Jesus Christ calls everyone to live a life of vocation. He calls some to marriage and others to priesthood, religious life, or the single life. He may also call some married and single men to the diaconate.
Christ instituted marriage as a means of extending the “real presence”of his own marriage to the church (see Eph. 5:21-33). He instituted marriage to make the spouses holy, to procreate and raise children in his own image and likeness, and to establish a stale foundation for all of society. A married person lives a vow of faithfulness to his or her spouse through the sacrament of marriage. Husbands and wives are called to be love-giving, self-giving, other-honoring, and life-giving in their relationship. They help one another grow to be more human and more mature in Christ. They form a family home and together are the first to teach their children Christian faith and values, especially by modeling discipleship for them. Those who are married serve in their parish community or in the church several different ways.
The Catholic priest is a male ordained minister of the Church who give his life in complete service to the church. Priests are asked (not forced) to embrace celibacy and commit to a life of pastoral service to the People of God. Priests celebrate the sacraments and lead the parish in its worship of God, teach the Catholic faith, and serve their parishioners, meeting their pastoral needs, and the poor. Most priests minister in a parish setting while others serve as chaplains in universities, hospitals, prisons, or in other Christian communities.
Religious priests, brothers, and sisters (commonly referred to as nuns), commit their lives to the mission of their religious community, wherein they embrace the call to poverty, chastity, and obedience. They foster their call through a life of celibacy, prayer, and service. Religious priests, brothers, and sisters normally serve in specialized areas of ministry, such as health care, teaching, and in the missions. The distinctive marks of a religious priest, brother, or sister are 1) living in community; 2) serving the charism (mission) of the religious order to which they belong; 3) wearing the distinctive garb of their religious order, which is also a sign of their poverty.
The single life is a true vocation in the Lord and in the church, and not just the default or left over life for those who aren’t called to priesthood or religious life or who “can’t find a spouse.” Those called to single life come to believe that remaining single is the truest and only way to faithfully to live his one’s baptismal calling. As St. Paul himself says, “Everyone should live as the Lord has assigned, just as God called each one” (I Cor 7:17). And then he adds, “An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord….An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit” (vs. 32, 34). Many single people dedicate their lives to Christ and the service of his people without formal promises or vows. Others make promises or vows of virginity.
A deacon is either a single man or a married man who is ordained to serve the poor of the church in the name of the church. He is ordained, as the church teaches, not to priesthood but to service, in imitation of Christ, the suffering servant, who came not to be served but to serve. At Eucharist the deacon proclaims the gospel, leads the congregation in the prayers of the faithful, distributes the chalice of Christ’s Precious Blood, and leads the congregation out to glorify the Lord, announce the gospel, and serve one another. Too it is the deacons who brings the poor back to the ambo to hear the word of God and to the altar to partake of the sacrifice of Jesus. The Lord and the church call men of more mature faith, (if married) stable marriages and family life, and a heart for loving and serving the poor. If you want to know more about the diaconate, our pastor, Father Ed, has written a book on the spirituality and ministry of the deacon, entitled A New Friendship.
With each vocation, a person lives a life of faith and prayer so that he/she may continue to grow in his/her friendship with God. The Catholic Church recognizes that each vocation is equal in the sense that no vocation is better or less than the other. Because God calls one to a particular vocation, that vocation is the best for that individual because it is the one that will lead them to friendship with Christ and service to Christ’s bride, the church.