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Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Called to Singlehood?"

From Real Love Productions
By Mary Beth Bonacci

A single girl questions the existence of the single “vocation.”

I’m taking a class on John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Vocation and Dignity of Women). And it’s been fascinating.

This class is, as one would expect, comprised entirely of women. (What is it about men that they don’t want to sit around a classroom on a weekday afternoon, gabbing about the nature of womanhood?) Yesterday, we were discussing chapter six, which is entitled “Motherhood – Virginity: Two Dimensions of Women’s Vocation.” As we read along, it became clear that the Holy Father wasn’t referring to virginity simply as “the state of never having had sex,” but rather in the context of consecrated virginity – a woman who consecrates herself completely to Christ as a spouse.

The chapter opens with this statement. “We must now focus our meditation on virginity and motherhood as two particular dimensions of the fulfillment of the female personality.” That same paragraph closes by referring to “these two paths in the vocation of women.”

Hands immediately began shooting up. “Well, those are only two of the three vocations. What about the vocation to the single life?” They have, as I have, been seeing more and more references in spiritual literature to the “vocation” to the single life. Entire books are being written about it. Discussion groups are dissecting it. Unmarried men and women are immersing themselves deeply in prayer, trying to discern it.

But there’s one problem. As far as Church teaching is concerned, it doesn’t exist.

Hold on! Are you saying God doesn’t want anybody to remain unmarried unless they’re priests or nuns?

Of course I’m not. There may be specific individuals whom God, In His infinite wisdom, wishes to remain single but unconsecrated. Many others will remain single for reasons beyond their control. If they turn that singleness over to God, He will no doubt bring tremendous good out of it. A particular single person may be infinitely happier or holier than a particular married person.
But none of that raises unconsecrated singleness to the level of a “vocation.”
Why not? Traditionally, “vocation” has been understood to indicate a call from God – and a subsequent public vow -- to completely give oneself and one’s life to someone (or Someone, as the case may be.) As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes says, man finds himself only in a sincere gift of himself. And just plain old singleness doesn’t do that. Not that single people can’t be giving people. In fact, unmarried people are often among the most giving, generous people I know. But we haven’t taken a vow or formally given our lives to someone – and that, in the strictest sense, is the definition of a vocation.

What about teachers, youth ministers and others who consider that type of work a “vocation”? It may be, in the sense of being work God has called them to. Some may even forego marriage in order to give themselves completely to their students. But it’s still not a vow, not a complete self-gift. A teacher or youth minister can quit, or retire, or be promoted. It’s not a “life sentence.”

Nevertheless, several people in the class were righteously indignant. Interestingly, it was the married people who were upset on behalf of us single folk. The unmarried women there, like single people I’ve met elsewhere, were nodding and saying, ”This makes sense. My life doesn’t feel like a vocation in this way.”

In the document, John Paul II refers to the “naturally spousal predisposition on women.” I’ve experienced this, and so have the other women in the class. We want to give ourselves. We want to belong to someone – not in the sense of property, but in the sense of mutual self-gift. The Holy Father says that consecrated virginity, like marriage, fulfills that spousal predisposition.

So what about those of us who remain in this “no man’s land” – consecrated neither to God nor spouse? Some may be called to marriage, but due to the rampant immorality of today’s world have been either temporarily or permanently unable to find a suitable spouse. Others may desire marriage but experience personal problems that render them unable to enter into sacramental marriage. Still others may be called to consecrated celibacy, but haven’t heard or responded to the call.

Regardless, I know that all human persons find fulfillment through a sincere gift of self. For those of us who are unmarried, opportunities for that gift of self may not present themselves as often. But they’re the key to our happiness for the time we remain unmarried. We can – and must --participate in vocation analogously. We will find real fulfillment only by giving generously of ourselves -- to our families, our friends, to those we encounter in ministry, and to God.

God loves every person deeply and personally. That goes for those who have resolved their life’s vocation, as well as those of us who haven’t. Single people are not second-class citizens of the Church. We just, for whatever reason, haven’t settled into a vocation.

I see no need, therefore, to condescend to us and make up a “new” vocation for us. We prefer to deal with the truth.

True vocations in the Church are recognized liturgically. There is a Mass for Diaconate and Priesthood Ordination, Religious Consecration, Marriage and Consecrated Virginity, but there is no Mass for "single life." Vocations are also (supposed to be) lifelong and permanent - not just until something else comes along, like a spouse or another vocation.


Magistra bona said...

Dear Mary Beth: Christ is the answer to every question. He is a model and paradigm for each individual as an individual. Because this model originates in Christ, there is every reason to celebrate it liturgically and, more important, to take it seriously.
Christ was unmarried from beginning to end. He did not become a priest, offering the Eucharist, until a few days before He died. That was a life changer, and a vocation changer for him. Many start out with one vocation and have to change it during the course of life. We are no different as single people.
However, we face discrimination in the Church. The Church doesn't want to deal with us, has no idea how many of us there are, or what gifts and skills we have to offer. The Church isn't even asking the millions of adult Catholics, single and free, to join the ranks of the religious or to create an official alternative commitment. The Church only puts out its appeal to the young and to couples. That's a waste of resources. It's also an insult. Married and religious Catholics don't understand that the single state happens. Married Catholics will, eventually, lose their spouse. Now what? If they're older, they are cast onto the slag heap of the Church's forgotten. That's just dumb.
What about tertiary orders? Yes, they exist too. But, all too often, they are not taken seriously, are merely enrolled to solicit funds for religious, and are not equally promoted as are Orders.
To recognize, value, and muster the legions of the single would bolster the Church, the Gospel, and the world at a time of great peril. To fail to do so just makes the Devil happy.
Think about it. Single happens.

Brad Watkins said...

Thank you for your comment. Since I moderate the blog, and I'm the one who posted Mrs. Bonacci's article here, it is probably best that I respond.

Perhaps I could start with your last sentence "Single happens." Indeed it does, to everyone at birth. Single is not a state that we can choose or enter into, it is a state that we are born into. It is not a state that God can call us to, for we are already in it when we are born. No one is born a priest, a brother, a sister, a consecrated virgin, or a spouse. Everyone is born single.

Sadly we live in an age of entitlement where no one can be left out or excluded, no one can be denied anything they want to do, and no one should ever feel bad. Homosexuals declare they have a "right" to marry and many heterosexuals say that we should not deny them. Women want to become priests and many say that we should not deny them that "right". Others say we should allow openly homosexual men to become priests and we should not deny them that “right” either. Still others want a married clergy. The list can go on. The same seems true with regard to the “single vocation". There are many who feel that single people have a "right" to simply declare their state in life a vocation and there are many others that feel badly they are somehow denied this "right".

What is undeniable is the fact that everyone is called by God to live a life of holiness. We are all called to be saints. This presupposes any additional call to a "vocation". And a traditional vocation as recognized by the Church is not a "right" it is a privilege. It is a call for some, but not all, that in no way diminishes the original call to holiness of each and every person whatever their state in life.

To say that Holy Mother Church in its long standing teachings and traditions discriminates against, insults, or forgets about single people is certainly problematic if we have a proper understanding of what the Church is. The long list of single canonized saints might be some small proof that these sentiments are untrue.

Only in recent decades has there been such a push by some in the Church to declare the single state a vocation. It is perhaps noteworthy that this effort has often been coupled by an increased effort to diminish the Priesthood, Religious Life, and marriage.

Jerald Franklin Archer said...

In life, one is often "called" to do many things they feel is the right thing to do. A good amount of selfishness is usually involved, and when dire necessity comes to the field, the game becomes complicated. Life should never be considered a game, but a learning experience. The discernment of spirits must be considered as principal in the light of any decision.

Marriage, under the right circumstances, and with the understanding of the unique roles of the individuals involved, will often prove a great success. One the other hand, a marriage that does not conform with the teachings of the Church will inevitably result in disaster.

I have personal experience in this field of study. It was more of a legal civil union, and not a real marriage (1st time, at 39, and no children were produced, as there was no consummation since the marriage was not in the Church). I did all I could possibly do to alter the mind of my spouse, but some beliefs and errors are impossible to change, even if one were given an eternity to do so.

With the lesson well taken, I am now aware of the blessed condition that singleness can bestow upon an individual. The ability to practice one's faith must prevail first and formost. This fidelity was promised in my baptismal vows. My marriage vows seemed a farce and the marriage was entered into a state of personal duress.

It seems to have turned out more as a social experiment than a holy sacrament. There was very little that was holy about it. The cost was almost disasterous to both body and soul. Christ was my only strength and continues to make me stronger every day.

My deepest wish was to become a priest or religious, but I suffer from certain mental and physical conditions that make this impossible. At this point, I can see no reason not to continue on in singleness with sanctity and accepting God's will until He decides to change my present condition.