National Vocations Awareness Week runs from 4 to 11 August.
Growing up as the sixth of eight children in a loving family was a lot of fun. I sat very comfortably in my position down the pecking order and watched carefully what my older siblings did. I noted the make and model of first cars and whether they turned out to be lemons in disguise, and the ins- and outs of romance as it wilted after a third date or blossomed fruitfully into marriage and beyond.
The concept of a vocation was front and centre whenever dating or careers were discussed within the family, and through my teen years I mulled over what my calling might be. I had a great relationship with my parish priest, Fr Rod Bray, who inspired me by the way he lived his vocation with joy and fulfilment. I talked to him often through these years, and he iterated the importance of reflecting on what it means to truly seek to serve and love others, and to listen to how Christ might be calling me to do this. I saw the way he did this was by spending time before the tabernacle, and I strove to emulate him in this regard.
It came as no real surprise to me then when, at 6.30am Mass one weekday in Lent, a very beautiful young lady suddenly appeared in front of me. She was in blue, but, unlike many of the apparitions of this kind, there were teddy bears running along the collar of her pyjamas, which I guessed she had hoped to hide under her jumper… I subsequently found out that her name was Marie-Rose and that she had recently joined the parish. Over the following couple of years we got to know each other, and the sign of peace progressed through Subway hot chocolates and visits to the nursing home with the Legion of Mary to meeting the family and an impromptu beach proposal, culminating with ‘I do’ at the altar.
So, it was through the nurturing of love for a tremendous young lady that I came to discern my Christian vocation to the Sacrament of Marriage. This awakening love was not my sole reason for taking this road, but rather served as a catalyst to help me understand God’s call.
In the eighteen or so years since we shared our vows there has been better and worse, much joy and some sorrow. From the beginning of my journey as a husband I have striven to live the ideal of St John Chrysostom, who I sense may have been something of a romantic. His suggestion for young husbands is included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2365):
“I have taken you in my arms and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us… I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.”
Unfortunately, I seem to have some trouble with the last part particularly and there are times where, from my end, the self elbows aside the other for breakfast, frustration is served with lettuce for lunch, and a double helping of contrition is put on the table for dinner. Thankfully, these times are outweighed by many, many more gourmet meals shared with our four beautiful children and other family and friends, who enrich our lives and marriage by their friendship, example and presence.
Our children particularly help me live my vocation more fruitfully; I find overcoming selfish tendencies is made easier when cute toddlers (or the loveable teenagers they grow into) are involved. They also bring so much wisdom to every day, breathing life into the gospel passage which reminds us that, unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom.
I’ll finish by highlighting the pillars that support my ongoing vocation, summed up by my grandfather’s pre-marital advice (“Always three: Husband. Wife. God”) and the old adage, ‘the family that prays together, stays together’. The family rosary, an expression of our shared devotion to the other ever-young and beautiful Lady in blue, has been an essential part of our domestic church. This, of course, has sat besides other communal moments of prayer; morning and night, before meals shared around the dinner table, a prayer for the person in the ambulance as it rushes by our van, or as we sing the final hymn together at mass while sharing a secret smile at the gusto with which our youngest belts it out.
Mark Buhagiar is Head of Clergy Health, Diocese of Parramatta.
For more information about Vocations in the Diocese of Parramatta, please visit: www.parracatholic.org/vocations/