ll find me and Dennis running the gauntlet of modern family life. If you live it, you know it—or at least your own version of it. Early to rise, lunches to make, school forms to sign, commutes to drive, work to do, more work to do, gymnastic meets to attend, and what’s for dinner again?
I’m not complaining, mind you. Just stating a fact. And I know for those of you who are—or have been—where I’m standing, you get it. Unfortunately, family life is only getting more challenging. Although smartphones give us around-the-clock access to our children near and far in a way that brings me comfort, wireless life isn’t family-friendly. Work is always a click away, and, more and more, work seeps into family life until family life, if we’re not careful, becomes a mad dash to get chores out of the way so we can get back to our emails and texts to do yet more work from our kitchen table, our living room, even our bedroom. We might tell our kids they spend too much time in front of their screens, but the truth is that we adults are similarly tethered. Except in our cases, instead of watching a show or Facetiming friends, we’re usually stressing over work that probably could have, should have waited until tomorrow.
So, what’s a family to do? I think it requires a shift in mind-set. We have reached a place where we’ve been led to believe that what we do at home is a luxury not as important as what we do at work. But we all know that what goes on at home is not only critical in the most basic ways—if parents and children are going to be clothed and fed and ready for the world—it is life-affirming and vocation-fulfilling on the deepest levels.
For most of us, the word “vocation” conjures up images of priests and religious. The vast majority of us, however, are called to the vocation of marriage and parenthood. Often those of us who take those vows don’t see ourselves as fulfilling an important vocation—and, to be honest, too often our Church doesn’t see us that way either. From all appearances, at least to those of us in the trenches, the vocation of marriage seems to be second to the “real” vocations, but the truth is that it is in marriage and family life that all other vocations are given their foundation. What’s that saying made famous by Pope St. John Paul II? “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” And the Church, I’d add.
If families are not put at the forefront of the Church’s work, it’s unlikely vocations to the priesthood and religious life will increase because those vocations spring from the domestic churches that are our homes, those places where we stay awake all night caring for a sick baby, feed a cranky toddler, bail out a flooded basement, cheer straight As on a report card, guide a teen going through a difficult time, hug a child heading off to college. Celebrations and challenges, heartbreaks and sorrows are all part and parcel of this beautiful, messy, sometimes-overwhelming and often-underrated vocation that we fulfill even as we hold down jobs and manage all the other daily necessities that every life requires.
When we leave our jobs at the end of the day, we married couples don’t have time off; that’s when the most important work of our lives begins. It’s time for those of us who have been called to the vocation of marriage and family to stop giving it a backseat to everything else. For each one of us, this is the only job that really matters.
This column originally appeared in the Feb. 14, 2019, issue of Catholic New York.