How Is It "Better" Not To Marry?
There’s a common misconception that can pervade our mindset which concludes that religious are “holier” than the common Catholic in the pews, or that priests are priests because they are “better” at living the faith. This isn’t the case at all! Holiness is about faithfully living out the vocation into which God has called us. So, when St. Paul says that it is better not to marry and that marriage brings about distractions, he’s not saying that married couples are less than priests or religious in the order of holiness or the order of salvation.
The Church teaches that there are a hierarchy of vocations not based upon class or worth but based upon the level to which the vocation itself reflects the heavenly realm. Another way to put it is that every vocation to some degree is a foreshadowing or prefiguring of heaven. St. Paul says that the vocation of virginity is better because one can better concentrate on prayer and contemplation of God. In the order of gradation, then, the religious life shows us here on earth what our lives will be like in heaven. Perfect obedience, chastity, and material poverty will be the mark of all souls in heaven. Therefore, the vocation to religious life is a “higher” calling than the secular/diocesan priesthood or marriage.
There is a classical expression that goes, “The habit does not make the monk.” It can similarly be said that the cassock does not make the priest nor does a wedding band make the husband or wife. Yes, there may be a difference in degree for each vocational path, all are called to the same holiness in those paths. What makes a good monk, priest, husband, wife, religious sister, etc.? Self-gift. It is a pouring out of one’s own heart in service to the Gospel. A monk pours out his heart in contemplation and liturgical prayer. A diocesan priest pours out his heart in service to his parish family. A husband and wife pour out their hearts totally in sacrifice for the other. Though the husband and wife are unable to spend hours in prayer daily like a monk, God gives the graces necessary to the married couple as he does to the monk to reach the heights of holiness and perfection in the very state of life to which he called them. As Christ poured himself out in love, that is what we all are called to imitate.