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Franciscan Friday: 5 Questions about Marriage as Mission


Continuing our series Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples, returned missioners Lorenz and Patty Sollmann write today about their faith’s relationship to the Sacrament of Marriage and their call to mission as a married couple. 

Patty and Lorenz Sollmann were married in September 1989, and were the first married couple to enter FMS in 1991. Both have a degree in Wildlife Biology and spent three years working in San Ixtan, Guatemala, helping the community through the development of various garden and animal husbandry projects. Patty and Lorenz have three wonderful children, Lea Dominique (now 19), Josef Christian (15) and Jehannah Catharina (13). They live in Port Angeles, Washington, where Patty continues to homeschool and help organize musical events to assist the poor in developing countries, and Lorenz works with the Fish and Wildlife Service as Refuge Manager for Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Both are active in parish ministries and catechesis, and feel blessed each day by their mission experience. They celebrate their 25th anniversary this fall.

1.How is your call to mission a reflection of the love in your

Love is an action, a verb. We express this in many ways. Some even spell “love” T-I-M-E. Just like while in mission, we are called to be present and to walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ in good times and in bad. We reflect God’s love in us, that together we can build up one another in holiness, to become the best version of ourselves we can be.

The Lord taught me a powerful lesson one rainy, prayerful night as I watched the flame of my oil lamp flicker to nothingness each time I lit it, leaving me in empty darkness. I realized that this was happening because the wick was no longer immersed in the oil. In this darkness, the Lord helped me to see that of my finite self alone I cannot love, but immersed deeply in His Love that love can flow through me in unlimited supply, and the flame will never die. It is His Love that flows through our marriage and His Love that flows through mission. In both we are called to be instruments of His love to another.

Lorenz and Patty Sollmann on mission in Guatemala, 1992-1994.

2. Some people are afraid that marriage will constrain their lifestyles and freedoms. What is the principal freedom that you experience because of marriage?

Reversing the focus, as a missioner I remember feeling and saying that no matter where you go or what you do, you fill a void. We all have voids (whether relational, character, spiritual or emotional) which bind and constrain us. In my marriage I have been blessed with someone who completes who I am. Therefore, being able to fill a void not only is a great gift, but gives the freedom and joy to make a difference for someone.

Blessed Pope John Paul II taught that “man finds himself only with a sincere gift of himself.” The principle freedom that I experience in marriage is that self-realizing “becoming” that gift of self, the freedom to become always ‘more’ and ‘less’ at the same time. Mission, like marriage, helps us to become more of what we weren’t before when we open ourselves in love to the other and learn from them, grow with them,
and become the person that we need to be through them.

3. How has marriage been a mission already for you? 

It is an adventure that requires courage and faith to see it through! No one should be surprised that sometimes we are “playing cards”, but not understanding we are using different rules to play.

But, by being open to the graces to see beyond our individual shortcomings, a whole new world opens up for us. Then when we make those genuine connections with the other(s), great happiness and joy can fill our hearts.

When we think of mission work we often think of far off lands where people speak different languages, do things differently than we’re used to, play by different cultural rules and don’t always think like us. Yep, that sounds like marriage to me! (With the exception of the “far off lands” part). Mission territory is pretty much right there in your own backyard! It is a life-long, life-giving adventure that becomes more beautiful with each passing year.

Lorenz and Patty hiking with their children,(L-R) Lea Dominique, Jehannah Catharina, and Josef Christian

4. How do you help each other live out your individual calls to discipleship?

Through prayer and love, we at least have a good start. We dedicated our marriage to the Holy Family, and ask them always to intercede and guide us. We hold each other accountable, try to be a good example, and hold each other often. We offer support when we stumble, but we always aim high. If you aim low, that’s what you get.

Michelangelo comes to mind. He’d look at a block of marble and the angel trapped inside, and he would chisel away until the angel could break free. Lorenz and I help each other live out our call to discipleship by helping each other become the people God call us to be. Like a piece of marble in front of an artist, and with the Master Sculptor apprenticing us, we become sculptor and the sculpture simultaneously. The call to discipleship is a call to let the beauty within break free. We challenge and help one another to fulfill this call as we journey through life together.

Lorenz and Patty during mission in Guatemala

5. In your own prayer life, how was discerning your call to marriage like discerning your call to Franciscan Mission Service?

Both began with listening in prayer and discernment to God’s call. My prayer life and spiritual journey started out small “like a mustard seed”. Though far from perfect, it continues to grow and bear fruit. Learning to listen is often the hardest part for me, but I’m hearing more all the time. In both, the call to marriage and Franciscan Mission Service, I knew in my heart this was where I belonged.

In 1988, a year after graduating from college, I decided to leave a permanent job, decent salary, and my own apartment in Chicago for a low paying, temporary summer job living in a community bunkhouse in the mountain wilderness. I was discerning my call to mission…. and to marriage at the same time, for they were both wrapped up in each other for me. Lorenz decided to follow me into my mission wilderness in Washington, and I am so glad he did! Two years later, we celebrated our second anniversary while in training at Franciscan Mission Service. And now, in our 25th year, with each new sunrise, our mission continues.

We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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