In his final General Audience on Wednesday, February 27, 2013, Pope Emeritus Benedict gave a poignant and powerful reflection on the Church and His time in the papal office. During that speech, he said, “whoever assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of its private dimension. I experienced, and I am experiencing it now, that one receives life when one gives it.” Although he gave us many wise words to ponder and prayer about, these few lines stick out to me. The total gift of self which Benedict talked about is a hallmark of every state in life. Giving totally for the other is what Christ called each one of us to in the Gospels. “Love one another as I have loved you.” “There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And for Christ, these were not just empty words spoken from a high and lofty position; they were the words by which He lived His life and by which He gave His life for all of humanity.
Just as Christ held nothing back from us, just as Benedict loyally served the Church with every fiber of his being for the past eight years, each of us is called to do the same. For me, this means I am called to give all that I am for my husband, and in turn for our child who will be born in May of this year. As someone who discerned the religious right up until the time when my husband and I started dating, I find that the Lord has given me a great gift in seeing the relationship between the two. It took me a long time to learn to appreciate both marriage and consecrated life, but now that I have that perspective of complementarity, it opens up whole new dimensions of love. Although most of us are called to marriage, those in the consecrated life are a sign to us about the true purpose of our union with our spouse: union with God. Without their witness to our true destiny as human beings, to be united with God forever and totally given to Him, the vocation of marriage would surely lose its direction. But, without the vocation of marriage, without men and women who are willing to devote themselves to God through one another, the world would lack a vital physical sign of our destiny (and not to mention, the human race would cease to exist).
Given my experiences in life (and my struggles to see the beauty in both vocations), I find it incredible when, in a married vocation, I am presented with life lessons by someone in the consecrated life, and when it comes from the person at the “top” it is even more profound! Benedict spoke of his life being deprived of the private dimension and of being always and totally for another. Those of us who are called to marriage have the same mission: we are to give up the private dimension of our lives completely to one other person and to live always and totally for the other. When I am reminded of the true nature of my vocation to marriage, I often find it humbling and overwhelming. In all honesty, I am selfish and weak. I dislike giving up what I want to do (even when it is giving up the way I want dinner to be cooked). When I am tired or hungry, the last thing I want to have to do is take care of my sick husband. And when I come home from work, it is a daily struggle to give Nate the attention and love which he deserves.
That being said, Benedict also reminded us many times in his speech that he was only able to give of himself to completely because of his relationship with God. It was the Lord who provided him with the strength to give when he felt that he had nothing left (especially as he began his papacy). And, it was the Lord who sustained him until the last day of his papacy. This witness is also important for me, and everyone in the married vocation. Benedict witnesses for all of us that fact that if we want to love as Christ loves, we cannot do so on our own. As fallen human beings, we do have the strength to love as Christ loves. We need grace, and thankfully, wonderfully, Christ as given that grace to husbands and wives through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (and to those who are consecrated through their vows or through the Sacrament of Holy Orders).
In all situations (and vocations) the Lord provides. And in the words of Benedict, “God guides His Church, he sustains her always, and especially in difficult times.”
May God be praised!
Copyright 2013 Stephanie Gulya
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