When we Catholics speak of the different options that are open before us in how to live our lives — priesthood, religious life, married life, single in the world — we commonly, at least nowadays, speak of these as “vocations.”
But are all of these really vocations in the proper sense? Specifically, does God “call” people to matrimony as he does to the priesthood or religious life?
No. At least that is the traditional answer. The concept of a vocation is to be called out of the mass of humanity to do something objectively higher. Therefore, priesthood and religious life, which fit that description, are properly called vocations. The others are not.
Christian Matrimony is a good thing. It is a holy thing, so holy, in fact, that the union is effected by a sacrament. But it is not a vocation in the strict and proper sense because marriage is the common way that most of humanity live.
If it is not a vocation, what is it? The proper term is “state in life.” We should call matrimony and the single state in the world, “states in life,” and not vocations.
All of us are called to holiness if we are baptized. In Baptism, we all experience a true vocation — in the strict and proper sense. Why? Because, in Baptism, we are called out of the state of original sin and unbelief as fallen children of Adam into the state of grace and faith as children of God in the Mystical Body of Christ. That is a sublime vocation to grace here and glory hereafter. It is a call to something higher than either the life of sin or even the life of mere natural virtue. It is a call to become a saint.
Living well and generously in the state of life (single, married) or “secondary vocation” (priesthood or religious life) we have embraced is the way each of us will sanctify ourselves in our primary vocation, that of the baptized.