In the Second reading at Mass yesterday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary time, St Paul spoke of being free from worry, so as to focus everything on the Lord.
I would like to see you free from all worry.
An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways.
In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband.
I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
The opposition between pleasing the Lord and pleasing a spouse is rather a simplistic one, and at least potentially wrong-headed.
It is certain that one way of pleasing the Lord is in the fruitful creativeness of family life, with mutual support and encouragement helping parents and children learn and achieve holiness of life. Pleasing others and pleasing the Lord are not at odds with other.
However carelessness and selfishness, and obsessiveness – with regard to the Lord, or spouse, family or worldly matters – can lead people to lose their way in life. The family, the spouse, the world and we ourselves are not ends in ourselves. We are gifts of God, and gifts to be ‘used’ lovingly and gratefully as we also grow in relationship with God.
In most Christian traditions space is also found for acknowledging and supporting a healthy renunciation of the gift of marriage to follow a ‘religious’ vocation, usually in the context of a religious ‘family’ (be that the presbyterate of a local Church or a religious community or congregation). Such a life can be more singly focussed on pleasing the Lord, but rarely is the living of that religious ‘family’ life without its cares and worries too. Though, as in ‘natural’ families, those cares and worries, properly attended to, can be stepping stones to wholeness and holiness, making us still more pleasing to God, signs of his Glory.
Photograph of wedding in the church of St John of Malta, Aix en Provence. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.