Last January, our Italian friends at Mistero Grande hosted their fifth annual conference in Rome, Italy. There, Don Renzo Bonetti and others expounded on some of the aspects of the sacrament of marriage and how it relates to the mission of the church. One thing that struck me was his emphasis on the historical concept of “holy orders” being something that didn’t belong only to ordained people, but to all Christians, in this sense: marriage and virginity (chastity) were once considered orders of the church. In other words, all Christians were ecclesiastically connected and sent out as ministers in their own right.

Historically, those who were unmarried could take on an official role within the church. They saw their singleness as a unique position from which to serve God and become more deeply embedded in the church community through prayer and good works. Those who were married were charged with a unique ministry as well: of manifesting the gospel through the gift of their union. They were called to serve in their communities as living signs of God’s Trinitarian image and of Christ’s union with the Church. What a beautiful picture of the unity and diversity within the family of God: each, whether married or single, has a specific gift and vocation for the blessing of all!

I think this historical perspective is crucial for today, when individualism is the cultural air we breathe. Often our marital status, even as Christians, gets framed in the perspective of autonomy—”what do I want out of life, what will make me happy?” rather than ministry—”in which state can I best serve God’s Kingdom?” What if today, we recover this ancient concept of holy orders and think of our marital statuses as ministerial vocations, as sacred and profound as that of ordination? Sisters and brothers, we are called!