Is religious/consecrated life really better than married or single life?

I know all vocations are holy and all, however I have read a lot about religious life being better, and many saints also have said this before and I even think it’s in the catechism, i don’t remember well though.
What I am wondering is if marriage or the single life can be equally beneficial and rewarding both here on earth and in the next life. Because it seems by what I read that religious will get better rewards than those of other vocations. Am I right to think that if this were true, maybe those who are married/single and live their vocation to the fullest, always making time for God etc. unlike many people who really don’t make time for God because they are so “busy” will also receive a reward that’s equal to those of the religious?

Different vocations for different folks. One vocation’s not better than another. Everyone’s different. Everyone using their gifts to serve the Lord. Moms, dads, sisters, brothers, priests, and whatever one’s doing. Offering it as service and sacrifice for the Father.

Although religious life is considered the highest “state of life” objectively, because it the one that resembles most Jesus’ life of poverty, chastity and obedience it is certainly not the only path to holiness.

One would reach holiness, the fullness of an eternal reward in heaven most efficiently by doing the will of God. It is much more important to live in the vocation that God called you
to than to choose religious life for the wrong reasons. It is much better to sanctify yourself in the vocation that God chose for you than to choose a loftier one that you are ill suited to.
It would be detrimental to your spiritual life to live out the wrong vocation. A very rocky path.

One must be very cautious about these sorts of declarations, especially in certain types of literature and hagiography.

One can cautiously say that, from an objective sense, consecrated life can be seen as “more perfect” because it responds to various points Our Lord extols: leaving father and mother, wife and children and property for His sake and for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. To pursue a vocation in consecrated life is to follow the invitation extended to the rich young man…to “go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and then come and follow me.” It is to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a radical way. It is to consecrated through the emission of vows publicly pronounced and received officially by the Church. It is to dedicate oneself to living in a radical way to the admonitions and invitations of the Lord in the Gospel and to be consecrated to praise the Lord through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours as part of one’s proper life and mission.

That said, subjectively the most perfect vocation for anyone is the vocation to which God is individually calling them. It is in that vocation that they will find, along the path of the pilgrimage of their life, the joys and sorrows, the blessings and trials, as well as the graces and gifts to grow in holiness and to become the person God calls them to be and to do what God calls them to do. If God is not calling a person to religious life, that is not the vocation they should pursue.

One can never foresee the plan of God for us and for our lives and the results they may engender. Louis and Zelie Martin, who will be canonized later this month, each sought to pursue vocations…but it was discerned in both cases that they were not called to such lives as they sought to enter, which was disappointing to each of them. But… They married, they had a holy and loving marriage, each sanctifying and enriching the other, and they raised a beautiful family of five daughters – each of whom they freely gave to God and His Church and these, in turn, became cloistered religious who fulfilled their parents’ dreams of themselves being Religious. In addition to Therese, her sisters’ causes for beatification are at various stages.

Thus this husband and wife will, in days, join their youngest daughter as canonized saints of the Church. The vocations by which they attained canonization and sainthood were different but the path God traced before each of them uniquely and individually led all three to sainthood, which is the ultimate and universal vocation: “to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

Finally, only God can say between Mr. and Mrs. Martin who were married and their daughter the Carmelite nun…or between Saint Thomas More, the married layman who was a lawyer, and Saint John Fisher, who was a bishop…which were holier in comparison to the other or even which made the greatest use of the gifts, graces and opportunities they were afforded. I am sure that there are many saints who were married who, in their lives, attained a higher degree of holiness than those who were in other states of life but lived their vocations less perfectly and less fruitfully.

Each of us should seek, in the context of living out the vocation to which we have been called by God, to love the Lord with all our mind and all our heart and all our strength and to love one another as Christ has loved us. We should make use of all the opportunities our lives give us to know, love, and serve God in this life so that we may be happy with Him forever in the life to come. We should seek to know and do His holy will in our lives. Love and fidelity to God and to the graces He gives us in our daily life is the important measure in growing in holiness and in closeness to God.

Celibacy is a gift which is better than the gift of matrimony.

'Better" here meaning “better spirituality”.
“Spirituality” means the fitness program you use in order to increase your virtue.

For example, a “Franciscan spirituality” means imitating the spirituality that St Francis used in order to increase his virtue. An "Augustinian spirituality means imitating the spirituality that St Augustine used in order to increase his virtue. Obviously, all Christian spirituality is ultimately centered on the spirituality of Christ, before any other saint which its name is ascribed to.

Celibacy is a gift from God and not something achieved in of itself. So, it can be objectively better for a person to choose the lesser gift of marriage over the greater gift of celibacy, depending on the gifts given to the person.

1 Corinthians 7: 1-9
**Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 This I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. 9 But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.**

That depends on what you mean by better. Objectively,living the evangelical counsels is the form of life most oriented toward Christian perfection, to which we are all called, and thus religious life is considered the highest type of life. Many are unable or unwilling to take on this life, however. This is not to say that the grace of God does not radiate beyond the cloister, as we all have opportunities for holiness wherever we are, and can sometimes live a holier life outside of religion than we could within.

From experience, though, I can easily say (and St Paul would agree with me), that is is much easier to serve God in celibacy than in marriage, and thus the great preference for celibacy throughout our history (and throughout many other spiritual traditions). Merely to be able to live celibacy is a huge spiritual boost, whether one is professed or not.

Theologians pondering those things which theologians do ponder, conclude that a life consecrated to poverty, chastity and obedience is the highest form of living - speaking objectively on a theological level. The Church underscores this.

However, nothing whatsoever even on the theological objective scale can be higher than God’s Will for a person’s life. It needs to be remembered too that because one is consecrated by the Church to religious life (poverty, chastity and obedience) does not thereby mean that a particular person is living that way of life to perfection in line with Graces received, while those in other states of life may be living in poverty, chastity (according to their state in life), and in a true spirit of obedience without even necessarily realising that they are doing so. In line with the Graces received, they are on the road to holiness and perfection, insofar as can be obtained in this life.

Celibacy does free a person possibly to a way of life unavailable to a non celibate state of life (marriage). However marriage is a road to a possibly different and particular kind of holiness and perfection. Both states of life, celibate and non celibate, ask and provide a full and total serving of God in absolutely every way. They are simply different calls and different ways of life.
Without marriage, there would be no future for mankind, nor any priests nor religious, no consecrated life.

Holiness and perfection is not limited to consecrated religious life. The objective to which Jesus and His Church calls us is not to the objectively highest theological state of life, rather the call is to holiness and perfection in whatever way of life we serve.

A lot of the “higher state of grace” claims being referred to here are from sources prior to Vatican II. The current teaching is that all are called to holiness. And religious life is rarely referred to as a “state of perfection” anymore, because that implies a finality rather than an ongoing journey toward holiness. In other words, the theology of religious life has evolved quite a bit, and it is important to know what the church teaches today. For all of us, the “higher” state is the one to which God is calling US. It is not monolithic.

[If you REALLY want to get technical, virginity/celibacy for women was condemned until about the third Christian century, because celibate women were considered dangerously independent of men–fathers, spouses, etc. Finally, when it became clear that women were going to continue to dedicate their lives to God, it was authorized–but only in forms approved by the (male) hierarchy. In other words, the explanation of a “higher state” was a kind of ex post facto justification, initially.] It’s a long story, but an interesting one. If you are interested in knowing more, a good source is Jo Ann McNamara, “A New Song: Celibate Women in the First Three Christian Centuries.”]

Thank you for the book recommendations. It sounds very interesting.
I think that very possibly once The Church is aware that there is a strong movement amongst the faithful, The Church discerns if it is a movement of the Holy Spirit and then decides the future of that strong movement i.e. supressed or advocated in some manner.

As usual, you explain this very well. There is no reason a person can’t live quite a holy life outside a religious community. The desert fathers lived alone and were considered very holy. And there are many saints who raised families, the most obvious ones being St Therese’s parents.

It certainly might be a more focused life in community with others who want to live a religious life, but if it is not God’s will for a person, then it is not the most perfect state for them.

Except to say this is to say that the continued existence of the Church depends on the majority of its members being in an inferior spiritual situation. That doesn’t seem right.

St Paul is speaking of celibacy in particular and his own vocation. He is underscoring what The Church still maintains, that celibacy is superior to marriage on an objective theological scale. He does note, however, that there are other gifts i.e. " I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind." Later speaking of marriage, he is very eloquent indeed and speaks of marriage as a holy state of life - see Ephesians Ch5.

"28] So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. [29] For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: [30] Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

[31] For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. [32] This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church. [33] Nevertheless let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself: and let the wife fear her husband."

Except to say this is to say that the continued existence of the Church depends on the majority of its members being in an inferior spiritual situation. That doesn’t seem right.

This is incorrect. Those who are married are definitely not living in an “inferior spiritual state”. A Sacrament can never be referred to as “inferior”!!! “Superior” in your context can only refer to the objective theological scale - however in “real life” as lived out, vocations include both the objective theological consideration and the subjective consideration or God’s Will for a person’s life. God’s Will is always and forever the most superior without exceptions. As previously stated, holiness and sanctity can be attained in any state of life whatsoever.

Priesthood and Marriage are the only states of life raised to great dignity indeed of a Sacrament.

We just talked about vocations in my Aspirancy spirituality class for the diaconate, and what we have been told is that all vocations are equal in value in the eyes of God.

Very well said. Each of the vocations speak to each other and relate to each other, depend on each other. They all build up the Body of Christ on earth, The Church. All reliable and sound commentary on the various vocations - commentaries loyal to what The Church teaches - underscore this fact.
As a comment. Obviously if I say enter religious life because it is the superior vocation but it was not God’s Will for my life and I do not make a good religious, I am not living in a superior state at all. I might be living in a superior state in objective theological considerations but my actual state in life is probably rather woeful. This is where the objective theological consideration can be confused in that vocations are lived out in real life and therefore include the subjective consideration where God’s Will for a person enters into the conclusions - and nothing whatsoever can be superior to God’s Will. And it is a gift from God, of His Grace, that one successfully discerns His Will for one’s life and then faithfully follows through.

Celibacy is a gift and not all have the gift not because one person is better than another, but simply because it is God’s Mysterious Will. It is not because the celibate person is destined for a ‘higher’ spirituality either since the highest of holiness and sanctity (through an intense personal spiritualty - rather than ‘highest’) can be attained in any state of life at all. And how mysterious indeed rather often can God’s Will be as we journey through this life. We all have our gifts dispersed according to God’s Will. Certainly, marriage requires special gifts to live through the trials and tribulations of marriage and for life (not without its consolations as with all vocations). All those who faithfully live out celibacy for The Kingdom have received the gift of celibacy. It is a gift amongst many of The Lord’s abundant gifts and blessings - none of which in the slightest could we deserve…none!
The Gospel tells us that even when we perform the very highest of virtues and goodness we remain unprofitable servants “you have only done your duty”.
St Luke Ch17 "[9] Doth he thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him? [10] I think not. So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do."

We are commanded to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is Perfect.

Prayers for you and your wife as you discern your vocations. May God richly bless you both.

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