JOHN AND JEANIE LEA LISTEN to Bishop Scharfenberger's homily at the 2016 Marriage Jubilee celebration at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
JOHN AND JEANIE LEA LISTEN to Bishop Scharfenberger's homily at the 2016 Marriage Jubilee celebration at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
(Editor's note: This column is the second in a three-part series on marriage and support for those in marital stress or collapse. Read last week's column at Next week, Bishop Scharfenberger will address ecclesiastical annulments and other remedies for people struggling with family-life issues.)

When we wonder what each one of us can do to spread the Gospel -- which is the prime task of every disciple of Jesus Christ (Mk 16:15) -- nothing seems more practicable than calling out vocations.

A vocation is a calling, after all, and with the eyes of faith we believe that the call is from God, usually through human agents.

St. Paul and most of the Apostles got their call personally from Jesus, but most of us are called through the inspiration of others -- generally, in the examples we see of Christian living or an urge we may feel to love in a particular way. Vocations are ways of loving. If the very essence of God is love, as St. John describes it so beautifully, then it makes sense that creatures made in God's image and likeness are essentially made from love and for love.

When, as Christians, we speak of a vocation, we usually think first of a call to religious life or the priesthood. Unquestionably, a life exclusively dedicated to serving others is a way of loving. Therefore, it should be no surprise that marriage is also a vocation.

When lived in Christ, the vocation of marriage becomes a sacrament or sign of God's love in the world. In fact, it is probably the most dramatic and incarnate expression of the life of our triune God in human flesh: Two different but equal partners give themselves entirely to each other, faithfully and for life, in that friendship which naturally brings other persons to life in the world. That looks a lot like a Trinity!

Marriage is every bit as much of a vocation as is priesthood and religious life. If a person lives a life of chaste celibacy, he or she reveals the breadth of God's love. If two persons give themselves entirely to one another in a love that is open to procreating other human beings, they reveal the depth of God's love.

In all of these vocations, there is no limit to the generosity and sacrifice offered for the sake of others. No wonder St. Paul singled out marriage as the model of Christ's spousal love for His Church (cf. Ephesians 5).

No vocation is more important for the life of the Church and the life of the world than matrimony. Human beings are the crown of God's creation, so those who dedicate their lives, body and soul, to giving and nurturing new life deserve to be "lifted up" as models of love and service.

We are often tempted to "take our eye off the ball," as it were, and become drawn into discouragement by the many instances of broken relationships, where the essential components of conjugal love come apart. The causes are many and, often, the damage is hard to repair.

The spread of the contraceptive culture that sanctions sexual recreation uncommitted to fidelity, permanence or fertility creates a vicious cycle that statistically parallels the surge of divorce, sexually-transmitted diseases, abortion and much emotional, physical and economic suffering. Giving momentum to this runaway train at any stage -- ideologically, legislatively or institutionally -- virtually guarantees societal collapse.

Put simply, deconstruct marriage and society falls apart.

As a Church, our heart and our arms are open wide to all who are enduring the brokenness of family instability and a betrayal of love. Next week, I will address some practical ways in which we offer assistance: notably, through a process often termed an ecclesiastical annulment.

As we reflected upon last week, we want to walk with those who are divorced or in unions that have not yet become sacramental, so that they might receive the support to heal and to grow in holiness toward full sacramental life in the Church.

It bears repeating that no Catholic is or ever has been excommunicated merely for undergoing a civil divorce or annulment process. No moral or social stigma should be placed on such persons, for they are not thereby any less worthy of holy communion than any of us.

Contrary to some reports, the Church has not changed and cannot alter the clear teachings of Christ on divorce, to which the Scriptures attest. We uphold and bear witness to the unique, holy and sacramental nature of marriage between a man and a woman, faithful and for life, open to procreation and education of children.

In direct proportion to the great dignity of this sacrament, it is the defilement of any of these essential elements where grave sin lies, objectively speaking, or in any situation where one might attempt to live "as if" in a marriage (therefore, dishonestly) while excluding one or more of its essential components.

As Christian disciples, the most constructive use of our precious resources is for us to concentrate on prayer, support and encouragement of those who are married. Those seeking a partner in marriage should ask first in prayer to whom God wishes to lead them.

As vital as nurturing priestly and religious vocations is for the life of the Church and the world, it is the daily, deliberate duty of every one of us to call forth vocations to marriage. Everyone has a vocation to holiness -- even those whom God calls to live, chastely and lovingly, in a non-married state, whether single, widowed or engaged.

As we continue our Lenten journey, we pray for the renewal of our zeal to follow Jesus more faithfully and to be true friends to one another. Friends do not lead friends into sin.

True lovers lead one another to the one who is love incarnate: Jesus Christ, our Lord. With Him at the center of our lives, love never fails.

(Follow the Bishop at and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)