There are some today who think that the Church should give greater recognition to the “call” to the single life. And therefore when we pray for vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and marriage in the Prayer of the Faithful (or at other times) some will say, “Why don’t you ever pray for those called to the single life or mention the vocation to the single life?” Here in the blog, too, when I write about vocations there are usually some who comment and ask why I do not mention the vocation to the single life.
The answer is that I don’t think there is a call (or vocation) to the single life per se. I can see how we might speak of a single person who commits to being a lay missionary as having a call, whether permanent or temporary. Perhaps, too, a person who stays single in order to be wholly dedicated to a work of charity or justice could be said to have a vocation, again either permanent or temporary. However, in these cases the vocation is the work itself, not the single state.
Simply being single does not seem to qualify for what we have traditionally termed vocations. Consider first some basic differences.
1. Those who marry as well as those who enter religious life or the priesthood make promises and vows. What promises and vows do those who are single make? To whom? For what purpose? Unless they become consecrated virgins or hermits, do singles make such vows and promises? No.
2. Those who marry as well as those who enter religious life or the priesthood commit to live the life they enter stably, i.e., consistently. They do not make their promises only until something better comes along, or until something changes. Can this be said of the single? Are they not single only until something better comes along? Until they meet someone whom they will marry? Are singles really bound to live their current status stably? No.
3. Those who marry as well as those who enter religious life or the priesthood are not permitted to date others or enter into romantic and particular relationships with others. Priests and religious are celibate and the married are chaste and faithful to their spouse. Single people can date and enter into and out of romantic (though chaste) relationships at will. Are singles in a permanent and exclusive relationship? No.
4. Those who marry as well as those who enter religious life or the priesthood enter into a communal relationship, whether in a religious community, a diocese, or a third order. The single may belong to a parish, live in a certain locale, or even belong to a group like Opus Dei. But they are free to move away or cease membership at a moment’s notice if an attractive job offer comes along or some family commitment or just preference intervenes. Are singles really tied by lasting bonds to a community? No.
5. Those who marry as well as those who enter religious life or the priesthood (especially religious) live within a regula (rule), which lays out the required structure of their day, regulates relationships, and clarifies rights, duties, lines of authority, etc. What sort of “rule” do those in the single “vocation” follow? If they follow a structured life at all, is it given to them by others, or do they establish it for themselves? Are they perpetually bound or only for as long as they please? Even married people cannot date or relate to anyone they wish; they cannot simply decide to go on a tour of Europe without consulting their spouse and considering their family duties. Are the single really bound in these ways? No.
6. Those who marry as well as those who enter religious life or the priesthood are either under the authority of or answer to others. Spouses must be accountable to each other; priests and religious are answerable to their superiors and cannot simply do as they please or go where they want. Is this the case with those who are single? Do they answer or report to anyone on this earth? No.
So there are a lot of practical differences that rather strongly distinguish being single from being in a promised (or vowed), permanent, regulated state under authority. It is true that some live today as consecrated virgins or hermits. But here, too, they are under the authority of the bishop and make permanent or semi-permanent promises of some sort in a way that single people do not.
Then there is the more theological reason called the nuptial meaning of the body. The nuptial meaning of the body is that within its physical structure is inscribed the truth that we are made for others. Our body says, “I was made for a spouse of the opposite sex to complete me and render me fertile.” Speaking of a human being as single, and certainly speaking of there being a call to be “single,” would tend to violate this understanding of the human person.
And thus, even for celibate priests and religious, we cannot consider ourselves “single.” While we do not express the nuptial meaning of our bodies through sexual intercourse, we do wed and maintain a spousal relationship with the Church. Religious women are Brides of Christ. Religious men and priests see the Church as our Bride. We do not live apart from our spouse, the Church (understood as the Bride of Christ or the Body of Christ). We live for the other (the Church) and are expected to remain faithful and fulfill our commitments and be accountable to her. This would also be true for some in the Church who are consecrated virgins or hermits.
There are some religious communities that do not take perpetual vows, but only yearly ones. However, this is more for canonical reasons; those who take yearly vows understand their vows to be ultimately perpetual and they maintain that notion spiritually if not juridically.
I do not see any of these structures or notions in the “single” life as such. It is true that some never marry, for a variety of reasons including same-sex attraction, not finding the “right person,” physical or mental health issues, etc. Perhaps in such cases single people of this sort who doubt they will ever marry can undertake some work or enter some relationship with the Church that is both regulated, of some extended duration, and involves work for others. But it would be the work or the consecrated virginity that would be honored as a vocation, not the single state itself.
Thus, for these reasons and tradition, I do not think we can or should speak of the single life as a vocation in the sense that we normally use that word with regard to the priesthood and the religious life.
Why is this request to include the single life as a vocation common today? First, there are a lot of people who are single today. While I do not think this bespeaks a healthy culture, it is a fact, and there is some legitimate concern as to how to include such a large group in our prayers and our pastoral concern.
Second, though, I wonder if this isn’t another example of the tendency today toward “identity politics.” Many today in our culture want their lived experience and views to receive recognition and approval from the wider culture. And if such recognition (and at least tacit approval) is found lacking, offense is taken and pressure is exerted for the “granting body” to give this recognition and approval.
This second aspect may explain why some (though not all) I have met get rather angry when I don’t simply agree that there is a call (vocation) to the single life.
Of course I am not the final word on this matter in the Church. But it seems to me that words have meaning and we ought not simply cede to the pressure to use words so widely that they no longer have their stricter—and I would argue proper—meaning.
So have at this topic. I would appreciate comments not being directed to me, but rather to the issue and the reasons I have put forth. Feel free to agree or disagree with the overall point or to particular points I have made. If you disagree, consider saying why and what principles you think should apply.
As these videos show, the single life presents many challenges and often summons many to heroic sacrifice as our culture becomes increasingly hostile. All of us, single, married, priest, or religious are summoned to the call of martyrdom, spiritual or physical.
187 Replies to “Is There a Vocation to the Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why”
O.K. shall those of us who who could not find a suitable spouce just resign to thinking of ourselves as odd – like most people seem to regard us. Your analysis here isn’t very helpful to us. We may not have taken vows but we must live as though we do. So thanks for the slap down.
Why not respond to the points made instead of taking this personally. You seem to think that the job of others is to be “helpful” to you in feeling better.
At no point do I use the word “odd” so that is your issue. You phrase “Slap down” is excessive and churlish in its own rite.
Please focus on the points I have made and respond to them. Do you disputes the distinctions I made? What would you add? If you disagree and think there IS a vocation to the single life, why is this? What are the parameters of that call? For example, can they date or not? Do they make promises? To whom are they accountable? etc. In what sense is single life similar to what we have called vocations in the past?
You DO say that you must live as though you have taken vows? What do you mean by this? Which vows? (obedience, stability, common life, celibacy? which one(s)) You say you “must” live them? Why? Says who?
I do not say that “singles” have no vocation, only that the “single” aspect is not that call. So perhaps you are called to be a full time emergency room doctor who spends long hours dedicated to the care of the sick and research, time you could not spend if married. Or perhaps you can be a lay missionary. etc. So If you are not in marriage, priesthood or religious life, is there some dedicated role that you are called so that you are in relationship to others? etc.
These are the things to address, not the fact that you take offense when none is intended. I am making a point and asking for discussion on that point. The fact that you think I have slapped you down, indicates a lot of misplaced personal worth and that you attribute a power to me that I do not have. I am not the source of your dignity and I cannot take it away by something I write. I am trying to have a discussion here about how we use words and concepts. To a certain degree you are a perfect illustration of how “identity politics” seeks to shut down legitimate conversations by positing offense where none is intend or, I would argue, even given.
Feel free to disagree to the substance of the article, say why, but leave the personal accusations at the door. This article is not about me, nor is it about you. It is about all of us and how we understand and use words and concepts.
Words mean things and it is worth discussing topics like this.
Spot on, Msgr.
Yes indeed, I took it personally. You are welcome to your opinions Father, so are the rest of us. And as to your response, it was even more judgental.
I am not going to continue this thread with you Linus. Your remarks deserved to be judged, they were excessive and did not address the topic but sought to divert a legitimate conversation into issues about feeling hurt. That is neither the intent nor the necessary conclusion of a topic like this. Stop all the personal accusations and stick to the topic. This is not about me and not about your personal feelings. Address the topic. What is logically flawed? What would you add or subtract. What distinctions would you make etc.?? If you’re not willing to address the topic substantially then just stop.
Msrg, you are too kind and merciful and know how to hit a nail on the head. Sincere prayers for Linus who appears to have a propensity and desire to stir things up as opposed to holding a mature dialogue. I am 47 and still single and appreciated your article and all the insights related to different vocations and it all makes sense and I agree with the explanations. Just b/c I am not married does not mean that I will never marry (not sure why Linus writes that he is “resigned”…as if he will always be single or is somehow doomed…a negative attitude will surely not assist in attracting a good spouse). And to the contrary, it was uplifting (not a slap down) to read such clear and easy to understand explanations about vocations w/ objective truth (there was nothing personal toward anyone), which inspires me to look forward to making that commitment, whether marriage or religious life. I’m trusting God and His timing and in the meantime, I am enjoying being single and making the most of it…was even a f/t pro-life missionary for 2 years, but would never consider being single a vocation, though yes the missionary work/calling was a type of vocation…but more of a mission/calling for a season. Thank you for sharing this info!!
Thanks. Bless you for your work in the Pro-life apostolate and for trusting God to show you your call.
Perhaps it is time to change the parameters here?
Why talk about Vocation instead of talking about the reality that
50% of all American adults face: That they are not married and the Church really does not talk to our needs but only to folks who are getting married or staying married and having children?
Yes, I do agree that one of the functions of The Catholic Church is to see that Catholics do marry and bring up their Children Catholic and all that goes with it.
But what about the other half of humanity that God, in his divine wisdom, doesn’t call to marriage?
A Roman Catholic, at 58, who has never been married , I think I can tell you a few things…
I wasn’t called to be a Priest.
Throughout my life I constantly wondered when will I marry?
Coming home from college to find my Father seriously ill and passing from this life at 53.
Being there when my youngest brother became seriously mentally ill, not to mention all the work I tried to make him better or to help anyone who was, being there to save Mom and getting a broken nose and being there when he committed suicide.
Losing my job because my CEO decided that I had no right to an American job but some guy in Manila did?
And my parish Deacon saying that I was wrong to vote the economy in 2008?
Two years later having to put down any thought of a life I might have to take care of my Mom who became bedridden ..she couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom without falling and eventually died of cancer.
Now I’m hopefully ending this 5 year stint and will have a life of my own when the house is finally sold.
Living my life I had no clue what I was supposed to do but now I know that I was there for my family.
Fact is though that our Church should be there for those of us who are single…whatever our vocation individually is..and only God really knows that totally.
I will keep you in my prayers.
P Edward Murray
He was harsh.
>I do not say that “singles” have no vocation, only that the “single” aspect is not that call.
This is the key point I think. Everything else you listed follows from this: priests and consecrated religious are single (and under vows, etc) for some higher purpose; priests for offering Mass and the sacraments, religious to be dedicated to prayer and works of charity. Certainly single people could have a “vocation” which isn’t one of the more common/traditional ones (priesthood, consecrated religious including hermit or virgin) like a lay missionary, etc, but that is the vocation then. It might still be considered more informal unless they bind themselves under vows to support that vocation.
> We may not have taken vows but we must live as though we do
Just because you don’t see any alternative to your current celibate existence, doesn’t mean you are living a “single vocation”. I’m personally familiar with feeling odd amongst groups in the Church, but just because we don’t seem to fit in the more common groups, doesn’t mean we don’t have a proper place.
“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window”
Monsignor, great article! I am currently single, and I enjoyed your thoughtful analysis. My question, however, is about homosexuals, men who suffer from the disorder of same-sex attraction. Practically speaking, homosexuals must be called to the single life, correct? After all, they must be chaste and virtuous for the Kingdom of God. Single heterosexuals must be virtuous, too, but they may enter into a sacramental marriage with a member of the opposite sex. I look forward to your reply! Thank you and God bless you always. +JMJ+
I don’t believe there is a “vocation” to the single life. I don’t believe anyone is called by God to remain in the single state as a vocation. I believe some people choose to remain single perhaps because they have found relationships difficult or were raised in dysfunctional homes, and resolved never to repeat such mistakes. Other people, many others, wanted to marry but didn’t find the one they should have married, or perhaps did not hear or understand a call to a religious vocation. Still others are selfish, and want to be alone, answerable to no one, accountable to no one.
A single person who wished to marry or have a religious vocation but neither “happened” travels a very difficult and painful road. It is often lonely, unstable, and even unsafe. Often there is a too long attachment to parents in a sort of subordinate state, since one cannot really establish independence in the shadow of a parent without marriage or religious life legitimizing the adult role.
I don’t know why some of us are never given marriage or a religious vocation. I don’t know what God’s plan for us is. It is a hard, lonely road, with it’s own trials and sorrows. We are often forgotten, even by our own families, they assuming we are free and having a grand old time all the time. They forget us even in our sickness and grief. And it is very easy to get selfish and bitter as a single person.
I don’t think it is up to the Church to pay attention to singles as a special group, forming ministries to them. I think it’s the responsibility of the single person to find places to become useful to the Church because of the extra time they have available. In getting involved, in finding out what God would have one do with any extra time, a single person can perform services for the Church and others that often go unfilled.
I like the idea of groups formed for singles though, and for those widowed or even divorced. I think the Church offering a place to meet with other Catholics who have similar life circumstances can help the person form new relationships. But to claim people are called to the single life by God- no, I wouldn’t agree.
Thank you. I think you have unwrapped the subtle distinction between being single and considering this state as a vocation. Unfortunately some of the readers have misinterpreted the essay. I hope they read your response and reconsider their initial reaction.
Linus, your response is disappointing. Msgr. Pope deserves better due to his exemplary track record, plus his specific request that we not direct comments to him, “but rather to the issue and the reasons.”
I too am single, and Msgr. Pope’s message rings true. Unlike you, I believe his analysis IS very helpful. Like all his articles, it challenges me to examine what I am doing—and what I’m not doing. It makes me more aware of words, precision, and conscientiousness.
You said, “we [single people] must live as though we do [take vows].” Not true! As Msgr. pointed out, in general, we can change many aspects of our lives very easily. Financial situations and short-term obligations might make that change more or less difficult, but we do not live like those who have made vows.
I think we should embrace being “odd”! All Christians should think of themselves as “odd.” In our culture, it is odd to seek forgiveness and not revenge. It is odd to love one’s enemies. It is odd to practice virtues that don’t bring instant gratification.
Good for you.
Having read the article in its entirety, I am compelled to second what Linus2nd has said. I believe the good Father, operating with what I am certain is the best of intentions, would do well (and yes, charity to others would call for me to direct this to him, and not simply the issue) to ask himself a very important question:
“Have I left this subject any better than I found it?”
What then would I have him say? Fair enough. I think we need to keep this idea of putting every Catholic into one of three little boxes (married, priesthood, religious life) in the proper perspective, one that is less than dogmatic or otherwise binding in its application. Those coming of age who do not fit into a box have enough with which to concern themselves in their lives, without being forced to make a choice as though there were a deadline, and risk making the wrong choice.
If God operates on his own time, we should be more loathe than we are at present to apply our own.
Yes I have left this topic better. I am asking legitimate questions.
Your second point shows you have have not read my article carefully. Your “three boxes” are yours, not mine. I very clearly state that if one is single, they can have a vocation in the work they do for the body of Christ or even the extended community. Please re-read that section. Such a use of the term vocation however would be used in an extended though not technical sense, since there are not usually the vows, stability etc that go with vocation in the formal sense that we have always meant by the term in the past. There is a nuptial meaning to the body, even if we are not formally married. We exist for others and that is where vocation is found. Thus I argue that being single is not per seipsum a vocation. I think that is reasonable, for the reasons I state. If a person is single, then they do well to ask, what is God asking of me to do given the fact am I single. How can I enter into deeper communion with the Church or wider community give the “freedom” (in the Pauline sense) I have to serve Christ in others. THAT is where we can discuss vocation in some some proper sense, not in the mere fact of being single.
I get what David L Alexander is referring to above. We use vocation in two slightly different senses; one refers specifically to marriage, religious life or priesthood and the other is more general. When vocations are talked about, a lot of time the 3 big options of priesthood, religious life and marriage are talked about in detail but there is also sometimes a sense of “everyone has a vocation” which can leave people who feel none of those three are for them also feeling a bit lost. That’s certainly not to say the concept of vocations is flawed; it just could be better explained and proclaimed. It’s just like you could say a man has a vocation to the priesthood, but he could also have a vocation to minister in missions. A single person doesn’t have a vocation in that first sense, but can in the second.
I wonder if re-emphasizing the third order groups (of various types) could help with this perception; it might provide more visible groups for single lay people in the world to build a vocation around (ministering to the poor, etc).
OK Aquinas, but do I not state that in the article? I DO speak of “vocation” in a different sense. I do think singles can have vocations in a secondary sense of the term. But I don’t think saying “Single” is a vocation makes sense per se. Its too broad. Like saying being Human is a vocation or being male is a vocation. SO the “call” is what one does with their singleness to be of service to the Church.
Frankly the whole tone of this comment thread has been one of the stranger chapters in the history of this blog. It is VERY strange to see the extreme reaction that a mere request for proper distinctions and word use causes. In addition to my theory regarding identity politics, I am also concluding that many who start reading the post (or even just read the title) go into shut-down mode and in anger do not carefully read the article. Very few commenters who oppose the view are referring to any of the reasons I state etc, they are missing distinctions etc. I also think many do not even read the post but go straight to the comments.
I completely agree with how you’ve outlined vocations and thus why singlehood (as a generic term) is not a vocation in its own right. My point was not every cleric (vocation director or otherwise) or even every talk on vocations has expressed the essence of what a vocation is so clearly. And I thus appreciate from my own experience how some have felt to be in a sort of limbo, which isn’t the fault of the theology or terms themselves, but more so of how it has been expressed. No one has a “right” to a vocation or a right to have their particular way through life recognized and praised publicly (which is what your identity politics comment would correlate with). As I commented elsewhere being celibate (for a priest or religious) is not the end in itself but serves the higher purpose, so of course being single alone isn’t a vocation.
This comment thread has been rather poor in content and spirit, but while that might be atypical for this blog, it’s unfortunately all too common for the internet in general. “extreme reaction that a mere request for proper distinctions and word use causes” I’m afraid that is also rather common to encounter on the internet; it also reminds me of a quote from Belloc: “We must begin with a definition, although definition requires mental effort and therefore repels”
I do thank you for this nicely outlined discussion on vocations.
What of those incapable of consummating a marriage, like those with strong same sex attraction, and to whom the religious life may not be feasible? Aren’t they called to a life of chastity? Isn’t that essentially a vocation?
Seems like that would be a cross the individual must carry not a vocation.
Same-sex attractions doesn’t make you incapable of consummating a marriage; it makes it less likely that you can form the proper relationship. They are called to a life of chastity, but that is not on its own a “vocation”. What they do with their chastity (typically celibacy as well) can be the vocation. That is Msgr’s point.
Hello Father – I enjoy your posts and they always give me much food for thought and learning. Regarding the single life not being a vocation…at 54 and never been married, I am inclined to agree with you and have never thought of my single state as a “vocation” per se. I definitely wouldn’t characterize my singleness as a calling and I also don’t see it particularly “chosen” by me. Likely gets lumped into the “would-have-liked-to have-been-married-but-never-met-the-right person” category, or perhaps “God-wanted-me-single-for-reasons-known-only-to-Him” category.
Yet I admit the list of differences (“the list of 6”) stung a little bit–or at least made me think long and hard for the last hour or so!. All the differences listed—(1) no vows/promises to another, (2) seemingly not beholden to another/others to live consistently, (3) the freedom to date many people (Note: Totally not as fun as it may look!), (4) freedom to move (or not to commit) to a community, (5) lack of rule to follow, and (6) not under authority/have to answer to others–are, ironically, crosses too, even in as much as they are “freedoms” of not having to be seemingly accountable to any One or group.
The “list of 6” shows the built-in life framework of traditional vocations that is not naturally built into the to those who are single (especially in our day and age), and in a back-door way, explains how vocations foster a person to go outside themselves to grow in love of God and others.
In the end, the single person is beholden to still try and learn from “real” vocations. i.e. Over the years I’ve tried to piece together—without the benefits/challenges of vows, superiors, spouse, guidance, ongoing support/encouragement/critique–the missing framework that the list above provides in order give life fuller meaning in expending one’s heart for the love of God and others. So, in the “list of 6,” re: 1&2; Though not vowed, I am beholden to my God, to live consistently and lovingly before Him. How I live matters to Him. I am called, as His adopted child, to live out the Commandments, the Beatitudes, to love others in charity and sacrifice, to frequent the sacraments, and to forge the best relationship I can with Christ. Re: 3 & 4; In dating or making commitments, I am called to maturity both in the secular and spiritual life. Yes, the option is there to bail, but if I’m honest with myself and my good God, I have to make mature decisions. (5) I’ve tried to set up a regular prayer life and have learned some helpful “rules” over the years—again without the wisdom of a formal rule or knocking heads with another, so progress is undoubtedly slower. Number 6 has been the trickiest because finding a spiritual director is likely the obvious step but has proven difficult, so not sure what to do but leave in God’s capable hands.
Didn’t mean for this to be so lengthy…reminding me of St. Therese’s exclaiming “My vocation is love!” In the end, though not a formal vocation, I am still ultimately called to a vocation of love. Thank God!
This is well said and I am grateful for your quotation of St Therese: “My vocation is love” since it does show a third way. It is not vocation in the strict or juridical Catholic sense, but in the wider sense, and it helps rescue us saying being “single” is per se a vocation. That is too vague and detached. Love, and the nuptial meaning of the body are preserved when we speak of it this way. Thus again to those who are single, the question of vocation must then be, given my “freedom” (in the Pauline sense), what would God have me do that serves him in some dedicated way for others, the members of his body.
Yes- so the answer to “so what is a single to do (in the meantime)?” is essentially to look to the universal vocation, sometimes called our primary vocation, to holiness (that is, to love). Because that does have binding commitments to the Commandments and Beatitudes. But we live these out through a vocation to the religious life or a spouse, or while single through these temporary vocations like missionary work or, for the widowed perhaps, raising children who will one day leave home and no longer need this guidance. I would argue that the single person who hasn’t attached himself to some sort of community or commitment in the way of this temporary missionary-type vocation, is going to find it hard and maybe impossible to live their Christian life (call to holiness/love).
If a person does not feel a call to consecrated life, and has not found a spouse, they are left in a sort of limbo. Does this mean you have an unfulfilled “call” to married life but no spouse? Possibly. If you believe you are called to marriage but have not found a spouse, how many years should you wait before presenting yourself to a religious community for [reluctant] consecration? Is doing so a sacrifice, or a manifestation of a lack of faith in God? Or are their people who have no calling? That seems – unlikely, but the apparent logical conclusion of this argument.
See my reply to David. You are setting up a dichotomy that I do not. I address in your concern in the article as I point out to David.
Msgr. Pope, after reading your article I got the same impression as Sally did. In fact, I perhaps go a bit farther and see an implication here that if you are single then you must be ignoring your calling. We all have a vocation in life and if being single cannot be it then singles must be avoiding their calling. I hope that is not what you are saying but that is how this article is coming across to me.
Why do you say this. What in the article would make you draw this conclusion?
I think some of the single people reading this would appreciate a follow up with “then what do you want us to do right now while we are waiting?” (See my comment to the St Therese response)
Yes, and see also my comments regarding this above. I may do this, but frankly if I do, I think I would shut comments down if I wrote it. As for the “what I want you to do while waiting” I never said anyone was waiting. There are some who are never going to marry. The point I have made in the article and repeatedly, is that if someone is single, that is not the vocation. The vocation, in a qualified, non-formal, non-vowed sense is to serve the Church by works of prayer, the call to holiness and in service of the Lord’s Body and Bride the Church. In that sense, carpe diem, get in there and join, serve, pray, take leadership roles. Those are “calls” Just being single, no.
So perhaps, Christie, you and others can write the followup right here in the thread. A few others above have said how they serve. How about you? What do you think? I am presuming you are a single adult the Church. Hence, tell us what you think fellow singles should do. Should it really be up to me to say “what do you want us to do right now” ??? I would respect you opinion on that more. I used to be young tan and trim, now I’m old white and fat. It would be far more relevant for single Catholics (young and old) to exhort each other as what they ought to do with the time and freedom singleness affords. Some above have done this already. How about others doing this too, instead of an ordained guy like me. I think we priests should preach principles but lay people need to apply thing with their own charisms and ideas.
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/educators-and-youth-leaders/lesson-plans/upload/lesson-plan-god-call-each-us.pdf
“God may call some people to the committed single life.
It is a very real calling to remain single for the
sake of the Kingdom. Committed single persons are not
ordained; they are part of the laity and are called to enrich
the Church, as all lay people are called to do, through their
holiness and service. They are called to breathe Christ’s
Good News into all the areas of life through social action.
As you are aware, the many of adults marry and have a
family to which all their time, finances and sacrifices are
directed. Some adults are not called to this life and may
lead the life of a committed single person. An adult
who is called to the committed single life is able to use
his time, talents, and treasure in ways that many people
are not able to do because their vocation calls them to do
otherwise. A parent is called to provide for their children
first. A committed single person is called to provide for
the needs of those who have no one to provide for them.
This is a very noble calling and one that satisfies a person
for their entire life.”
From the Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Melbourne (Australia): http:://www.cam.org.au/vocations/
At our Baptism we were all accepted as children of God and called to follow Jesus Christ as his disciples and apostles. Disciple comes from a Latin word and means someone who is learning. We learn about Jesus by following him and seeking to become more like him. Apostle comes from a Greek word meaning one who is sent out. Having learnt about Jesus we are called to go forth and tell others about Him (to evangelise).
As lay people (not consecrated or ordained) we live out our faith and give witness to Jesus in the midst of our work and daily lives with our friends and those we work with, at school and in our social lives. We do this not just by what we say, but perhaps even more by the way we act, especially towards others
If we are people of truth, love and goodness, cheerfully serving others and meeting our responsibilities without boasting or complaining, then we are witnessing to the faith that we profess.
The vocation to the Single Life may be lived out either from choice or from circumstance. Some people choose to remain single because they believe this is how they can best serve God and his people. They do not feel called to join a consecrated community or the priesthood. They may be a lay missionary – teacher or doctor – who can more easily respond to need, wherever it is perceived, if they are not tied by an intimate relationship or family responsibilities. But equally they may be a carpenter, office worker, scientist, dentist, train driver, who has a fulfilling personal relationship with Jesus which they feel able to live out more fully if they are not tied by other relationships.
Other people are single because of the situation they find themselves in. This may be a temporary or permanent situation. For example, a young person who is still discerning his or her vocation – whether to marriage or the religious life – is still called to live their life for God while they are single. A person who feels called to marriage but has not yet found their future spouse can be living the single vocation at this time. A person who has been widowed or divorced and thus is no longer living the vocation to marriage may now live out the vocation to single life. A person who is same sex attracted is called to live their life as a single person.
All of these people can have rich, fruitful and fulfilling lives, witnessing to their faith and serving others as followers of Jesus. Many of them would tell you that they are free to do this because they are single, even when it was not their first choice to live alone. A married person must always consider their spouse and children. A priest must consider his parishioners. A consecrated sister or brother must consider their community. But a single person can give all their allegiance to God and his will for their life. Read the testimonies of some single people.”
From the Diocese of Green Bay: http://www.gbdioc.org/vocations/single–life.html
“Life as a single person can be a vocation from God! It is not simply reserved as the last “default” option, but the single life can be the way we serve God and one another.
The vocation to the single life is a vocation to generosity. Single women and men usually have more freedom than those in other vocations. They tend to have more time, energy, and sometimes money to give themselves in service of God and others. Single people can become examples of great service and generosity. Often it is single people who do so much to make things happen. The vocation to the single life is a gift to the Church!
With their freedom, a single person has a vast array of possibilities in front of them. We encourage you to explore this diocesan Web site to discover ways in which you can become involved and give your life in generous service! ”
From the Diocese of Sacramento: http://www.diocese-sacramento.org/vocations/single__life.html
“All are called to live their life joined to Christ in Baptism. For many, single life becomes the best way to fulfill their vocation whether being “single” is a choice or a circumstance.
Accepting the vocation of the single life means choosing to serve God as a member of the laity. Single persons serve the Christian family through acts of love and service, in a variety of lay ministries. Living a single life invites individuals to make a difference in their community and world as Jesus did.”
From the Diocese of Manchester (New Hampshire): http://www.catholicnh.org/vocations/single/modals/#rolemodels
St. Benedict Joseph Labre—April 16
Benedict was the oldest of fifteen children. At eighteen, he went off to join a religious order only to find that he was too young. He tried with two other communities before realizing that his call was not to the priesthood. He spent his life in pilgrimage all over Europe living on alms and helping the poor. He died in 1783.
St. Praxedes—July 21
Praxedes lived during the second century and was known for her kindness and charity toward the poor. As a Roman single woman she cared for those Christians who were being harassed by Emperor Marcus Antoninus. She refused to marry in order to dedicate her life to the poor, persecuted, and suffering.
St. Zita—April 27
Zita lived in Monte Sagrati, Italy, and became the housekeeper of a rich weaver and his family. She stayed with this family for the last forty-eight years of her life and became their trusted friend and advisor. Zita also worked with the poor and those in prison. She died in 1278.
St. Joseph Moscati—April 12
Joseph was a physician and professor who as a bachelor dedicated his life to medicine and his faith. He was known for his cures and gave his wages and skills to the sick and the poor. Joseph died in 1927.
From Msgr Pope:
Single people have no vocation and are worthless to the Church.
So Fr. Pope, does Cardinal Wuerl agree with you?
Oh, that’s right. You don’t bother to respond to those who don’t agree with you!
The msgr isn’t saying single people have no worth or nothing to do. The examples you cite are all examples of things people can do and a re called to do. He is saying that being single, all by itself is not a vocation in the formal sense. He says in the article that we can speak of single people having a vocation based on something they do. Which is exactly what you cite in many of the examples u give.
Msgr., never said that they are ‘worthless’. Why would you make up stuff like this???
Yes, there are many single Saints (not religious nor married). So their vocation was to becoming a Saint!
I don’t see Msgr Pope as suggesting anything of the sort. If you are unmarried and don’t feel called to the religious life or priesthood, perhaps the Lord is intending that you take up some work in the world that wouldn’t be possible if you were raising a family. That work can be your vocation. It might be caring for the poor or teaching catechism, etc.
Perhaps to expand on Msgr. Pope’s excellent article in a small way, I would like to add that all Christians are bound to their baptismal vows regardless of their canonical state. That should be the starting point for discussion of a vocation of sanctification in the single state.
Another good phrase: “vocation of sanctification” that would be far better than insisting on there being a vocation to the “single life” Your phrase is much more specific and helps focus a third way more explicitly.
This culture demands everyone gets fair treatment. Take the case of children who get trophies for participating in sports, but not winning. The idea is that no one is left out to the point that striving to achieve something is actually meaningless.
Why wouldn’t the single person value the religious vocation or the married state of others just because he or she is a member of the society and church within which these operate? Can’t we respect others for what they represent without demanding our own recognition? Consider that when these are mentioned in church, it is prayers of support for which we are asking, not a slap on the back. If it were me and somebody recognized me for something for I which I didn’t strive, I would be embarrassed. Similarly, if people were praying for me just because someone thinks I deserve equal time no matter how misplaced, I would be embarrassed.
The church prays everyday for all kinds of intentions, certainly it would be silly to make every single one of those all-inclusive.
“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” – Thank you Msgr. for the wonderful post. Never thought about it before and you make very good points and I believe this just may be true. I often ponder why I had been single for so long and the reason was I was looking for our Lord and I didn’t know it.
We are all called to love Christ. It is in fact what we were uniquely created to do. Von Balthasar speaks of it as the essence of the Christian state of life or simply the Christian life. There is also a call that is however, ecclesial. They both have a teleological focus but are different in purpose. The late Cardinal wrote too much but his work on vocation is certainly worth reflecting on for the serious Christian. Ultimately we are called to love and that is always the foundation of any religious or priestly vocation.
This is the best! Very clear and to the point. Thanks Monsignor.
One small quibble if I may…
“Priests and religious are celibate and the married are chaste and faithful to their spouse.”
This article completely ignores the fact that there are some priests who are married. Please take greater care in the future to represent the totality of Catholic tradition and not just the western outlook.
Duly noted. But your “small quibble” is overstated in saying this article “completely ignores…” Lighten up a little. No one article will cover every possibility.
By the way, one of my close priest friends is married and is also a “western” priest. Indeed we have three married “western” priests in this diocese. So YOU Shawn have “completely ignored” the fact that there are also some priests in the “western outlook” who are married. “Please take greater care in the future to represent the totality of Catholic tradition….” Physician heal thyself
but I quibble
yes, it is ironic when one points out the spec in another yet does not see their own plank…good job clearly pointing out this fact…as some “all knowing” people do need to lighten up (I find this spirit often in FB posts…as if a small fb post should or could contain all possibilities). And thanks for making me smile Msgr 🙂
While the single life may not be a vocation per se it is still a state of life that God ordains and destines people for either permanently or temporarily. The single life is not lived out under a rule or subject to authority but it comes with its own particular challenges that can be as difficult as those in the other states of life. People in the single life need prayers just as much. The exposition of the single life in relation to married and religious life is edifying and helpful. I don’t disagree with the points made. It is right to clarify the meaning of the word ‘vocation’ and distinguish between what is a vocation and what is not. I don’t think that single people should be demanding that they get mentioned in formal prayers or feel slighted when they aren’t. On the other hand single people probably aren’t remembered in prayer quite as much because they aren’t a formal vocation. If this discussion can help some people to pray for single people more that is a good thing.
I hate being single.
I am single, not by any choice of mine, and I agree that singleness is not a vocation. I don’t think God ever intended man or woman to be this horribly alone. However, I would like the Church to recognize that there are people trying to live a good and holy life despite the fact that thy haven’t been call to either marriage or the religious life. We are living a world where 1/3 of a generation is missing. People don’t exist that should have. It is a painful place for the survivors. We want to start families, but there isn’t anyone to start a family with. We send applications to convents and we are kindly told we don’t have a vocation to the religious life (which we knew but were tired of being hounded to “find our vocation.”) We desperately need prayers, we need to be mentioned in the prayers of the faithful so that we can continue to love holy lived in this corrupt world. So people remember we are the lonely. So we know that even if we never recieve graces of a Sacrament, we are recievimg graces to: sleep alone again, go work, pay our bills, do the laundry, wash the dishes, help others, tithe, give a kind word, bring light to others, live life alone. It’s hard, especially when you aren’t alone by choice.
Well said. I will pray that a very special person will come your way. God bless you.
Thank you so much for your comment. It is small comfort, but there are others in the same boat. I would like to see a follow-up piece to this one with some advice for how we singles should discern our ‘vocation,’ even if it isn’t technically a vocation.
Loneliness is not the sole possession of the single. Priests, religious and laity can be lonely also. There is nothing lonelier than being married and feeling alone.
I never said loneliness is the sole possession of single people, but it does make up a large portion of our cross.
I found that spending time with Jesus in adoration killed the feeling of loneliness. Try it.
Dear Msgr. Pope,
In writing this article, I am sure that you suspected the kinds of acrimonious responses that you would receive. It is sad when people try to justify themselves by attacking others (or taking what others say out of the obvious context in which it was intended), and I am sorry that you have had to put up with the thoroughly disrespectful remarks by some of your commenters in this regard. But that just goes to show that you have indeed hit a nerve, and that your article is very thought-provoking and, in my opinion, enlightening.
I suspect that the ad hominem attacks directed against you are due more than anything else to the solidity of your arguments. Your arguments are logical, coherent, and indeed supported by centuries of Catholic wisdom. If the Church has not endorsed the single life as a “vocation” per se, then it is certainly not because She simply “forgot” (Oops!) about the existence of single Catholics. It is because there is something lacking in the single state that is perfected in the bona fide vocations. The single state is a transitional state, not a permanent state of vocation. It is ordered either to consecrated virginity, the priesthood, religious life, or the married vocation. And you develop this idea very coherently and in accordance with the mind and Tradition of the Church. Perhaps that is why your article has provoked such an angry response by some. They cannot refute what you say, so they resort to the classical ad hominem approach. Or else they try to distort what you say and end up with a reductio ad absurdum. Neither of these responses to your article is intellectually honest or morally charitable.
I, for one, found your article to be excellent and worthy of [fair and honest] discussion. If commenters wish to comment on what you wrote, let them do just that: comment on what you actually wrote (and within its proper context), and not take things out of context or attack you personally for writing it.
Thank you for your lucid and thought-provoking article, Monsignor, and its contribution to our understanding of vocations.
I am grateful Father. I knew some would react poorly, but frankly the volume of the sed contras is higher than I suspected. I do hope future comments will address the points I raised as to why “vocation” traditionally had defining characteristics that are lacking in the transfer of the term to the single life without distinctions.
I have become increasingly aware that “identity politics” has become a serious problem in our culture and I see that reflected in some of the comments here. Discussion just shuts down when that factor enters the equation. The reaction seems almost to say, “Never mind any of the substance of the argument you make, you are an offensive and bad person because you do not affirm me as I am. You are not permitted to ask me any questions or violate any of the terminology that I use. I claim a right to use terms in whatever way I want and your only option is to affirm me, or you are a bad person.” Identity Politics is a bad deal for our culture, but it is pervasive and a real conversation stopper.
I would like to add another view, that some responses are coming from people who, in their life, have been hurt in some way or are depressed or not fully healthy. These require compassion and prayer for healing. A dog which has been beaten will grow to be a ferocious dog, unable to trust unless long term affection is applied. Likewise, a human can have similar trauma and not be able to seek and find a loving vocation without more help. Expect from these much emotion in their responses, and then try to see the wound behind the emotion rather responding to the outward appearances.
Msgr. Your points prove one thing, that some vocations have commonality. Everybody I talk to has said the Churh
has always taught that the single life is a vocation. I refer you to this article. It seems to me they think it is a vocation.http://www.cam.org.au/vocations/The–Call/What-is-a-Vocation-
The Church has not “always taught” any such thing. The article you cite refers to the universal call to holiness. I do not doubt this.
Msgr. The article I posted above opens up to a different article on my phone than it does on a lap top. I’m not sure you read the article I was hoping you would read because it specifically says there are four vocations as opposed to the Universal call to Holiness. I don’t know if you only read the first paragraph and thought this is about the Universal call to holiness and didn’t read the whole article or if a different article cam up. Anyways I can copy and paste the article here so you can see that it distinctively says there are four vocations. What is a vocation? Please read the whole thing the part about the four vocations is farther down.
If you are looking for a simple definition of a vocation, the literal meaning of the word is a “call.”
But a vocation is more than an ordinary call. A vocation is a call from God, and anyone who has felt God’s call knows that the process is anything but simple. While most people think of a vocation as what they are called to do in life, it is important to understand that the first and most important call from God is a call to be – the universal call to holiness.
Your vocation is not the same as your career or profession. However, there is an overlap between a vocation and a profession.
A career or a profession is something that you have in order to support yourself and to contribute in some way to the good of the society. You don’t need to believe in God to choose a career or a profession. A person can pick, choose and switch profession freely depending on his/her preferences, strengths or circumstances. A profession or a career always has a horizontal dimension.
When we talk about vocation, we introduce a vertical dimension in our life, which is God. It is no longer ‘what do I prefer?’ but rather ‘What does God want me to be?” A vocation is not something that you can switch like a profession or a career.
For example, a person may work in retail sales because he/she has what it takes to sell a product, to establish customer relations, to follow directions and to work with a team to accomplish daily tasks. That same person’s vocation may be to be a single person, a wife or a husband, to be a religious brother or sister, to be a deacon or priest.
This distinction between a call to holiness and a call to a specific vocation – single person, married life, consecrated life or ordained ministry – is important.
The universal call to holiness is rooted in our baptism. It is a call to know, love and serve the Lord. It is a movement that draws us toward a deeper union with God. We feel a growing desire to love God and to love our neighbour. We come to understand that there is a reason for our existence and there is meaning in our lives.
The universal call to holiness is an ongoing conversion experience. It keeps opening our eyes to new awareness of God’s loving presence. It keeps inviting us to turn toward God by aligning our will with God’s will.
A willingness to do God’s will is built on two convictions. We have to believe that God loves us more than we love ourselves and that God wants our happiness more than we want it. In other words, we have to believe that God knows more than we do about what will make us truly happy. If God had given us everything we ever asked for we would be seriously unhappy. The basis of our desire to find and to do the will of God should be the belief that God’s will for us is our only chance to be truly and lastingly happy.
A brief outline of the four specific vocations
We live out the invitation ‘to be holy’ differently depending on which vocation we have chosen. The four specific vocations are: single life, married life, consecrated life or the ordained ministry. Each vocation is a call to follow Christ closely.
For someone who has chosen a single life, even though they have not formally taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, yet they make a personal commitment to put their freedom at the service of others in their work and prayer. And in doing so, they strive to follow Christ in their daily lives.
For a married Christian couple, they follow Christ by giving themselves to each other completely and without any reservation, promising to love each other faithfully for the rest of their lives, sharing their joys and sufferings in whatever circumstances life brings them. They express their love through their sexual union, which brings them together in the closest intimacy and opens them to the gift of new life.
For someone who has chosen the consecrated life, their path of following Christ is through their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They are called to live as Christ lived; to model their lives on the life of Jesus- chaste, poor and obedient – making their hearts more free for prayer and service.
For those who have chosen the ordained ministry, through sacramental ordination, they share in the priesthood of Christ in a special way. Their very beings are transfigured so that they can represent Christ the Good Shepherd for God’s people and Christ as the Head of the Church. They not only offer their own lives to the Father, as all Christians do, but they also stand before the Church and minister to the faithful as Christ ‘in person.’ Thus, when they teach with the authority of the Church then Christ teaches; when they absolve sins in the sacrament of Penance then Christ forgives; when they offer the Sacrifice of the Mass then Christ offers that Sacrifice; when they love, support and care for God’s people then Christ is present with his people.
Different yet the same
The lifestyle and demands of each particular vocation is very different but there are some similarities between them. Each vocation is a commitment to love in a certain way. The object of every vocation is God. It is not building a better society, renewing the Church, having a family, fulfilling yourself, helping people or confronting new challenges. All these things may be involved in a vocation but the primary objective is to love God.
I agree wholeheartedly with Cordelia. I don’t think there is a vocation to the single life, but I think the Church largely overlooks those who find themselves in the single, non-consecrated state. What about those who are divorced or widows as well? There are many in the pews who are single, and it would be nice if pastors and parishes would acknowledge our existence. Anyway, it’s a sensitive subject since many of us find ourselves “single against our will”.
But I wonder why you notice this? Lets take for example, if you were a member of the women’s bible study group at your parish. It would make some sense that the parish might publish your meeting in the bulletin or give some encouragement in prayers etc. But that is an activity or ministry. What sort of “shout-out” is the church supposed to give to divorced, single etc? To what end. What would a bulletin item look like? “Hey Y’all, lets remember that there are divorced Catholics out there…..” And then what? How do we complete this squib? I think it is more realistic to note and pray for activities, ministries and actions. As for those who are “single against our will” that obviously means it is not a vocation. But how are we supposed to acknowledge them? For what shall we pray? That they get married soon, that they not be too depressed, that they accept their condition….? What does “acknowledge our existence” look like in a way that is not patronizing? What are we “overlooking?” I have a young adult Bible study, and other social functions. Most of them are single. Is this enough? What more? Further any single persona can join the sodality, Knights of Columbus or any group or ministry. Some years ago we tried the CYAC approach but most singles rejected it as a “lonely hearts club.” I’m just not sure I understand what we are supposed to do or why what we do is not enough and you say people feel “overlooked.” Parishes are beehives of activity and Catholics, single, married, young or old are invited. So more info here please. either from you or others.
As far as praying for Married couples, we pray for them because they are doing something particular. We also pray in my parish for veterans on veterans day, mothers on mothers day etc. But again they are doing something focused and specific. But singles is a broad category that could mean hundred of different things. Some actually are parents, others are hoping to marry, others not, some are greatly invested in parish life, others not. So, while other groups are identifiable for their action or activity, singles are not, and represent a very broad sampling of life.
Single people struggle with the burden of shouldering responsibilities alone. Growing old without the support of a spouse, children or religious community can be frightening and a struggle. Pray that they have the strength to endure the trials of meeting their needs and obligations. I do sometimes get the impression that single people whether they be never married, widowed or divorced, especially those without children, are placed on the back burner and forgotten while those with vocations are given more prayer, support and encouragement.
You know, just a simple, “for those who suffer because they have not yet received a vocation. That they may have the grace and courage to continue forward with their lives.” Would be nice. Really? You really aren’t goin to pray because you can’t categorize us? What are we, phariah? This is the kind of attitude I would like to see fixed. My parish prays for priests, religious, married couples, and widows. Every Sunday. I’ve never heard anyone pray for me.
Just because you are single doesnt mean you are a young adult. Other functions, at least in my case, for adult women, are scheduled during business hours, because clearly, If you are a woman you are married and living at home. (?)
I do like the prayer above for those who haven’t received their vocations. A prayer for the elderly would cover the aging-without-support, as unfortunately even many married-with-kids can find themselves a widow(er) and all alone in a nursing home across the country from kids.
But I also think you’re overlooking something here. Why not start a group at a time that works for you? Or whatever it takes to get involved. It isn’t necessary to pout that the bible study isn’t at the right time. Without the strict schedule of some moms, you’re the best suited to host or spearhead an evening study. Have you asked?
Singles have a great gift- that of time. Yes, they still work. But then, when your co-workers return to their kids’ school plays and accommodate their sick spouse, you have the time to give – to be the caregiver of your aging parents, to be the chairperson of the parish benefit, to work at the soup kitchen —- to love without the restrictions of time that a family or community necessarily requires. Use this time for the kingdom!
I think it’s inaccurate to assume that single people necessarily have more time than others. A middle aged single person who works full time has no one to share household responsibilities and may even need to take on a second job or overtime hours to pay all the bills. Many singles who are not old enough to retire but who don’t have the physical stamina of the young struggle to keep up with housework/home maintenance/yard work. It takes them longer to accomplish the tasks and they often have to pay to get someone to assist with things that take more strength than they have.
God bless you for understanding Anna.
We already pray for all those discerning their vocation 🙂 And we do have the Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics. Something I find unhelpful. My marriage was annulled and I had four children to raise. Even while awaiting the decision on the annulment I never attended the ASDC. I have always felt that separation and “group identity” is the problem, not the solution.
I ran Catholic Family Days for years which were supposed to be for everyone. They included prayer, food and ceilidh or barn dancing! But unmarried folk assumed it wasn’t for them – and once children reached about 13 or 14 they were off to dozens of different youth events (some of which sounded right up my street – but I was outside the age-limit!!!) I hated “kids” events because parents were only expected to endure them and carry the purse!!
So … not to depart too far from the topic at hand – I would strongly agree with the fact that the single life is not in itself a vocation – and I would plead for less segregation of age/sex/status in Catholic events – be they social or catechetical (or indeed evangelical!) and more inclusivity.
Dear Msgr. Pope,
For the sake of constructive discussion, I concede the points you make. It’s hard to argue with the distinctions you have drawn.
OK, with all that said, isn’t the bigger issue here: what should a single person do? In other words, take someone mid to late 30s, male or female, who, for whatever reason has not or cannot be successful in a vocation to marriage and does not hear the call to enter a religious order? There are increasing numbers of people in this category. Some of the above posters mentioned those struggling with same-sex attraction. There could be other factors as well. In this culture where so few are faithful, finding someone who is faithful AND who is a compatible mate can be increasingly difficult.
So what is the Church’s message for these people? How can they discern a ‘vocation’ that might in the technical sense not be a real ‘vocation’ as you describe it?
I have tried to keep my comments to the issues and not personal, so I hope you will consider a response. I also hope you will consider writing a follow-up piece with more of a message for what ‘single’ people are to do.
Ok, but the purpose of this article isn’t to set forth a whole pastoral plan for 30 somes. Rather I am interested in clarifying the term. I could seek to write a follow-up column. But why don’t you get started? What do you think “the Church” should do? What do you mean by “the Church?” Are you not part of the Church? You are an adult. What should the Church craft as a plan and “message” for these other adults? Perhaps some of the other singles adults have ideas of what to do since they are free to serve more fully. Maybe some could become catechists. Others form men and women’s groups dedicated to study of Scripture, the works of mercy etc. Have at it! Come up with a plan. The vocation isn’t to being single it is to being holy, to serving in some capacity….creatively ponder what this might be.
you very briefly mentioned those with strong same sex attraction in your initial post. Would you go so far as to assert that single life would be the sole appropriate vocational path that those with homosexual orientation should aspire to?
I don’t recall mentioning SSA at all in this post. But, as I think I have stated several times, the “single life” is not the vocation. If anyone who is single, SSA or not, is going to aspire to something let it be the service of others, let it be to holiness. The fact that a person is not married or cannot marry “frees them (In the Pauline sense) to serve the Lord more fully. The nuptial meaning of the body therefore means that we are to live no “singly” but for others. Married people live the nuptial meaning of the Body quite clearly. But the unmarried serve the Church. Priests and Brothers consider the Church their bride. Religious sisters consider Christ (and thus his body the Church) their groom. Single people, SSA or not, can do so similarly by analogy.
I present these bible verses with no particular agenda other than to give comfort or understanding to some:
“Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” Matthew 19:12, New American Bible (NAB)
“Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do,”…
1 Corinthians 7:8, New American Bible (NAB)
“Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the impending distress it is well for a person to remain as he is.” 1 Corinthians 7: 25-27, Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.”
1 Corinthians 7: 32-34, Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 7:39-40, Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
I’ve been single now for close to thirteen years. Not by choice, but by circumstance. My wife filed for divorce thirteen years ago after she determined she no longer loved me after one and a half years of marriage; after five years of courtship.
So here I am single, civilly divorced, still married in the Church. St Paul tells me to stay single 1 COR 7:17-24. I’m optimistic the Tribunal will render a decision on my annulment some time this summer. I’m in the home stretch of that arduous process.
How am I to live? What is my calling? What is my vocation to be? Where is God leading me? Questions. They’re endless. I know God has the answers, and I’m trying to find my way to hear his voice. We do all desire to know what God wants for us, yes? We all seek meaning in our lives? We all try to derive meaning from life circumstances, yes? For my particular situation, perhaps God never intended for me to be married. Not all are called to marriage. St. Paul discusses this. I would agree that God calls some to the single life. Not to be single, but to serve others – and by single I mean – those who are not married.
Will I even have a vocation? Many of my Christian friends answered this one for me: “You’re single, and that can be a vocation.” Thanks Msgr. for laying out the distinction. I have to agree with what you offer. Mirriam-Webster defines vocation as “a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work (such as religious work); the work that a person does or should be doing.” Indeed, “the vocation is the work itself, not the single state.” Thought in this simple context it makes sense.
Perhaps this ‘concept’ of being single as a vocation started as a result of some well-intentioned married others who were trying to offer purpose for our role in the Church and society?
I disagree with the entire premise of this post, as well written and articulate as it is. The reason why is because I am a single man who has thoroughly discerned both priesthood and marriage, and I have no same-sex attraction, but have the libido of a healthy man, free of porn, masturbation and fornication. This is due to God’s grace of course, as I take no credit for my chastity.
I have dated a lot and I am a financially stable 34 year old home owner, yet I do not feel called either to Marriage of religious life, but I do feel called to the single life, and most people who know me well feel the same way, whether they be married or religious. The reason I respectfully disagree with this article is because there has been a recognized vocation in the Church for a most 60 years that was established by Pope Pius XII in 1947 called “Secular Institutes”, in which the members can be single individuals who become what the Church calls “Consecrated Seculars.”
This is not to be confused with Opus Dei, as they are recognized by the Church to be a “Personal Prelature”, which is not the same thing as a Secular Institute. Without writing a novel, I’d like to refer you tot his link:
There are many more link you can find if you google the term “Secular Institute.”
I hope this may add a new angle to the conversation, because this very well written article on the subject completely flies in the face of the life that I am seriously discerning by joining a Secular Institute.
OK, but I’d argue your call isn’t to the single life but to serving the church in the ways you describe. Thus, no need to disagree with “the entire premise” of this post. That is overkill.
I thought your article was clear and helpful in describing the common elements of a vocation.
When I speak about this topic I distinguish between:
1. The universal call to holiness … vocation in the most general sense
2. That vocation as found in one’s specific circumstances, e.g., sufferings, opportunities, talents, apostolate, etc.
3. Vocation in the proper sense of a commttied life as you described above.
All people have a “vocation” in the first and second senses. No one is promised a vocation in the third sense.
Good insights, Msgr. Pope, and I agree with you.
I think the Apostle Paul is a good example. He did not marry, and even advised those who could refrain, not to marry since it would divide their attention to God. In that single state, Paul summed up his vocation: Life is Christ (and death is gain!) (Philip 1:21). Therefore, if single, I think it’s best to think of it as to foundationally live out a call to conformity to God’s will in imitation of Christ. Married life and religious orders are subsidiary, but regulate life within that framework. If those two paths never present themselves to the single person for whatever reason (free will of self or others being the most likely explanation), then that in no way invalidates their foundational calling. Adam himself had a call to work (Gen 2:15,19) before and apart from his call to marriage.
Christ Jesus said: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). God wants us to have “abundant” life, which to my mind, echoes the call of the first command to Adam and Eve “to be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). This seems integral to the concept of calling, especially in the context you referred to, by people’s works. This work could be childbearing and childrearing, it may be with spiritual children through a religious vocation, and it may be the spiritual fruits of a lay apostolate or career lived out in the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus tells us to that we shall know a good tree by its fruits (Matt 7:20). But it seems wildly incongruous to talk about being purposefully single as fruitful, limited to that scope. We have to be like the grain of wheat that ignores self but falls and dies (John 12:24), to produce a rich harvest for the full body of Christ. Therefore we have to look for our calling in the context of others, or else we are misusing the term.
Well, the 1940s-era very orthodox Catholic high school religion textbook I used as a homeschooled high school student in the 1980s had LOTS to say (after discussing priesthood, religious life, and marriage) about the “vocation” of what they termed “single blessedness.” I no longer have the book, but it seems that I remember that it quoted Church fathers, saints, etc. who viewed the reality of an actual and positive call to live as a single person as if it were a given, something the Church had taught and understood for a long time.
I certainly recognize that one problem with speaking of a vocation to the single state is that everybody starts out single and some people may remain that way without ever having particularly made a positive choice to do so. How can there be a “vocation” to the default state of anybody who is neither a priest/religious nor a married person?
However, I have also, in the past, seen some writings by priests who challenge the idea that marriage is a “real” vocation instead of being something much lesser for the people God hasn’t blessed with an actual, real, call to serve Him as a priest or religious; certainly not a true vocation–something more like a consolation prize, etc. Why, even pagans get married, so how can marriage be a real vocation? goes that line of thinking. While I understand the points being made, I also think that this way of looking at things is reductive to the point of being dangerous, and I think most here would agree.
Is it equally dangerous to dismiss out of hand the idea that there is a “vocation” to “single blessedness” apart from formally consecrated life? When you consider how we honor some of our saints, it strikes me that some are honored as virgins and others as widows/widowers without necessarily having been consecrated as either (and while we may be familiar with the many saints who are both virgins and martyrs, there are plenty who are listed as holy virgins without having been martyrs, let alone nuns or religious brothers or even consecrated lay people).
I do understand the objection that “singleness” can be a transitional state. However, there have been nuns or priests who are released from their vows in order to marry or even in order to resume the lay life as a single person, and there have been married people who, on the death of a spouse, have entered the priesthood or religious life, so the mere transitional nature of a vocation does not seem to me to disqualify it altogether as a vocation. The vows of a single person who is Catholic are his or her baptismal promises–and these will certainly be the foundation on which another vocation will be built should God call him or her to another state in life, but it seems odd to dismiss these vows as somehow less important than marriage vows or the vow to live in poverty, chastity and obedience. The connection to a community may be more voluntary and fluid than that of a religious or married person, but I don’t think it should be dismissed either simply because the single person has more say in whether or not he or she will serve a particular community (and they are still a part of an extended family to whom they may give a great deal of their love and service, especially those who stay single in order to help elderly parents or disabled family members).
The real questions, I think, are these: is every Catholic person who is single simply deprived of a vocation altogether, despite the fact that ordinarily Catholics serve God through our vocations? Does God choose not to call some people to a particular way of life, or are all single Catholics the result of failed opportunities or failed vocations to the priesthood, religious life, or marriage, such that every person who remains in the single state has possibly sinned by missing that opportunity? Or do we argue that vocations aren’t at all necessary, and while it’s certainly nice to have a specific vocation to serve God as a priest, lay brother or sister, husband or wife, the people God chooses to “skip” when He’s handing out those vocations should console themselves with the idea that individual vocations aren’t at all important to how we know, love and serve God in this life, but just a sort of “extra” that some people, through no merit of their own, get to have?
I’d sort of like to see those kinds of questions addressed, because if there’s no vocation to the single life, then that would seem to mean that God chooses not to call a significant minority of people to any particular way of life at all, ever, for their whole lives, which seems like a rather troubling thing to say.
As a single Catholic who has made the baptismal vow to reject the father of lies, I am called to admit the truth – my being single is entirely the result of failed opportunities. I also live alone – this is noxious to developing a life of virtue. I think the Church is right to warn me out of myself.
Nonetheless, nothing prevents me, at this moment, from getting married – except myself, my own prideful pickiness in particular. And, of course, the rational decisions made by the dwindling numbers of single members of the opposite sex in even the most expansive definition of “suitable” age range, most of whom find me unattractive – because I am unattractive, because my sins and vices and unresisted faults make me so – the most obvious one being gluttony, but let us not forget the more important faults of personality which will only become manifest if the gluttony is tolerated.
God does not call me to this state in life. He calls me to fight to rise out of this state in life. My response…well, that is in question. And it has been for a while.
Wow, you’ve just described my life. My natural inclination is to blame my unwanted singleness on members of the opposite sex not being interested in me, but in reality, it’s my own fault. My own sins make me unfit for any true vocation. Since I have free will, I can change… but will I? I know God’s grace is sufficient, but thus far, my cooperation has too often been lacking.
Thank you Father for this post which i found challenging as a single person aged 48 from Ireland. I’m still in mourning as 1.2 m of irish citizens have decided to redefine marriage and the family in our constitution which is in fact dedicated to the Trinity. I suggest you review the life of Frank Duff who was single and founded the Legion of Mary. In 1965, Pope Paul VI invited Duff to attend the Second Vatican Council as a lay observer. The assembled bishops gave him a standing ovation during the Council’s fourth and final session.
I have read the articles and the comments. I, too am one of those over-30 singles, single not by choice but by circumstance. I am quite thankful for your article as it touches on the main point of identity politics. I don’t identify with a state in which I don’t prefer to reside, and I do feel a calling to the marital state. I think you have hit the nail on the head, that the growing legion of ‘unmarrieds’ is a symptom of a society that is losing it’s place. It is a problem, no doubt about it.
What to do about it? That’s an interesting question. I would strongly suspect that a large portion of the ‘singles’ are dealing with other problems that have nothing to do with their vocations – in things that they have suffered either early on or late. That’s part of the group. What to do about them? They are going to need help and counseling. Whether they seek it or not or are willing to seek it is a different matter.
Secondlly, there’s the problem of networking, of forming connections with these people. I look down that list and you talk about stability, stability, stability. The singles don’t feel they have a home – a place where someone will stop them and say, “hello, glad to see you”. They don’t have that accountability to a community. But I don’t see how we blame single people for not cultivating it. Catholics need to do a lot more on this end. I’m a former convert from a protestant church and one thing they do is to share a meal. I think a lot of singles would be more receptive to this, than a ‘pair the spares’ thing. Just a meal, a lunch where people can talk and meet and become part of the community.
Finally, there’s the whole small groups for young adults. I don’t think the problem is the folks who refuse to attend it. I would keep at it despite the folks who say, it is not for them. It takes time to build a ministry and that ministry is not going to fit everyone because it’s not just one problem.
One more thing, there are issues with formation. For many folks, it’s hard to find someone who has a concept as to what Catholicism ought to be. I’m not surprised that faithful Catholics are finding it hard to find someone who shares their faith. As a 30+ year old Catholic, my choices are basically, someone who’s been married, started a family, etc, solid in the faith, or someone who’s not had that experience and is, how shall we say, less than solid. I guess the answer would be to not accept a false choice but to keep looking, but that is not as easy as it sounds.
Thank you for a well thought out article, sir. You wanted answers I hope this provides more insight.
San Antonio, TX
Thank you monsignor. You write such good stuff.
In the creation story after every bunch of creating God said “This is good.” until He made man. Then he said “this is not good that man should be alone.”
I think men are better when they are husbands and women are better when they are wives, than they are when they are single. I live in Colorado, the West. Men explored it, but the West wasn’t settled until the women came and men had reason to build churches, schools and homes. Men need the anchor their wives provide, and women need a man who loves them and gives them protection. As a 57-year-old married but now divorced and granted an annulment male, I find too many women comfortable with being single. My fear is that if I scale the castle walls they have put around their hearts I’ll find that heart in a remote tower, dried out and lifeless in a casket.
So Rachel, I’m going to walk the camino de Santiago in July and in August we can take a ballroom dance class. There I can hold you in my arms. love, Doug.
I actually find some comfort in your post, because if there is no vocation to the single life, it means God must have *some* purpose for me, right? Because for a decade or more, I have feared I will never know his purpose for me–or that my purpose might just be to suffer alone for the rest of my life. I have begged Him to help me understand. I have prayed, read, sought advice, asked to be set up, tried online dating, been open to different types of men in different regions and cities–and yet am perpetually rejected, often because I hold fast to the Church’s teachings about sex in a culture that expects it on the first date. I still feel, deeply, a vocation to marriage and family. It’s what I feel I was made for. I have family pursuing a religious vocation; I know what that looks like; I don’t have that calling. So why do I feel so strongly called to the married vocation if all of my prayers–first for the right husband, then for any husband, then for God to help me change whatever it is I need to change to be worthy of a husband, then to just ease the pain of the increasing likelihood I will never have a husband–have all gone unanswered? What is God’s plan and purpose in placing this longing so deeply and fully in my heart–and then, as far as I can see, standing silent during years of tearful prayers begging for that longing to be fulfilled? What might His purpose be in that? What is the purpose in giving me both the faith that leads me to see marriage as the Church understands it as something beautiful, and also the faith that, over and over, leads to painful rejection in a world that sees relationships very differently? I just don’t understand.
Wonderful Catholic friends who I know care about me have suggested that maybe I am called by God to the single life. I like your notion that there is no such calling, because that prospect terrifies me. I don’t want to be called to a single life as such because I have experienced that life only as misery. So I have tried, also over these years, asking God: “Okay, maybe you don’t intend a husband for me. What do you want instead? What is this other vocation you have in mind for me? What else do you want me to do that will bring the same sense of purpose, belonging, community, joy, and peace as the other people I see answering their calls to marriage and the religious life?” Silence there too, and then what returns is just the overpowering desire and sense that I am supposed to be making and tending to a loving, faithful Catholic family.
So if what you say is true, what sense am I supposed to make of all this? The pity and condescension of “dutiful” Catholics who think there must just be something wrong with me doesn’t help. It’s not like I have choices: it’s that men rarely show interest, and when they do, it doesn’t last long before they break it off. I’m never the one closing off relationships or saying no. So please, what more do I need to do? If someone could point to a specific thing I’m doing wrong, or that’s wrong with me, that would be great–because then I’d change it. But no one has, even God when I’ve asked him to. So if everything in your post and my reply is true…where do I go from here?
MCA: Boy, do I get it. I really get it. I was thinking thinking to myself, if I didn’t know better, I could have written this myself. I’m older and so all hope has faded for me ever to bear children. Even still, the thought comes to my mind, Sarah gave birth long past the time of her fertility. So what is that, the Spirit teasing me into continued hope for the hopeless?
St. Faustina felt God was telling her explicitly to start a new religious order. She even went so far as to “see” where they would live, the habit they would wear, and what their mission was, and even begin to write some of the constitution. She was certain it was from God. Yet every time she began forward, she would be stopped. Yet the intense desire to do it was relentless. She died at 33 before anything was done. She would ask God, why do you urge me to do this, then stop me? He’d never really answered. It’s something to think about as you ask why you feel so strongly to be married, but are thwarted.
All I can give you is my own perspective from further down the road than you are. The intense longing and sadness for a children does diminish with your (in)ability to have them (menopause). The agony of not having kids lessened as I went through menopause. As I age, I see some who were married suddenly lose their spouse either through illness or divorce. I see those whose kids (if they have them) are scattered far and wide across the country, and there is no one there for the day to day. I imagine photos on Facebook of grand kids are not quite the same as hugs and kisses and silly conversation in your kitchen. So as I age I see marriage is no guarantee that there will be companionship or love all around
Dare I tell you your longing is a cross? It is a cross you are bearing along with millions of others who are suffering the sins of the world; the destruction of family by contraception, the destruction of traditional roles for men and women by “women’s lib”, the introduction of pleasure alone as a legitimate lifelong pursuit (have a “bucket” list?), the undermining of values that truly make one happy for the effervescent titillation offered by T.V., movies, and rock music, and so many other attacks we’ve suffered. That may not be a happy answer, because none of us wants the cross. These are not sins of your doing, but are a consequence of the sins of the last 50 years of changes to our culture.
When you ask, where do I go from here? I say, cling to God. Tell Him, okay, Thy will be done. If You want me single, I’ll be single. If You want me married, I’ll be married. I ask You to take the cross from me, but not my will but Yours be done. And then leave it up to Him.
Pray to St. Ann for a spouse, pray to St. Joseph to find you a good husband like himself, and then let it be as God plans. Don’t dwell on it. Offer up your suffering and build up a life of good works, resolving to be a saint, because you only have so much time to get that done. Get to know saintly people (like volunteer with the Sisters of Charity), and do things for the glory of God. Trust in the providence of God. I am certain He is watching over you.
God bless you.
Bee bee, thank you so much for your reply–for your kind words, for your encouragement, for your compassionate counsel. I will pray as you have suggested–and I will pray for you, too. God bless.
Thanks for the article. My main concern is that there are some jobs in our society (for example, my current life as a grad student, which routinely requires me to be in the lab for 10-12 hours of the day continuously in order to tend to experiments) which really do not permit one to commit to a marriage or a religious life. It seems to me that those who feel called to devote their lives to such work must be considered to have a vocation to the single life, since the alternative would be to assert that God does not call anyone to, for example, research cures for cancer by running time-sensitive cell cultures in the lab that often require going in to work at 3 AM, or to run a homeless shelter, or to live the life of an elite soldier protecting our country, or in general to devote their entire life to a career which demands that they retain the kind of personal freedom and flexibility only available to the single person.
A lot of your enumerated critiques of the single life as a vocation seem to come down to a concern that it lacks a well-defined structure and purpose, but why is it impossible that some people are, in fact, called to this? God’s will may be for certain people put nothing ahead of their career in their lives, and to refrain from committing to marriage or religious life in order to accomplish this? Would this not make them “called” to the single life–a vocation in the most literal sense?
I happen to agree with the points made in this article. At one time I did kind of view being single as a vocation until one day I realized that if I did not seek consecrated virginity then essentially all I was doing was avoiding the commitment of a vocation. My “option to remain single” was thwarting my discernment process which is an important part of one’s prayer life and relationship with God. It is important to discern God’s will for your life and when your vocation is discerned, you must commit to it.
My eldest aunt remained single and dedicated her life to social work and counseling the mentally or emotionally ill, not stopping until she was in her 90’s. One of her sisters devoted her life, after the wound of a failed engagement, to nursing and caring for her siblings, nieces and nephews. Both of these ladies influenced my life and the lives of my cousins in many positive ways. They were not Catholic, but I think the eldest aunt, by her example of fidelity to God, kept her siblings oriented in the same direction. I do not think they would have been familiar, for the most part, with the concept of vocation from a Catholic perspective. Yet, they seemed to have fulfilled a vocation. I always saw my eldest aunt as a real saint. As such, she inspired me greatly. I wonder how many others have lived lives similarly to hers, not knowing they had a vocation as defined here, but seeming to live out their lives as a vocation based in Christian values.
I thought that priesthood and religious life are only real vocations while marriage was included relatively recently as a vocation so that married people don’t feel excluded.
Some may misconstrue the post due to being single they feeling like the odd man or woman out by remaining single for an inordinate amount of time in their adult life. Pouring gasoline on the fire, as it were. Frankly, coming from a family where most are married I have felt this way. However, the recent statistic that stated I/4 of Americans live alone made me feel not so alienated.
Compounding matters are the studies that exist though perhaps dated and most assuredly controversial (George Gilder and James Q. Wilson) that detail how single men as a whole are more susceptible to excessive loneliness, alcoholism, suicide, crime, imprisonment, and the like. They feel marriage is a positive way for men to become socialized in adult society.
I never paid much attention to the calls for the single vocation due to thinking it was another politically correct thing to do. What your post does for me is to make a larger commitment to a chaste and religious life, something I have been remiss in doing. After all, it’s never too late.
Excellent points all around, Father. I think for most singles who long to be married, it’s actually very freeing, and even healing, to be told that there is no such thing as a single vocation. Recognizing that is living in truth and the truth is always freeing, even if it makes us uncomfortable at first. Plus, this particular truth helps makes sense of all the unfulfilled longings and desires to give ourselves away in love, whether to another person, Christ, or his Church. We were made for a spousal relationship with Christ, but our spousal relationships in time play a huge role in preparing us for that relationship in eternity. A healthy heart cannot help but feel that lack…but then, as you said, accepts what is beyond our control and looks for how God is calling us to give ourselves in other ways. Regardless, we live in a wounded world and not everyone will enter into the spousal vocation for which we were made. Sometimes that’s our fault. Sometimes it’s not. Recognizing that, dealing with that, and moving forward in love is the only path to wholeness. I have a chapter on this in my book for single women. With few exceptions, I’ve found people respond very well to the arguments, which are similar to those you made in your post. Sorry so many of those exceptions are commenting here.
“We live for the other (the Church) and are expected to remain faithful and fulfill our commitments and be accountable to her. This would also be true for some in the Church who are consecrated virgins or hermits.”
…but it’s also true of any baptised Catholic including singles. They are vowed to chastity and assent and obedience to Church teaching albeit not to the orders of a superiour or needs of a spouse. So what they are not vowed to celibacy. Just being chaste, even within a marriage, is quite hard with the only difference with a single person being that they may still get married.
In anycase, let’s get back to basics as to what a vocation is.
“late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin vocatio(n- ), from vocare ‘to call’.”
It’s a call from God to devote oneself to a particular state of God’s choosing. It doesn’t require vows. It doesn’t require even their assent (except to live the call, obviously). It doesn’t require a superiour either. All it requires is God to make a call.
All that’s needed for a vocation to being single is for God to approach someone and say “I invite/call you to living in the church as a single layperson”.
Let’s also keep in mind that permanency is also not a pre-requisite for a vocation. Just the fact of the call. Ie, “I call you to being a single lay person within the Church *for now*”. There we have a temporary vocation.
Yours is the first response to the article that actually makes the case for singleness being a vocation. Something to think about. Thanks.
I agree with you and I think it is an important clarification and distinction between a vocation – a vowed, communal, obedient (formally) life and a state in life that one finds oneself. I think maybe the desire to have this recognized as a vocation comes from not only the misunderstanding of the nuptial meaning of the body, but also a lack of response from the church and community on what to “do” with this time. I think these two go hand in hand. With the lack of community life in our culture and a misunderstanding of marriage etc… comes the greater increase in those who are single. Whatever the reason one finds oneself in this state, it is a real challenge. Often there is a question from others of why we are not just pursuing a “mate” in every way possible so as to end this lack of vocation. I think a greater emphasis of our need to give ourselves in service – wherever we find ourselves, will lead to singles in the church feeling as though they are given some direction and recognition. A vocation is a gift – not a right, not a problem to be solved. I cannot demand this be fulfilled as much as I might want this to be. So what do I do? I pour myself in service to the church and pursue holiness – I serve others, I give back, I seek to encourage others around me…. I think this is the message that needs to be given – the challenge to not waste the time in stagnancy or anxious searching. Maybe if more of this message was given, there would be less of a need from singles to have their state in life recognized as a vocation.
It’s probably worth adding a couple of other clarifications. It would be right to say, I think, that a call to be single is not a ‘religious’ call. Perhaps that’s what the Msgr is thinking of. Further that strictly speaking every moment is, passively at least, a call to praise God in the present moment of joys and sufferings. Perhaps we should distinguish between a passive call, of the fact that we are single, and an active call.
I think I disagree but my thought probably falls more under one of the first examples you gave about being committed to work of some sort. In many families, the work of caring for elderly parents for example, falls to the single sibling. Single siblings are often wonderful aunts and uncles in a way that married siblings are not, just because they have the energy. I see a lot of wonderful teachers in our Catholic school who remain single and give their all to the school. I’m not sure that the single state is an accident for some people, and I do think they bring unique talents to our communities in a way that those who are married with children do not or cannot.
Great topic and some of the responses remind me of Allan Bloom’s comment that “Indignation is the soul’s defense against the wound of doubt about its own.” I think you were getting to the root of it in your comments about the problem of “identity politics”. One of my reactionary friends once said that modern society is a veritable factory of damnation. Obviously he had in mind the rampant pornography, but perhaps a further aspect of this is the elevation of the pop-psychology concept of “self-actualization” to an absolute moral imperative. In Catholic circles, this gets mistranslated into “vocation” and all kinds of chaos and mischief ensues.
For example, we have probably have all heard the woman or the married man declaring that they have a vocation to the priesthood and who is anyone to say otherwise? As I understand it, and I have tried to explain (usually to no avail) is that there are two aspects to a vocation: interior and exterior. The interior is important, but the exterior (i.e. the Church) is the final arbiter. In other words, while everyone has a personal hand in discerning a vocation, the final, authoritative say is from the outside. In Hollywood parlance, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Otherwise, it’s not really a “call” is it?
Now in the world of self-actualization, this seems utterly unfair, but I think vocations in the Church is like enlisting in the military. No doubt people signed up with the Navy full of zealous patriotism, declaring with certainty, “I’m going to be a Navy fighter pilot!” Or, “I’m going to be a Navy seal!” Well, the navy will listen to your aspirations, but ultimately, if they decide you are just another swabbie, then I hope you love the navy more than what job you are expected to do in it. Or as Major Payne put it in the movie of the same name when asked why he never got married: “I figured if the Corps wanted me to have a wife, they’d have issued me one.”
You misunderstand from the get-go. Your very first line I have said over and over in these comments.
Is there a reason you deleted my comment, Monsignor? Did what I said just not merit consideration, or did you just not want your readership to trouble themselves with it?
Did not read all the comments above, but what about people with same-sex attraction? Are they supposed to marry someone they’re not attracted to? It seems grossly unfair to both parties. And I don’t think joining a religious community where they would be constantly surrounded by temptation is the answer.
The new Theology teacher at my girls’ school is teaching this, too, and I objected. Was I wrong? What about what St Paul says, about it being better not to marry – although I realize some aspects of the situation have changed. But not everyone who dedicates themselves to God can find a religious community to join – or that will admit them. There were lots of “single” saints who were not officially religious, weren’t there? Whether due to illness, poverty or whatever.
Yes, you should consult the thread, it is up there.
I believe Jesus recognized a specific vocation to the single life when he said in Matt. 19:12 “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” To me, this is a description of a vocation to live single, someone who has made a [private or public] vow to God to live for Him in singleness, whether officially recognized by the Bishop or not. But most singles are not living a vocation. A single person who wants to be married is not in a vocation, but is nevertheless of infinite value, So let’s not measure our worth by vocation or lack thereof. Let the church more deeply and frequently value singles and lay people in general. For instance, why not pray for an increase in HOLY, DEVOUT vocations to the priesthood, religious life, AND LAITY. We need so many more devout, holy lay Catholics to spread the faith and minister to each other and the Church. We all have a vocation to live out our faith as devout, holy disciples of Christ, whether in community or working at McDonald’s. (Remember Jesus hung out with the simple people who made no claim to a official Church position or vocation.) (Thank you, Mnsg. Pope especially for your article, “Description rather than Prescription.” I have shared it with many people who have also found it encouraging, beautiful, and fresh.
Not sure of your logic in using this quote of Jesus. But to be sure, as I have repeatedly pointed out, if one is single, one if able to serve the Church and the wider community. But it is the service that has the character of vocation, not being single per se.
Well, I guess we can’t argue with the USCCB, since they state that singleness is a vocation! Maybe it’s not the same type of vocation as priesthood or religious life.
According to the USCCB, “A vocation is quite simply a call from God. God gives each one of us a vocation and has blessed us with certain abilities and talents. Some of us are called to be married. Others are called to be single. Still others are called to the priesthood or to religious life. One vocation is not better than another.”
Or maybe it’s just semantics: a call, a vocation.
Blessings to you, Father.
As for the USCCB, well, its hard to say that they are a real source here. Their publications, unless officially issued by the body of bishops as a teaching document carry little authority and are mostly the work of staff there who are trying to be helpful, but they are not authoritative teachings. I have little doubt that many dioceses and the USCCB often pass on the laid-back ways of speaking that are common in the Church. But my point here is to prompt some discussion that tightens up our understanding and makes distinctions. I do in the article mention that “vocation” can be used in an extended sense to refer to works of service in the Church, but again, the vocation (in that sense) is not to singleness (unless as a consecrated virgin or hermit), it is to the service in question.
The single vocation is something I have taken for granted as true, without thinking about. Msgr. has provided and excellent analysis and builds a strong case for the single life not being a vocation. Wandering through life without making a vow is a valuable perspective to have while accessing the applicability of the term vocation. The majority of my friends have choose the path of being single, in no way do I think of my self as being better by being married. Do I sense that they are missing something? yes I do. Lack of commitment and purpose must be tough to struggle with, being committed to a wife and raising a family is not an easy path either, it never goes away. Being single without commitment one can just come and go as one pleases, one of my best friends has this life, it is clear that when he is with my family he questions the lack of commitment he has made in life – I would be shocked if he would argue that living the single life is a vocation.
Just a little technicality: unlike consecrated religious, consecrated virgins do not take vows. They are made consecrated persons by the solemn act of the Church, not by personal or public vows. (See http://consecratedvirgins.org/prepare-FAQ). Interestingly, this is why a consecrated virgin can never be dispensed of her state, since there are no vows that can be loosened, but only the solemn action of the Church.
Your general point still holds, however, since a consecrated virgin is in a permanent state of spousal union, unlike a single person. But this distinction does demonstrate that vows are not an essential element of a vocation.
As a married convert, I find this talk of vocations as an unnecessary complication that divides us into categories that do nothing to build the body of Christ. Where we find ourselves in life is part of where God has placed us, as difficult and painful as that sometimes is, for our healing and the healing of others. There is no doubt that each of us can find suffering and blessing in whatever place we find ourselves and it is the faithful living out of our relationship with Christ and not the comparing of notes as to who/which state is better/more or less consecrated and if vows were or were not said.
If we are Christians, then we have entered into covenant with the living God, and it is not we who live but Christ in us. We need to encourage each other in that walk, which is, in this modern age tough enough without added controversy.
26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”
As usual, you start with a false premise and then descend to a point that, succintly made, is “if you are not like m,e or my married friends, you are condemned to hell.”
I take your article to be that, those who do not marry or enter religious life are not Catholic and are not welcome in the Chuch. Of course, you fail to consider if, once the word “vocation” is removed, what is left. You omitted that discussion – and resort to taking numerous paragraphs to quibble over the term “vocation” for a reason. I, have read your articles for some time, I think you really hate single people. They have no worth in the life of the Church to you and – I assume – think that because you think these folks should either “crap of get off the pot”: enter religious life, get married or go to hell. The Church has never spoken in such stark, hateful terms. But, you do.
Every child of God is called to a divinely inspired mission. In fact, my son’s Lasallian High School’s US Conference of Catholic Bishops- approved Catholic curriculum expressly teaches that there is a calling to single life, that it is an express vocation reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and that it is an important and vital part of the Catholic Church. And single folks include those with intellectual, emoptional and/or physical conditions or disabilities that do not or cannot marry but who still have much to offer to the life of the Church. You don’t condier them in your article – and they are, to you, without any dively-inspired mission. T be blunt, to you, they have not been made in God’s image and likeness. If so, they would have gotten married or entered religious life.
Let’s be serious. You don’t agree with our Holy Father, you don’t agree with the USCCB, you don’t agree with the Catechism and you’d rather make up doctine for an alternative “church” made up of only you and narrow-minded folks that look like and think like you.
No wonder people shun the Church. They don’t feel welcome.
We must have read different articles by Msgr. Pope. I am very comfortable that he did not condemn anyone to Hell for not thinking like him. You really went way too far. Holy Mother Church has two Sacraments of Vocation. Matrimony and Holy Orders. Why are their only two sacraments? Why not many more? She teaches that everyone is called to holiness given their state of life. We all have some cross we have to carry as well. I don’t know his mind of course but I would assume that he is asking us to think about the uniqueness of these two Sacramental Vocations and that there is something intentionally unique about these that we shouldn’t lose in a more popular use of words.
Seriously, you should really avoid reading this blog as it seems to bring out a great deal of hatred. Life is too hard to get this angry over a blog post.
Saying a Hail Mary for you as I wrap up Matt.
The religious life doesn’t have a sacrament but it is still a vocation. So is the single life.
Wow Matt, I sure didn’t see any of what you say in Msgr.’s article. Glad he posted your comment but didn’t reply.
Good morning Msgr. Pope!
I have a question. What about having those called to the single lay life because of choice or of events beyond one’s control to look at joining a “third order” ?
Thank-you for your response and God Bless.
As a single man who is committed to living his Catholic Faith, I agree with this article wholeheartedly.
People need not to feel slighted if they believe they are left out. Our feelings aren’t important.
Every Christian is called to a life of SERVICE. We have a LORD. We serve Him and His Bride (the Church).
Some people are called to serve Christ by marriage and building a family.
Some people are called to serve Christ by sharing in the priesthood.
Some people are called to serve Christ by living the consecrated life.
All of those are marked by the promises made and the gift of self to Christ and service to others. Once this commitment is made, the person no longer has the freedom to make choices that take away from that commitment of service to a particular path. Those of us that remain single retain that freedom. We can lead good and holy lives but we have not make the total gift of self to service that Christ has called us to give.
Thanks for an article that was well written, inspiring and that provided much food for thought.
It seems to me that there are two problems. One is use of language. Laypeople are pretty loose about callings and vocations; we consider that those with a strong internal drive to do a certain thing are called to do that; we think that certain types of work, like teaching or nursing, are vocations. So many people do not understand that there are very strict definitions in the Church which do not necessarily match their own everyday definitions.
The second is the issues that single people face, and this, I think, comes from our society in the US rather than from the Church; however, these strict definitions **seem** to single people to reinforce the issue brought about by society.
Many single people feel forced by God into an uncomfortable and difficult way of life, and they see no compensating factors.
Additionally, there is none of what you outlined for married and religious people; thus, there is no inherent structure for single people. Most singles groups in parishes are for the purpose of meeting others whom one might marry, and society in general assumes that the goal of the single life is to marry, so single people end up with a complete lack of structure, of goals, of vision for what their lives can be if they seem not to be getting married.
Maybe what single people need is not more knowledge about strict definitions, etc., but more information about how to live a holy single life without the only goal being marriage.
The points you made are good, I just think they are not the answer to the questions single people actually have.
Somebody once said that the definition of boredom is answering questions people are not asking. 🙂
I am glad you note that there is some value in knowing the stricter definitions though you seem to suggest I ought not speak of them since it is not “helpful” But I think challenging groupthink and loose usage of terms is helpful even thought it challenges.
I don’t really think that your critique that I or the church offer no structure is fair of the article I wrote. I cannot do everything in one column. Perhaps you would do well to read back through the 3,000 columns I have written in the past 5 years and you will find plenty of answers as to what young people can do from prayer to pro-life, from holiness to helping the poor.
Msgr: I always come from your blog with many things to think about. This is one of them, you make distinctions that are true, and you always show with tremendous insight the reasons for your postings. I am always amazed by the wide spectrum of your knowledge on each article. You bring insight into so many different aspects of living the Christian life. All I can say is thank you for these articles. A good article can be noted by the discussion that follows it and this one is one of them
Thanks. I am glad to hear that you appreciate the distinction. That is my real point here. Words mean things and we can use them in a strict or loose sense, but it is important not to lose the distinctions.
I am a single person who dislikes being single and rejects the notion of a single vocation. We could discuss the nature of vocations — whether the general call to holiness, “terminal vocations” that are recognized in Church tradition, and “specific vocations,” which is the work we are called to, which may or may not involve being single, such as caring for a family member, working in a relief agency, or teaching in a Catholic school. The point is that being single is incidental to the specific vocation and not a part of it. We could also discuss the call to communion, and the nuptial character of the human body, which implies that we are never called to be single solely for the sake of being single. I agree with many of the threads of above, and would refer many posters here to the wonderful written work by Emily Stimpson.
But I reject the single vocation for another reason that is not specified. It is a cop-out. For many singles who think they have a calling to be single but no specific mission in life, it can easily be a cover for vocational drift — perhaps even failure by sloth to seek a true vocation, or a permanent state of missed vocation possibly due to bad choices as much as circumstances.
I agree with Msgr. Pope’s opinion that today’s large number of single people “does not [bespeak] a healthy society.” However, I will go one step beyond Msgr. and say that it is a positive scandal that we have so many involuntarily single people who are earnestly seeking marriage and get no support from the Church community. We have concern for the sick, the old and the unemployed: why not the single seeking marriage too? Why not at least regular prayers for single people seeking marriage?
I am afraid that the notion of a “single vocation” is and would be a cop out for the institutional Church as well not to do more in support of a practical culture of marriage, in which people can and do get married, as opposed to being trapped in singleness for their entire adult lives. I have tried to speak out more than once about the difficulties of finding a spouse within the Catholic Church and I have been told, “There is no problem, maybe you just have a single vocation.” But I don’t have a single vocation, and singles who don’t want to be single find it profoundly discouraging to be told so.
I am sorry John for your disappointment with the Church. With Cardinals like Kasper and Marx, they aren’t really helping your cause. These two shouldn’t have entered the priesthood. AND THAT SHOULD BE THE GOAL OF THE OCTOBER SYNOD — TO FOSTER THE CATHOLIC FAMILIES! Period! But the smoke of Satan/Trojan Horse has entered. I believe there are many good Catholic dating websites. Just keep on praying, and if you are strong in your faith, you can even convert a Protestant to become your spouse, I certainly did!
Don’t give up, I will pray for you!
I know someone who is 50 something. He has tried his vocation in seminaries and several religious orders. He also has never married.
Do you still think he is NOT called to be single, Father?
I think he is called to do something with it. That would be the call.
I would cautiously venture that there is, indeed, a vocation to the single life. If God decides not to call a person to anything else, then by default He calls that person to the single life.
Your comment does not address any of the points I made. I would venture that if someone is single, they might ask God what he wants them to do and the answer to that question is what can be considered a vocation
I agree with you on that point, Father. I’ll address, first, your numbered points.
1. Single people make no promises and vows, though they may set their will according to a certainty that they will always be single. This point applies not to those for whom singleness is but a ‘waiting room’ for marriage, but to those who know in their heart that they are not called to marriage or to the priesthood or the religious life.
2. The commitment to stability is impliedly made by those who are other than ‘waiting room’ singles.
3. Single people can indeed date and enter into and out of romantic (though chaste) relationships at will, though it would seem infelicitous for the permanently single to to do so
4. Are singles really tied by lasting bonds to a community? Not by any formal vows. But by other bonds and other sources of a sense of belonging, they are.
5. No comment on this point.
6. Do singles answer or report to anyone on this earth? My answer is that singles are answerable directly to the Lord and are bound as everyone else is to obey the constituted public authorities in Church and State.
These are all so general. I mean, isn’t everyone answerable to the Lord? But He also established His Church for that reason, i.e. the legitimate exercise of His authority on earth. Ultimately, #6 denies the Incarnation, if taken to its furthest conclusion. The simple key to understanding all of Msgr. Pope’s points is simply, the “single state” is not ecclesial. Throughout Tradition there has never been such a notion as a vocation outside the structure of the Church, not under the authority of the Church, and not directed specifically to the good of the Church!
Msgr… Great points! My only comment is specific: the distinction of those who participate in Opus Dei as single laypersons vs. those who are Opus Dei numeraries and promise to live a life of celibacy as a “full” member, if you will, of Opus Dei. I would consider the latter a vocation.
seems to apply given the parameters you state.
OK, everyone, I can’t keep interacting from this point forward. Pastoral duties call. I am grateful for those who have tried to understand the distinctions I raise, and the importance of terms, and also those who do appreciate that my article does extend and permit the use of the term “vocation” more generically to include activities of service and love to the body and bride of the Christ, the Church.
From this point forward in the comment thread please address eachother, not me. I cannot interact any longer today due to duties.
And how does marriage do that?
I like this article as a clear way to discuss and enter in, not to mention that I intuitively agree with Msgr. I think part of the issue is the casual way we approach the fundamental vocation of holiness. The other vocations stream from and can help one fulfill the fundamental call but cannot be reduced to that call. We are all called to be saints. Regarding the single life as a vocation I think the phenomenological differences shown in this article are important. I also think the question of intentionality is important…does the person who is in the single vocation intend for Christ to perpetually remain in that state thereby saying no to the possibility of dating? Do he/she full give themselves for the sanctity of others? My heart truly goes out to the wonderful single men and women in the Church who pray, ache and cry for a spouse, but for mysterious or clear reasons cannot and have not married. But I hesitate calling that circumstance a vocation.
I came across this earlier and by the time I had time to give it more than a glance, comments were already closed.
Hopefully, this will come to Msgr. Pope’s attention. You started a conversation – came out swinging actually – on a very tender spot with a lot of people. When they said “ouch,” you called them churlish and criticized them for not reading your post properly, not being objective, not understanding your intent, etc.
What do you expect? Why would expect anyone to be “objective” after you’ve slapped them in the face? You hit people in a vulnerable area and then your concern (as far as I can tell) has been entirely about you.
No, I didn’t read your blog entry thoroughly – first for time reasons, then because of the attitude that went with it.
I hope that there’s a day when you are genuinely interested in hearing from single people in the Church.
I am single only because the men I wanted to marry didn’t want to marry me. Society in general has no use for single people unless they want to serve as spare parts for groups of people.
But I know God has a purpose for me, because he created me and he keeps me alive on this earth. If no one else, including me, can figure out my vocation or role in the church, that is our failure, not God’s. He works in mysterious ways even the good monsignor can’t discern.
I am not entirely sure it is fair to say that Msgr. is not interested in hearing from single people. He seems to make a great effort to provide guidance for all faithful Catholics, including the single.
That said. I did find that his list of differences came across as critical of the single life, since it is structured to show good things in which the single life does not share. I do not think, however, that his point was that single life is not good. The point was that single life does not match what he defines as a vocation. It is the activities and tasks of the single that qualify as callings, such as aid to those in need, prayer, etc.
The bigger aspect is to reduce our identity to our state in life. It is our baptismal adoption as children and heirs of God that identifies us, and the traditional vocations are ways in which we live out that calling. It is true that the single are called to live that out, too, but the single life is not, according to Msgr. Pope, the way that that calling is lived out. It is the things the single do, which may include attempts to implement Msgr.’s list of differences in their lives, that identify them as children of God.
God indeed has a purpose for each and every one of us, and indeed the vocations to prayer, help, and all Christian activities should be prayed for within and outside of the liturgy, along with the prayer for vocations and those in the traditional vocations. Despite out best efforts, sometimes we do not seem to achieve the vocation we think we’re called to. Nevertheless, it is in the building up of each other, and prayer for each other, that we help each other along the way. Msgr. Pope argues that maintaining the tradition definition of vocations assists in this work, even when it indeed hurts. The vocations are there to help us, not for us to serve them. They are not the goal, but the servant.
My prayers go to all of you, especially those who feel as though they have no guidance.
Does Baptism indicate a vocation?
Yes, Baptism starts you on your journey to evangelize the world. But it is just the beginning. Confirmation does what it says: it ‘firms’ you up along this journey so that you know where you are going.
What you choose to do under the grace of these two Sacraments–IS your vocation.
Good article. We are called to be holy, we are called to be saints. Proclaiming singularity a calling seems like grasping for validation of a particular state in life. How exactly does a state of unmarried (or unconsecrated) bless anyone in perpetuity? It is to that you should direct your energies, blessing others, not yourself.
Be holy. That’s a pretty good place to start. Then see where God takes you.
I know too many priests who do not have a vocation to the priesthood.
So many comments already before I even see the post!
So, my belated two cents —
There is no vocation to the single life. But single people do have a vocation. Made in the image of God the Trinity, we too are all called to a loving communion of persons. None of us are called to solitude. “It is not good that man should be alone.” We are all called to relationship.
Sure, sometimes that calling — either to relationship in human marriage or in a spousal type of relationship with Christ/Church — can be frustrated. It is an increasing crisis in this country and around the world that people who are called to marriage do not get married for this reason or that, even when they desperately want to. But impediments or obstacles to having our calling fulfilled does not mean that we are still not called to it.
If there is no vocation to the single life, there is no vocation to0 marriage.
Msgr’s mention of “the tendency today toward ‘identity politics’ is what drives the entire LGBTQ agenda. Same sex attraction, body dysmorphic disorder, etc. are not “identities”.
When I was a child, I learned from the Sisters at school: there are 3 states in life–religious, married, single. It made sense to me and I was young.
Now I am 75. I am elderly. I have been married for 39 years. Previous to that, I was a religious for 15 years. I will bet money that someday, my husband will die before I do–he has Alzheimers– and then, I shall be single. No human being can tell me that such state is not a vocation.
I saw a video called: ‘the third way’. It was in promotion of living a life of Chastity when you are singe. The added layer was that this video was put out by a man who saw himself as ‘gay’–I hate that word, btw. To this man, living a single life of Chastity while making a difference through service, made the best sense for him. I truly believe that the single life is a vocation. It is a freeing of a person from others so as to make a difference in the world. If there were a patron Saint of the single life, I would think it would be St. John the Baptist.
I am sorry that this Msgr is limited in his vision of states of life and corresponding vocations. I say it again: there are 3 states in life: married, religious and single. Each is a vocation. Each is a journey. Each makes a difference in this world. gh
I think your post is missing why a state in life is the same as a vocation in life. I understand the three states in life as you list them, but I don’t equate them to vocations. Religious is the only one that is explicitly on both your three states of life and Msgr.’s three vocations. I seem to recall reading that centuries ago (like the writings of Augustine IIRC) marriage wasn’t considered a vocation (At least not in the same way as the priesthood or religious life were).
I agree with you.
2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.
I was reminded of this reading some of the indignant responses to Msgr. Pope which were entirely unwarranted and some even baldly admitted they had not read his piece and still thought it a good idea to fling rhetorical feces. The disease of Political Correctness seems to have infected even Catholics and reminds of Tolkien’s comment that he should refuse to speak anything but Old Mercian.
Thanks, I appreciate this!
“Second, though, I wonder if this isn’t another example of the tendency today toward “identity politics.” Many today in our culture want their lived experience and views to receive recognition and approval from the wider culture. And if such recognition (and at least tacit approval) is found lacking, offense is taken and pressure is exerted for the “granting body” to give this recognition and approval.”
I think this paragraph hits the nail squarely on the head. We live in a “feel good” culture in this country. Everyone wants to feel “good” about who they are, what they do, and how they live their lives.
If we all remember what JPII wrote -that we are all created to love the other as other, even over our own wants or interests. We are all called to that. As a single person, I agree with Msgr, that it is not a vocation in the formal sense he describes so clearly. I remember thinking of those things and realizing that I would not live that way after my marriage failed.
Still, I have a rich full life giving to others in my work and home life. I am a teacher, and still challenge my students to give more to God than He can give to them! Can’t be done of course. 🙂
Keep giving to the Lord in whatever state you are in. Trust me, you can’t out-give Him, and joy is a very real result.
The vocation to the human virtue of chastity includes the states of marriage, virginity, and widowhood – and thus, the single life before and after marriage. The best examples of this are Jesus – the Example of Purity – and Saint Mary – who was a Virgin before marriage and a Widow after marriage. In Mary, God sanctified the three forms of chastity in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.
God sanctified the three forms of chastity in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.* (“In Mary,” is redundant)
Also, “the states of virginity, marriage, and widowhood” is a better ordering in the light of nature.
As far identity politics I use to resent this question about ethnic identity. When I was drafted into the army I took an oath to defend the U.S. and it’s Constitution. I was not asked where my parents or grandparents were born and what their ethnic identities were. Now, everywhere one turns that question is asked. In lieu of answering it directly I used to put that I was an American citizen, veteran, taxpayer, and registered voter. Now, I answer the question of ethnic identity only when it is absolutely necessary. I think in California medical authorities can ask that question.
Here is an article from the Bishop of St Louis saying the single life is a Vocation http://archstll.org/archstl/post/vocati0n-dedicated-single–life-lead Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Here is a web page from the Diocese of Green Bay http://www.gbdioc.org/vocati0ns/vocations.html that lists 4 Vocations one being a single life plus the USCCB hand book on teaching children what is a Vocation also say the same thing the PDF is called what is my Vocation you can look that up on USCCB web site. There is plenty more references out there but I can’t list them all these should be sufficient to show you that the Church teaches the single life is a Vocation. My parents are almost 90 and 80 and they were taught the single life was a Vocation when did it change?It didn’t.
I wonder if quoting a particular bishop is really the end of the matter, or means you can say the church teaches something. I think Msgr. raised some good questions here. I have little doubt that bishops and diocese may have call the single life a vocation. But there is a lot of parroting and trendy notions in the Church about ideas and it is sometimes good to ponder if we use terms properly. Some years ago the word “ministry” was over- used and the Vatican sought to curb its use for things more specific. SO sometimes dioceses and bishops get it wrong.
By the way, these links don’t seem to work
Given the number of singles who have posted here, Monsignor Pope seems to have a touched a painful nerve. As the veteran of a couple of bad marriages, let me say that sometimes it’s better to die on your feet rather than live on your knees. By that I mean, it is better to remain single and alone than in a bad marriage, especially one with children. I learned that the hard way(although I’ve never had children). I also learned after those bad marriages AND several years of therapy that I have worth and dignity as a person no matter what. It is NOT dependent on anyone else. IF I never get married again, ok, it may tough,but I’ll survive. IF YOU don’t get married ever, despite your best efforts, well so what. You’re still a good person and still have worth. Don’t ever forget that.
Finally, just remember that ANY Idiot can get married and I’m proof positive of that.
Someone correct me if I’m wrong but in this context the word single is used to define relationship status. The priesthood, marriage, and religious as defined by the church are more than a relationship status. Msgr. Pope’s point is that priesthood, marriage, and religious are not the same as being single. I think the problem here is when a statement like is taken as me saying one is better or inferior to the other. It would be incorrect take what is being discussed here personally and these vocations are measure competitively.
Marriage also defines a relationship status.
This is very well written and very true! I’m weary of seeing people say there is a “single” vocation, like all those who remain single are single on purpose. Being single is not a default vocation. It is a transitive state and some people remain so not because they weren’t called to, for example, marriage, but because something blocked that marriage vocation from happening (like perhaps the potential spouse was aborted or something). I see so much misinformation about this being flooded onto the internet from Catholic bloggers who think they know everything. If being single is a vocation then why isn’t there any church literature on it? Why is there no theology of the single vocation?
Because the Church has forgotten us.
There isn’t much literature on the single vocation because many people are temporarily single while waiting to get married, and it’s easy to confuse them with those of us who are called to be single. We are really 2 very different groups of people but from the outside we look the same. What fits one group doesn’t fit the other.
Shame on you.Ego bigger than the Saints and the Pope’s and Our Lady of Fatima.Never mind we can’t debate you.How dare us.Carry on King Pope and we shall all bow or maybe not.
About 15 years ago I developed a retreat day for singles based on theology of the body entitled: The Single Life: Mistake or Mission? (available still from Our Father’s Will Communications on CD). I think the distinction I made in that retreat is still valid – that the single life is not a Vocation in the technical sense of the word (as Msgr. Pope points out), but that it is a mission to self-giving love through our “sincere gift of self.” (GS 24) It is Christ who “completes” us (GS 22) – not our human spouse. The ultimate goal of life is not to “get ourselves into a vowed state,” but to dispose ourselves to the one-flesh divinizing union with the glorified Body of Christ. Although I never would have chosen to be single for 25+ years of my adult life, it has born tremendous fruit for the Church and for my own redemption of the body, purification of my desires, virginal poverty, and purity of heart. I am more aware now than ever of my estate before God as a pauper who can only beg for Him to give me the Gift of his Trinitarian Love. I can only hope that others can discover the same grace of Christ’s spousal love for each person and His desire to enter into an intimate relationship of total self-giving love in the body with each person uniquely. This is the revolutionary reality of Eph 5:32-33: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and unite with his wife and the two shall be one flesh. This mystery is great; I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” JPII develops this vocation to a spousal relationship with Christ both in his theology of the body and in his apostolic letter, “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.” CCC 1617 says: “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath. which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.” Unless I am mistaken, baptism is a vowed state that inserts us into a permanent relationship with Christ, his Body the Church, and a kind of “rule” of life we call discipleship. The spousal meaning of the body is not restricted to marriage, but is the call of every baptized person – union and communion through a sincere and fruitful gift of self with God, others, nature, and within our very being between body and spirit. Sorry…I could go on and on. Helping singles live theology of the body is one of my passions. I just gave a 12 hour workshop on TOB that touched on all these topics this weekend in Vancouver so it is fresh in my mind. 🙂
Yes, this is well said. Thanks
I think part of the issue here is that there are many single people in the Church today who want to feel like their’s is not just a “waiting for something better to come along” state in life. I mostly agree with Msgr. Pope. You can’t call being a bachelor a vocation. There needs to be a more intentional side to this. Just because someone has social issues that hinder them from finding a spouse does not mean that they’re called to the “single life”. If anything we should help those individuals acquire the social skills needed to attract a spouse. I see today a lot of people that are called to marriage but are stuck in single life because of social anxieties or socialization problems. It’s a real thing.
I do believe, however, that the strong emphasis on marriage and family that we (rightly) see in churches can leave one feeling like singles don’t have a place in the community. It is just a fact that not every person will marry, we should help them find a place in the community and not feel like they’re “missing something” because they’re not married. This is basically what we expect of gay men and women. They’re told not to be priests, marry, or religious, so they’re stuck. Has the church no “use” for them? I’m sure that’s how most feel.
So, I agree with Msgr Pope, the vocation is not in the being single part, but we can do more at the parish level to help single men and women feel part of the community and find a place where they can use their “freedom” for the greater glory of God.
I am a single religion teacher at a Catholic middle school. I really think the Church needs to tighten it’s definition of a vocation. No where (as far a I know) does it say you must take a vow to enter into the vocation of single life. Nor (as far as I know) does it say that a vocation is always a permanent state of life. Marriage until death yes, priesthood yes, consecrated virgin and religious yes, non (officially) consecrated single life I don’t think so. While I see the logic in the argument logic does not guarantee certitude.
I hope the argument I am about to make is as logical. Perhaps the vows made in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation is enough for the single life to be a vocation if you accept it and consecrate it (unofficial or officially) to Jesus Christ. A perpetually consecrated virgin and religious life are ways to fulfill the vocation of single life in a permanent way. I have a spousal relationship with Christ through my Baptism/Confirmation, and that seems to me to suffice for the spousal aspect mentioned in Theology of the Body. I realize “so are priests, consecrated religious and virgins Baptized and Confirmed” but I would argue that they take an additional vow that makes there vocation permanent. Where does it say all three vocations must be permanent. This would be the question to answer in my opinion.
I am by virtue of my baptism a “Bride of Christ.”
“Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath.111 which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church.” (CCC#1617) There is the spousal (nuptial) relation every one is talking about needed for a vocation.
Thank you father. I am single, and this has given me freedom to be more accepting of my single state. It lessens the sense that I must create or attach more meaning to being single than actually exists.
First and foremost thanks are due to the Msgr. Charles Pope for the very relevant and thought provoking observations about “Singlehood” as understood within the conventional framework of vocations. Thanks are also due to the many single persons who have courageously bared their soul and shared their struggles and understanding on this sacred and sensitive aspect of our existence. I perceive some of the difficulties in this dialogue in our mutual search to understand “singlehood” as a vocation, may have arisen from the lack of a mutually and commonly agreed upon definition of the term “Vocation”.
From my reading of the main article as well as comments, I have gleaned the following definitions of the term “Vocation”
1. A state of life
2. A commitment to some form of good works, acts of service, mercy and charity, based on some perceived sense of suitability, or natural or supernatural given gift, talent, charism
3. The purpose or meaning of one’s life and existence
4. A way of relating to others (the nuptial aspect) (this appears, and rightly so as pointed out in the seminal work of St. John Paul II “Theology of the body”, is both a definition as well as one of the most crucial aspects in determining whether one is in a state of vocation)
5. A call, a calling, more specifically a call from God
One may argue that the above definitions are all synonymous and could be easily used interchangeably while discussing the term vocation. While there are lots of similarities in the above definitions there are also subtle difference, due to which, I perceive a lot of angst by some of the commenters as it unfortunately and yet inevitably touches a raw nerve on the very reason of one’s existence and as a result on one’s innate dignity itself.
I propose to use the process of elimination, to narrow down on what may be the most suitable definition of the term vocation.
1. A state of life”: for example, one may say, I am at present a student, this being my state of life. Yet, this is transitory, hence this seems to lack the permanency and consistency that is a necessary attribute for a vocation.
2. Commitment to some form of good work based on a natural or supernatural charism: The problem with this approach is that it emphasizes too much on the utilitarian aspect of the human person. In such a scenario, a child with very severe disabilities, who survives into adulthood, but is completely dependent on others for its very survival, would apparently be devoid of any vocation.
This leaves us with the last three. It appears that these three are the most closely linked and a fuller expression of each other. It almost appears each aspect builds on the previous aspect.
The foundational one appears to be “A call from God.” The very first call of God is when the Almighty called us into existence from nothing. He spoke the eternal WORD and all of His creation including us came into being. It appears that our first vocation is God calling us into being. In one of the comments someone expressed that BEING human is so generic that it can’t be a vocation. True this definition of ‘vocation’ is generic, but the great I AM, the eternal being called us into being, in him we live, move and have our being. The fact that we exist gives dignity to all of God’s creation, because God called us all into existence. By the mere fact that we exist we give Glory to God. What can be a greater calling that to give Glory to God? It follows that this call or vocation is shared not just by humans but all of God’s creation and is our primary vocation too.
Upon this foundation of “being called into existence”, is the next aspect of “being in relationship”. Our catechism teaches us that God called us into existence purely as an expression of his love. Love wishes the perfect good and happiness of the other. So it follows that he created us not because he needed anything or lacked anything, but rather, that we would know him, love him, serve him and through it all find our eternal good and happiness in him now and for eternity. So he created us to first and foremost be in relationship with him for our eternal good and happiness. In addition, our catechism also teaches us that God created us in his “Trinitarian” likeness and image, male and female he created us. The Trinitarian God eternally lived in community of Father, Son and Spirit and it is but natural that we too should live for the other in communion, as a reflection of the Holy Trinity in whose image we have been created. This relational dimension takes on deeper significance. St. James says, if you cannot love the brother that you see, how can you love God whom you cannot see? It appears that love of the other is the primary way by which we express our love for God. Yet, our catechism teaches us that the sin of our first parents, separated us from God and from one another and ourselves. However, God promised to save us from our sins and restore us back into communion.
So we find “our purpose of life and existence” by “being in a (reconciled) relationship with God, neighbor and ourselves”. Our purpose of life is to be in this renewed relationship, into a deep union and intimacy with God; this is our purpose and meaning of our life. To help us into this intimacy, and bridge the gap between the infinite and the finite made all the more impossible on account of our sin, the Eternal Word, became man, took upon himself our sins, was crucified, died and is risen, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father and has sent us his Holy Spirit, so that now we can love him both as the God Man who we can see as well as the Eternal Word who we cannot, and here on earth we see the God Man tangibly in his body the Church, as well as in the least of our brothers and sisters. Christ took upon our humanity, so that we may share in his divinity. Yet the God who called us into existence without our permission or cooperation, will not call us into this redemptive union and intimacy without our cooperation and permission. This makes it all the more sacred and important that we are discussing this call, this vocation, this purpose of our life namely to be redeemed and be in communion with God and all his creation.
Our cooperation with Christ’s redemptive work is expressed in our being in a loving relationship with God through his Son Jesus, who manifests himself not just in his body the church but all of his creation, has conventional being found in Priesthood, religious life and Marriage. Yet, it is not limited to these three, since as we pointed out earlier, a severely disabled child who has survived into adulthood, is as much in relationship with his caregivers as the same holds true for the caregivers with this disabled child / adult.
It appears, that while the conventional vocations, seemingly, make it easier to cooperate with God’s redemptive plan and thus find meaning and purpose of one’s life and existence, as well as, more readily and visibly demonstrate the fundamental nuptial aspect of vocation, namely living for the other. “Singlehood” throws up numerous challenges, both in visibly demonstrating the nuptial aspect as well as defining unequivocally one’s meaning of life. Yet, this difficulty, should not take away from its legitimate claim to be a genuine vocation, since just as much as Priesthood, Religious, and Married Life have the potential to be in relationship (one must not assume, just because one has embraced that state of life, one is truly living the nuptial aspect of our reason of existence), similarly single persons whether by choice or circumstance have the potential to live out the relational / nuptial aspect of our faith and call of God and one must not assume by the mere fact that one is single one is not living out this nuptial aspect.
I believe, rev. fr. marcus pollard has put forward what I sense Msgr. presenting much more succinctly than I did. I am sorry I missed reading this comment before I posted my own. Thanks to you both Msgr. Pope and Rev Fr. Pollard.
I have pasted Rev. Fr. Pollard comment below for quick reference:
rev marcus pollard says:
May 26, 2015 at 11:42 pm
I thought your article was clear and helpful in describing the common elements of a vocation.
When I speak about this topic I distinguish between:
1. The universal call to holiness … vocation in the most general sense
2. That vocation as found in one’s specific circumstances, e.g., sufferings, opportunities, talents, apostolate, etc.
3. Vocation in the proper sense of a commttied life as you described above.
All people have a “vocation” in the first and second senses. No one is promised a vocation in the third sense.
I found your article on being single very depressing. I get the exact same feeling when listening to religious programs and even going to mass…. I feel left out because everything is centered around family life and the priest hood. I spent my whole adult life taking care of my sick parents and now my almost completely blind older brother. I hope God looks at my life as a sacrifice to serve other’s. I decided a few year’s ago to remain single and devot what’s left of my “apparently worthless single” life to Christ. I don’t have any children and I don’t sleep around. I hope Christ understands us better than your article conveys our worth. I thought the article was a tad tact-less. I doubt Christ would have put it that way….
In Persona Christi, right Father
Thanks for letting me vent
But you are not left out. The world is your oyster and you can do endless things in the Church. Don’t believe everything you think, or feel. Come on Jeff, get hold of yourself and walk in like you own the joint. Your feelings are not indicative of reality.
JMJ Whatever happened to my comment,(poated June 11TH, 2015, don’t remember time) it was Valid, the Definition of Vocation according to Fr. Hardon”s dictionary. Most people (Msgr.?)don’t seem8 to know the definition of Vocation.
Here’s the problem, Father …
So what, then, is the point of the vocations of marriage and celibacy?
There are two possibilities.
1. If it is to help us achieve a certain holiness we otherwise wouldn’t, then single people will be deficient in holiness if they remain as they are.
2. If vocations do not help us achieve holiness any better than living as a single person, then there is no benefit in either getting married or embracing celibacy as it pertains to our sanctity.
You challenge one questioner about something not being in the Tradition of the Church. Well this second possibility is definitely not in the Tradition of the Church — in fact it is heresy.
This glaring lacuna for some reason appears without exception in all of these “is single life a vocation” pieces.
Given the rigors of married life, and religious life, there does not seem to be anything to match that in the “single” life. Until proven wrong, I see the “single” life as a selfish choice to avoid the hard struggles and obedience required by marriage and religious life. We take vows and orders. You guys don’t. I think it is a path to selfishness, not a path to holiness.
The post’s characterization of Opus Dei is inaccurate and should be corrected. Members of Opus Dei have a committed vocation. That part of the blog post should be corrected, out of justice. “Opus Dei was founded in 1928. It was approved by the bishop of Madrid in 1941 and by the Holy See in 1947. Since 1982, Opus Dei has been a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. Personal prelatures exist to carry out specific pastoral missions in the Church, and are part of the jurisdictional, hierarchical structure of the Church. Personal prelatures have a prelate, secular priests, and men and women lay faithful, united as a single organism to carry out the prelature’s mission. In Opus Dei’s case, this mission is to spread the ideal of holiness in the middle of the world.” (From and see more at opusdei.org). The author should know that Opus Dei has it’s own bishop to whom it’s members must be obedient.
This blog post fails to define “vocation” but instead focuses on certain aspects of marriage, religious life, and the priestly vocation to propose that those faithful Catholics who are single have not corresponded to God’s call. That is not the Church’s teaching. We have canonized saints who were single. They most certainly corresponded to God’s call, to their vocation. I find it irresponsible to suggest that the many very devout single people serving the Church and others heroically have somehow failed in their vocation.
I admit I’m one of those readers whose initial response to Msgr. Pope’s article was a deeply felt “reaction”…and no, not to be so easily discounted on the presumption that I’m unduly influenced by identity politics. In fact I first read it last summer, but only now and responding (this is a thoughtful reply). My “passionate” reaction (to a Priest friend who shared it with me for the sake of discussion) is actually a positive passion for the actual teaching of the Church since Vatican II (especially with deep gratitude for Blessed JPII and Pope Paul VI), that stems from the fruition of the vocation to the Laity…one that is in dire need of deeper understanding and lived out in practice within the hierarchical structure of the Church.
If the Lay Vocation was really embraced and advocated by the ordained like our good Monsignor, single people wouldn’t feel “over-looked” nor feel the vocation they are living out in the single state, is somehow “secondary” ie (less than or lower than) that of consecrated religious, married or ordained vocations living out their vocation in their states of life. In fact, many argue that it is within the Laity that both the call and discernment occurs which may lead one to religious or ordained ministry. When the laity is intentionally or unintentionally suppressed, ALL Christian vocations suffer!
I noticed something as I read the blog (yes…all 38 pages of it so far): Monsignor Pope could help settle the pot he so eloquently stirred by responding directly to the very valid points made by specific people (notably, people who had credible Church sources that clearly answer Monsignor Popes call for point by point dialogue. None made personal attacks, all made points that differ/refute/expand upon his original statements, and in every case Monsignor either chose not to reply directly or in the two cases he did reply, he did so in a manner which he neither conceded his perspective as being too narrowly defined, nor did he make any retractions forthwith.
I cite the following responders specifically (all of whom I applaud for their clarity, respect, informed knowledge and credible source citing:
David Hahn, post 18
Bob, post 24
Rev. Marcus Pollard, post 25
Erin Manning, post 27
David, post 31
Greg Lorriman, post 37
Julia, post 38
Kelly Nichols, post 44 (of whom Msgr. discredits the value/role of the USCCB)
justanotherlittlesoul, post 46
Sue Korlans’ addition to post 48
Michael Petek, post 55 (and Msgr Naves’ response that drives the whole point home when he says “the “single state” is not ecclesial” – which is exactly what all the above posts are trying to stretch Monsignor Pope’s vision to accept…and to concede that he didn’t include in his original article (which triggered us all to this lively dialogue).
Richard Connell and Georgia Hedrick, post 60 & 65
Alex, post 73 who discerns part of the issue is claiming one vocation is better of inferior to the other.
Katrina Zeno, MTS, post 76 simply nailed it! And again Msgr. says “This is well said, thank you” but never retracts his original assertions.
Joseph Hahn, M.A, post 78 also nails it!
Michelle, post 85.
Read these collectively in response to Monsignor Pope’s original article and it will be much clearer that his original premise is flawed. Flawed in the following: “In these cases, the vocation is the work itself, not the single state”- his distinction, while helpful to look at each definition with more clarity, actually does the opposite…it severs them, one from the other and that’s his fundamental flaw that singles by clear choice and positively living out their vocations call him to task on. The second faulty premise is this statement: “for what we have traditionally termed vocations”. Really? Church history (especially since Vat.II) refutes this so lets not be selective in citing historical precedent. His error is one of a too small perspective which has been subjectively affirmed in his long life lived with an ordained perspective…full of experiences that affirm his vocation. The Laity, whether married or single, need their subjective contribution to be considered as well….after, all this was intended as a dialogue rather than stating a case from which to argue from (I pray).
One of the pit-falls of proposing a point starting with the two premises he does, is the limits of deductive reasoning/logic and its subsequent trail of reasoning. It wields a sharp sword that divides when its intention was to cut away points that detract from the clarity and distinction one wants to make. I would suggest, instead, that the above posts I cite, are evidence of inductive reasoning at work; one starting with the broadest definition of call and vocation and apostolic sharing in the mission of the Church which stems from our common baptism and confirmation and is nourished and grown through Eucharist.
The sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders are not feathers in one’s cap…nor are they a sign “more” grace received than one who has not celebrated those sacraments….they are graces given so the recipient can live out their vocation in that personal and particular state of life! That’s why single people don’t “need” more than what we already have received in our Lay vocations. In failing to call forth the Laity (and collaborating with them in the ecclesial structures as equal in dignity and true peers with the ordained/religious, which only perpetuates this issue. The Lay vocation is secular in nature and ordered to the consecration of the world to Christ. The Ordained is ordered to building up the Body of Christ primarily in and through ecclesial structures. Their (and their state of life as lived in practice) is “Church” focused. The Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs has fantastic resources in their Called and Gifted workshops that drive this point home with great clarity.
I take Monsignor Pope’s subjective perspective (as he tries to both speak authoritatively while at other times admits he cannot do so) as proof that we all have a long way to go to discern and support one another in our respective vocations and states of life so the Church can be a collective witness in communio, that is truly “synergetic and generating” (Mullieris Dignitatem Twenty Years Later: An Overview of the Document and Challenges by Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., 2009).
Together; In Christ
This article continues to get cited as the “what is the single vocation?” debate rages on.
To me it all lacks common sense. Everyone seems to be desperate to find their church-related “vocation”, using the church’s ivory-tower sense of the word.
I beg you all… ask 100 people coming out of next Sunday’s mass what “praying for vocations” means. All 100 will say that we need more priests. And nuns. And all the other ordained or consecrated church careers and occupations. Because that’s what we all know the word “vocation” means.
Don’t confuse and misuse the word by trying to apply it to marriage. Then this whole silly argument goes away.
Jesus himself never married nor was he a consecrated rabbi. If all but priests and religious are supposed to marry, then Jesus would have married.
I think there certainly is a call to the single life that is not manifested in a call to the priesthood or the religious life. However, I think it is the Church who has failed the people who have received this beautiful vocation. Some people do have an active vocation to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ and feel no call to marry and have a family, something that, while lofty, would detract from their ability to minister to the poor, the sick, the dying, and the lost.
The Church needs to recognize this calling, this vocation and allow those who chose to remain in the world to take vows that configure them to Christ. I do realize that, in this world, we have consecrated virgins, but Jesus accepts those who are not virgins but have repented of their sins. Mary Magdalene is a prime example. Jesus and his mother were both close friends of Mary’s, and it was to her he first appeared after his glorious Resurrection.
Those who do have a genuine vocation to the single life find they have more time for prayer and meditation, more time for contemplation, more time to form a closer bond with Christ. Those with a vocation to the single life should not be confused with those who choose to remain single simply to keep their dating options open, etc. Anyone who says the vocation to the single life is selfish is confusing a true vocation with a fear of commitment. The two are not the same thing.
A person who has a true vocation to the single life configures himself to Christ. He or she is feeding his brothers and sisters in homeless shelters, etc., while his or her married counterparts are sitting in front of the TV watching whatever show might be playing at the moment or taxing children back and forth to soccer practice and all the other “extras” that fill kids’ lives now. He or she is not making dates or going on singles’ cruises to the Caribbean. Don’t kid yourself.
There is definitely a vocation to the single life and a need for people who want to seek a closer bond with Christ rather than with a mortal partner. There is definitely a vocation to the single life and a need for people who will spend their free time with their needy brothers and sisters in Christ rather than the needs of one family only. The fact that there are no vows for those called to a single vocation to take is one of the failings of the Church. It is not a failing of Christ or of the person called to such a vocation.
Consecrated virgins take no vows, zero. Consecrated religious take vows. Priests take vows if they belong to orders; if they are diocesan, they simply make promises to their bishop and his successors.
If there is no vocation to the single life, why did Christ not marry? Why did he not become a rabbi within the framework of the temple? Why did he say that a man should leave mother, father, husband, wife, and follow him? Some of his apostles were married, yet they left their wives to follow Jesus.
The primary function of the married life is the procreation and raising of children. The primary function of the single life is devotion to one’s brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not forming one romantic attachment after another or golfing whenever one feels like it as some of you falsely seem to think. And the single life is not limited to virgins only, witness Mary Magdalene.
Thank you, P Edward Murray. I too have a similar story. I too never found a spouse. And the things a girl had to do get one was not something I ever considered. The fact is that most of the time, if a girl is not willing to “put out” the guys won’t have anything to do with them. And once you get that “reputation”, it’s game over. But too wondered where was my Jesus leading me. I asked and begged Him to tell me. For the past 20 years or so, I have been taking care of my mother. She’s end stage dementia now. We decided to keep her home, rather than put her in a nursing home. Me and my sister, who is also not married, have been busy to exhaustion with this, but mom is with us, not abandoned and afraid. And we can see that she gets the care she needs, as well as the sacraments. She was DEVOUT Catholic all her life. And I know that my Jesus loves me. And nothing you can say or do can take him from me. I am a part of the church, Jesus’s church!, let’s not forget that, whether you like it or not.
Today I was at my church for mass and our priest often prays for the Vocations (big V) to marriage and the religious life. I thought hmmm. Must be as a single that I am cold fish?! Then I did a search on the internet because I distinctly thought that there was three states in which people could belong. All of them with the exception of Marriage requires us to be chaste. All of us as Catholics/Christians need to be true to their baptismal callings (General Vocation) as followers and disciples of Christ.
So now I find your article and a few others that seem to indicate that there are three ways to be “whole” in the Church (big C). I think this seems to be dependent on there being a “perfect world” in that people have no defects (through dysfunctional families — which are becoming more and more) or lack of a suitable mate being a missed or delayed vocation to Marriage or the inability to hold to the rigors of what is required in the ordained life. So what about those that fall through the cracks? Certainly I was taught the church was universal and that Christ died of all sinners? Please help me understand this. How can the Church (big C) be present to those others and not leave them feel anathema?
The nature of the internet tends to cause people to be more negative than if we were in face to face contact, which is why I had pause to spend time here. I pray that the Holy Spirit directs this discussion in a wholesome and meaningful discussion.
Yes I do agree that the Catholic Church (particularly) acknowledges and prays for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. And I would agree with Larry above, when he says that most people (Catholics) think of “vocations” as being to the religous life, and with Claire above that modern relationships often start “in bed” which is clearly the wrong place for them to start, and I think is often why some people are single.
While I acknowledge that some people may choose, or be forced to choose, “singlehood” as a way of life owing to extenuating circumstances such as same sex attraction, or divorce, there are those of us who have remained single simply because they have never met the right person. And when we reach a certain age, we begin to feel that the situation is permanent.
However, I would still agree that singleness is not something I would consider as a vocation in its own right. I think to a large extent the Church is a little unfair to single people. I often wonder if it is because its clergy don’t marry – but that, I think, would open up a completely different can of worms. If you are a single woman in the parish, you are expected to offer your services for cleaning the church, making tea and sandwiches/cakes for any functions that take place etc etc. It’s a little hard on people who don’t have outstanding culinary skills!
I am still waiting to be shown me what my true vocation in life is. Please God – let it not be too long more, or I will be in my grave before it happens!!
Thank you for reading this. God Bless !!
I do think this distinction is an “ouch” moment. But single folks, please realize this is much helpful than condescending remarks like “Oh You might/must be called to singleness” or “You might/must have a gift of singleness”…. at which I just roll my eyes.
Msgr is right because the state of singleness does not equal the desire for singleness. Substitute “vocation” in his writing for “desire” and you will get what Msgr says. Desire is always how God calls people to His vocation because He does not force anybody to do anything. Yes. As a single person who wanted to marry at 23, I sometimes feel forced to remain single and feel forgotten or that He doesn’t care. But I also know that God cannot force anybody to do anything. It is not in His ability to forget me or to not care about my desires.
I think what singles have to do about the desire to get married is just to acknowledge the desire for marriage. Do not try to hastily conjure up a desire for singleness (can there be such a thing?) or envy or try to proudly diminish other vocations out of envy(mea culpa in the past). And just ask God to bring a spouse, without bitterness or spite or excuses. He will accomplish it if it is pleasing to Him.
But, Monsignor, I think singleness could be God’s Will passively manifested?
Like the country or family we are born into is not our choice but is a manifestation of God’s Will.
My only comfort is to know that He had every means to bring me a spouse, but He has not done that. Then it means it is His desire for me to not be married at this moment, and I’d want His desire over my having a happy, (even!)Godly marriage out of His will(sounds paradoxical..but you get the idea).
But one thing I find more helpful is to look for God’s purpose in allowing this, rather than God’s Will, which I learned via discernment. I think of a scripture passage where Jesus said in one of the Gospels “It is not sin of this person nor of his parents, but is to glorify God” prompting us to stop analyze causes of pain and to look at His purpose.
Well since today is a very totally different time that we live in now which makes it very extremely difficult for many of us very good men really looking for love since the kind of women that are now out there these days which really speaks for itself too. So for many of us men looking to go on a vacation which would be very horrible if we have to do it alone which most of us will not even bother at all.
You can’t be more wrong. Every one of your points can apply to a person called into single life in perfect countenance. Even point six can apply here as those called in to a single vocation are accountable to spiritual directors.
Thus, Father, according to you six points, there is a vocation to the single life in perfect continence. This can also be a consecrated life either personally, or in a third order.
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