For Married people there is a "call for Holiness"; but a "call" means that in married life there is a time spent "before the call" and another "after the call".
We all know that holiness can be achieved through all forms of life: being single, married, priest, consecrated (monk, religious, …). By the Grace of Jesus, all forms of life can be transformed into means to achieve holiness. In saying that, we refer to the Council Vatican II, more precisely to chapter V of the Document called: “Lumen Gentium” (see here): “The universal CALL to holiness in the Church”. Here are some quotes:
“in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification".” (LG 39)
“The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God's gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received.” (LG 40)
“it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (LG 40)
As a consequence: “all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive” (LG 42)
A Call is a Call
Recently I was pondering on the issue of the “obligation to strive for holiness” and noticed that, very easily, the “call” can be transformed into a natural “obligation” for all. The difference between a unique “supernatural call” from Christ to a specific person, and an "obligation for all Baptised people", is huge and should be explained.
As you can see, the word “call” is used various times in the quotes. We, obviously, have the same expression in all other documents of the Church (ordinary teaching of the Popes and the Bishops, the Catechism,…).
Let us first consider the reality of the “Call to holiness”, all its aspects and implications:
1- The call has a goal: to start the journey toward holiness is something.
2- A “call” is a grace. A “grace” is by definition “free”, and depends totally on the freedom of God.
3- It is a grace received at a certain point in our life (not before), according to the wisdom of God, and in the form and intensity His wisdom sees and decides. Placed in time.
4- The “call” involves Jesus Himself, directly, personally.
5- The “call” means that Jesus has the priority and the initiative in calling us: as He says in the Gospel: I called you, you didn't invite yourself.
6- The “call” involves the direct, efficient and transformative Action of the Holy Spirit.
7- It involves, at the receiving end, from the faithful the following acts: sitting down, listening, pondering, discerning, responding to this Call/grace, using the means involved in this call, in order to be able to respond to it on the long term.
Baptism: The normal call, for instance to priesthood or to religious life, means that the person was first baptised, confirmed... had a “normal active christian life”... then, at a certain point in their life, they heard this “Call” from Jesus. (Sometimes the “call” grows progressively like a gentle dawn. But it is still a personal “call” from Jesus.)
Marriage: In a parallel way, we may say that a married couple receives the Sacrament of Marriage and lives with it normally. Then, I do believe that for the couple as well, they can receive the “call” for holiness, either early in their married life, or later... often one of the members of the couple (husband or wife), rarely both (it would be a huge grace).
As you can see the “call” is not something “automatic”, or "spontaneous", or “done at will”, even if we are baptised and are supposed to strive to holiness. Being baptised doesn't necessarily mean that we heard Jesus' Call or that we hear it every day. Baptism can be neglected, as a dormant seed in the earth of our being, waiting for the “right moment” to wake up.
What I would like to point out to is that when we say that “marriage is a way for holiness”, we might sort of forget all the dynamics of the “Call”. In fact, before a certain moment in their life, the married couple doesn't necessarily have that call (both, or each separately). Potentially it is there, included within the sacrament (of Marriage), like it is the case for the Sacrament of Baptism, but it is there “dormant”, waiting for Jesus' visit to the couple or to one of them. In one word: the married couple needs to receive/hear the “call” for holiness, and, in the mean time, they might have things to achieve before being able to “hear” the call.
“all are called to Holiness”: in fact, we can understand that statement in two ways at least:
1- Either: “there is a call that all will receive one day”. The “call” is potentially present, but activated only at a certain point in time.
2- Or: “all are already in a journey that leads to holiness”. It means: being married is a way for holiness. The “call” is actively present from day one (baptism, marriage).
There is a big big difference between the two, even if that for many persons the two are not opposed. What might be “new” to many of us is to become aware that: before, during or after marrying, we'll receive a “call for Holiness”. So we need to be prepared for it.
It is not because we are married, that we are supposed (without a “call”) to reach holiness. We need to “hear the call”, we need to discern the “call”.
You might object: - does this means that many couples, married in the Church, can just stay married in a state of apathy, without doing anything for their holiness? Does this make, within married people, two categories?
- Well, theoretically and mostly practically: “yes”. We are all baptised, but not all of us did receive a direct personal call to holiness. Do you see what I mean?
It is not because I am baptised that I am supposed to be on my way for holiness. No. On the contrary. One day, I will receive the call for holiness, the call to follow Jesus.
Notice: all my life before the call is not empty or without meaning. It is just a different life that deserves all its respect and requires as well from us to do many things. Before receiving the call for holiness there is a call for maturity, a preparation. Remember the rich young man. When he meets Jesus, he asks him: “what am I supposed to do in order to reach eternal life (instead of “eternal life” you may put: “holiness”, “perfection”)?” In His reply, Jesus didn't start mentioning “holiness”! On the contrary, He wanted to ensure that the foundations of this person are sound; so He said to him: did you fulfil Moses Commandments? In these commandments we have all the foundations of human life. Among the 10 Commandments one can extract the duties of the husband and wife within Marriage.
This doesn't mean YET that, by receiving the Sacrament of Marriage, there is a “call” for holiness. First things first. Shocking maybe, for many, but true. Jesus didn't start to speak about holiness. He said: “did you fulfil Moses commandments?”. We perfectly know that these commandments are not the call for holiness/perfection. They are the foundation.
In the series of Signs of the Journey that leads us to the Union with Jesus, saint John doesn't start with holiness. He starts by offering us Mary, the New Even, Mother of our Faith (John 2), then he shows us how Jesus heals the son of a man (and indirectly the man himself) (John 4), then Jesus heals a paralysed man who doesn't have any friend in the world, and can't do anything in his life (John 5). So Jesus works first on 1- Our Roots 2- our close relationships (son, father, partner..) 3- our work, action in the world..
It is only after these fundamental steps that Jesus starts to do greater things, call us, and make us “cross the Sea” (John 6).
I hope you can see the difference between these steps in spiritual life and what the “call for holiness” means and involves.