July 1, 2019

Vintage TV and the vocation of marriage

Vintage TV and the vocation of marriage

By Mike Allen

Having recently cut the cable cord, my rabbit ears antenna picked up an episode of the old CBS sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” on MeTV. I remember the show fondly, especially the ill-fated Thanksgiving turkey drop — “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

In the episode I caught, I was surprised by the heavy subject matter. The scatterbrained but genial station manager Arthur Carlson was arguing with his wife Carmen about whether she should continue the pregnancy she recently discovered (they were both in their 40s) or have an abortion (as suggested by his mother).

Both wanted the child, but each was suspicious of the other’s motives for saying so. Their “argument” went like this. Carmen: “You don’t want the baby.” Arthur: “Yes, I do!” Carmen: “Oh, Arthur, come on, you were just trying to make me feel good this morning. You always think of me first!” Arthur: “I do not!” Carmen: “Yes, you do!” Arthur: “Well, you’re just as bad. The only reason you want the baby is because you know I want it!” Carmen: “Wrong! Why don’t you, just for once, think of yourself first!” Arthur: “Oh, that’s just like you. All you ever think about is me!”

Sometimes, Hollywood gets marriage right. The shouting aside, the Carlsons reflected in that moment a mature expression of love: seeking your spouse’s good above your own. I can’t imagine a better picture of what marriage should be.

In the Catholic economy, marriage is a vocation, albeit a secondary one. On a higher level, all the baptized, whether Jorge Bergoglio (a.k.a Pope Francis) or Stefani Germanotta (a.k.a. Lady Gaga), have the same primary, “capital V” Vocation. We are all called to holiness.

Holiness is hard to define. We often reduce it to morality, religious seriousness or piety. But holiness is about being set apart. Think of the vessels in Mass holding the bread and wine that become Christ’s body and blood. You would never serve wings and beer with a paten and chalice— the vessels are consecrated for a higher purpose.

So why are we set apart? For love. Not just love in its infancy — the attraction one feels toward another that comes and goes like a virus. The love of desire, while beautiful in its own right, can be self-centered; I love you because of how you make me feel.

We are set apart by and for the love of the Blessed Trinity, the source of all genuine love. Our very existence and salvation derive from this divine communion, who creates and redeems us for our own sake.

God saves us to love as he loves, though our hearts must be reoriented from their selfish bent. The setting for this hard instruction is our secondary calling, whether it be marriage, singleness, holy orders or religious life. These are vocational schools, where the redemption we have in Christ is worked out.

The Catechism defines marriage like this: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” (1601)

Most Catholics know that marriage is ordered to the procreation and education of children. We have heard the ancient command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” We may not know that marriage also exists for the good of the spouses. Good here has a double meaning. It refers to the good of spouses in this life and the greater good still to come.

Spouses are vowed to help each other find heaven. Yet heaven in the Catholic vision is not a wholly separate realm. The veil between the visible and invisible is thinner than we know. When spouses love each other for their own sake, seeking the other’s good above their own, we taste heaven in the now.

It may not feel good in the short term. After all, heaven took on flesh and was crucified. Marriage is hard. Even the Carlsons were yelling. But the cross is the path to resurrection. Life is funny. Who knew I would find heaven on “WKRP”? Now I just need to live it in my marriage.