Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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December 6th, 2010

Catholic Singles

Is there such thing as a vocation to be single in the Church?



Recently, Jill, 29, a long-time Busted Halo reader finishing up her medical school residency, emailed me to ask if there is such a thing as a vocation to be single in the Catholic Church. She’s open to a relationship — indeed, she longs to meet the right man and marry — but because she is busy with work, and struggles with her weight, she’s resigned to being single for a while. As she mused over her situation, she wondered whether God might actually be calling her to be single. She writes:

I sorta-sincerely considered being a nun earlier in my life and felt that wasn’t right for me. I’ve never even remotely considered being single (I’ve considered the possibility I may find myself single in later life, but not out of an active choice or perceived calling). I’m curious if other people pray about that option as much as they would about marriage or the religious life. I can’t recall a priest ever recommending that. And there’s no sacrament for single people!

So do people really say, “I’m meant to be single” for whatever reason, and then go about creating a life for themselves as singles? Does the Catholic Church really encourage that?

— Jill                

At my church in Pittsburgh, among petitions for the parishioners to pray for faithful marriages and a dedicated deaconate, there is a part where we pray for folks to lead an “exemplary single life.” I’d always wondered about this myself. While I’ve written columns about the challenges of being single within the Catholic Church, I was never quite clear on whether there is a particular calling for singles to remain single — but not take holy orders of any kind — to better serve God.

There is a National Catholic Singles Conference , and there are online prayers specifically for the “single vocation” and press releases about events geared toward those embracing a “single lay vocation.” Is being single a vocation?

Being single is a state in life, not a vocation. Being single can be support for your vocation to follow God’s call to you to help others, to do good works, etc., but it is not a vocation in and of itself. — Dr. Theresa Notare, USCCB

I posed this question to Dr. Theresa Notare, Assistant Director of the Natural Family Planning Program at the Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the quick answer is no: Being single is a state in life, not a vocation. Being single can be support for your vocation to follow God’s call to you to help others, to do good works, etc., but it is not a vocation in and of itself.

Marriage, Dr. Notare explains, is an example of a vocation that requires a precise state of life. “Marriage is the vocation that a man and a woman are given by God to form a unique communion of persons in service of love and life. Only a man and a woman can enter marriage — together. One cannot enter into this vocation ‘on your own!’ Obviously, the two people have to meet each other first and then, in getting to know each other, also discern if God is calling them to marry each other,” she says, adding “It is important to remember that a person can ‘hope for’ or ‘be open to’ marriage, but it cannot be lived until one finds his/her spouse-to-be.”

OK. So, if being single isn’t a vocation or a particular calling in the Catholic Church, does that mean that singles are the leftovers and forgotten ones? Not at all, says CatholicMatch.com writer Mary Beth Bonacci. Being single means that God is asking you to follow a different path, one that is uniquely your own.

“God writes straight with crooked lines. He meets us where we are. When we turn our lives over to Him, he creates something beautiful — beyond our wildest expectations,” she says. “As singles, we’re more aware that real fulfillment comes from giving. The absence of built-in gifts in our lives motivates us to move outside of ourselves and to reach out in love to those around us.”

Jill says that it’s this time of the year — around the holidays — that she feels the most acutely alone, “like God has forgotten about me,” and while she knows she’d be fine if she remained single for the rest of her life, “I really hope I meet the right person and fall in love. It’s actually really hard to be single in some ways. And who doesn’t want their own love story?”

Dr. Notare says she’d advise singles like Jill, who have also considered taking vows of celibacy, to develop a mature self-knowledge through prayer as a way to figure out the best path forward. “In other words, know your gifts, emotions, intellectual abilities, interests and deepest sins,” she says. “Also spend time thinking about marriage, vowed celibacy, consecrated life or non-consecrated life. Read, study, talk to knowledgeable people — gather information for personal reflection. Ask yourself, ‘In which of these structures can your gifts be best used?’ Pray about it.”

Statistical good news

But I’d also add one more bit of statistical good news for those smart singles who would like to marry: At 29 and finishing up a medical residency, Jill is among the SWANS — a “Strong Woman Achiever, No Spouse” who is actually more likely to get married in the next 10 years than a woman with less education and career success. According to current population survey data that I used in my book Marry Smart, Jill has a 75 percent chance of walking down the aisle in the next decade if marriage is her goal — and that should be good news to take into the holiday season for all singles hoping to meet their match.

Being single may not be an official vocation within the Church, but singles have many gifts to offer in the service of God and others. (Check off the box of single role models in the Church.) Just as the Catholic Church could do a better job providing opportunities for young adults to meet, the Church must continue to take strides to embrace unmarried lay people and help everyone achieve their calling regardless of their state in life.

Want more advice about how to deflect those pestering relatives asking about your love life — and quell your own anxieties about being single this holiday season? Check out some of my previous columns packed with useful tips.

And let me know your thoughts! How have you lived out your calling to do God’s work — in all your life states? If you’re a long-time single Catholic, how do you feel about the Church not recognizing your life state as a vocation? Would you like the Church to acknowledge a specific vocation for singles? Share your comments below!

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Larry Bud

    Well this article is over five years old, but articles on this topic are so rare. Having recently joined Louise M’s 50+-and-never-married club, I can say that I agree with everything she said. One local parish holds a monthly Saturday night “family mass” with a dinner afterward. I asked if the parish had anything similar for adult singles. They said no. I asked if they had any interest in starting something, and that I would be glad to help. They looked at me as though I had some terrible incurable disease, and of course were too polite to say no, but took my email address and never replied. On any given weekend, I can look through the bulletins of about ten local parishes and find many seminars and meetings and socials for married couples and engaged couples. But nothing for singles. Ever.

  • Louise M

    Speaking as someone who is a 50-year-old never married, Maybe we count on paper (especially when it comes to money?) but in practice, we are left out of nearly everything. And woe to the single person who is never married without children and over 30. They are absolutely invisible. In my parish we have programs for divorced, separate, moms, dads, seniors, young adults, families, and of course married couples (with a special program for married date nights!), but recently I tried to join a newly formed singles small group for 30s and 40s (since I just turned 50 I thought maybe they’d let me be with them), and they said no room for me. They’d be in touch. And by three months later, the director had forgotten who I was. So well, I’m about ready to leave the Catholic Church and go back to the Episcopal Church, which is more open to misfits (where I was welcome before as recently as 7 years ago).

  • Episteme

    This morning’s Gospel reading (Matthew 17:14-20) might be better known for the second half and its aphorism of faith the size of mustard seed moving mountains, but the first half of the reading seems to sum up the church’s misapprehended view on young single men surprisingly well:

    “A man came up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and said,
    ‘Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely;
    often he falls into fire, and often into water.
    I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’
    Jesus said in reply,
    ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you?
    How long will I endure you?
    Bring the boy here to me…'” (MT 17:14-17; NAB 1970)

    …Jesus then proceeds to take away the thirty-year old’s video games and pornography, if I can correctly guess the next part, based off the usual rants by married Catholic writers.

  • Liberty

    I might be coming to this late but this line “does that mean that singles are the leftovers and forgotten ones?” drives me a bit crazy. Perhaps you think singles are not “leftovers and forgotten ones” but in the Church’s day-to-day life we most certainly are. The parishes I have been to rarely acknowledge single Catholics over a certain age, don’t pray specifically for them, do not have special days to honor them, have no activities which encourage families to support and encourage and invite us. Nothing. I do not think there’s a single vocation either so I’m glad to see that mentioned. It’s very frustrating to want to live a faithful Catholic life in this secular culture because when we try to stay close to the Church we are ignored and told by Catholic wives & mothers that we know nothing and essentially don’t count. It’s really hard.

    • Truth Seeker

      Deal with it.

  • mlewis73

    I dunno. I pray the Catholic church will support those of us who are older singles better. It is so terribly difficult to attend mass, to see the families with children, and to feel excluded because 39 year old single men in the Catholic church are as rare as three dollar bills. I’d love to meet and marry a beautiful (in and out) Catholic woman, but the pickins are slim and I’m a new Catholic. Never felt like “Catholic” would be on my list of requirements in a mate until becoming Catholic last year. Mass attendance is lonely and depressing, as I sit alone listening to everyone else’s babies crying, or see someone else’s wife snuggle up to him, etc. It downright hurts. These are things I’d wanted and prayed for, and I honestly can’t say that the single life is what I believe our Lord calls me to lead.

    Just wish there were events within the Church that put singles together frequently. “Young adults” groups don’t cut it… and tend to be short-lived in my part of the country.

  • Brian Tamayo

    At 32, that would likely be my intended vocation a committed single (lifelong bachelor). I have decided to do so since I was 30 two years ago. There are things in life why I am deciding on a lifelong bachelor status — to finish my education, graduate, and work in a dream career.

  • Barrett S.

    I consider myself a vocation single, but only until I find a cute girl who is willing to marry me. So far I’ve had to create fake online profiles to flirt with me so that I can boost my ego once in a while. But up working up to a real person soon. Who knows one day I’ll buy her.. sorry, I meant find her :)

  • David

    I would recommend checking out the biography of this man. He was a lay mystic who took a vow of celibacy and also was the man who helped mentor and teach John Paul II as a young man about piety and how not just clergy, but all of us as people are called by God to a sanctified life. For Jan, celibacy alone was not the vocation, but celibacy allowed him to live a life that put holiness first for him. I think the Church should do more to recognize lay people like Jan Tyranowski. Celibacy may not be the end all be all, but in many situations for lay people it can be a discipline of grace.

  • Cynthia

    To Rhoya—I hear you!! I get the feeling that there is sympathy for loss thru death (as well there should be!!) but to have never found “the one” or as you said, to be abandoned, somehow appears to be our fault and people don’t know what to do with us. People always want to fix me up so I’ll fit in. Like you, I’ve accepted being single and am ok with it–most of the time. I just wish that others were as accepting. Good luck and God bless!!!

  • Cynthia

    Re: James’s comment —-SO TRUE!!

    (Intentionally or not, the church makes sure that singles older than, say, 35 are not supposed to be that way. They set up events that are for “single Catholics ages 18 to 32″ or whatever the span they prefer, and they set up events for married people, but there are few retreats or other events for simply anybody. To attend many things, you have to be single below a certain age, or married, or you’re not supposed to come.)

    The Catholic church basically looks at being single as a “temporary” status…those who haven’t gotten married yet. I’m 54 and never married…the chance of me getting married is pretty slim. The Church doesn’t really seem to have a place for me. I’ve been open to marriage, prayed about it, but in the end it’s really God’s will that I’m still single. My church does nothing for older singles, we’re just ignored b/c no one knows what to do with us!

  • D

    Stan that was an excellent link.

  • Rhoya T.

    All the postings on this topic are interesting. This is the first discussion I have viewed. I mostly identified with the comments made by Vickie, Beth, and Brian. I am suddenly single (abandoned and divorced). While I have no intentions of seeking an annulment or getting remarried, I still believe the Church would be stronger if she provided more opportunities for adult single persons of all ages to become involved in the life of the parish community.

    When I was married, I was included in everything. After the divorce, I was basically ignored and overlooked. I am in my early fifties. Too old to attend “singles” events, and too young to attend “seniors” events. We had a grieving with faith ministry in our parish. I attended some of their meetings. Most of the people there were widows; maybe one stray widower. The rest of the people were those who had lost a family member in death. I was the only person there who had been abandoned by a spouse (after thirty-plus years of marriage). No one knew what to say to a divorced person. The handouts did not have any prayers to comfort my kind of loss.

    My former spouse has left the parish, and moved on with a non-Catholic. I, on the other hand am left to collect my life and my personhood, and try to move on. My priest has talked with me. He said to stay celibate and wait for God to send a friend along. Well, these days all the healthy men in my age bracket are either hanging on to a bad marriage, or have taken a personal oath to never marry again. I really don’t want to be married to someone else. I am still in love my soul mate. Although I am not interesting in getting back in a relationship with him because I can no longer trust him. But, like I said, I love him at a very deep and significant level.

    At this point in life I am looking to remain single and get involved with other singles that are living their baptismal vows. My vocational freedom allows me to serve God in ways which were impossible with a spouse. I would like to find a parish community where there are opportunities for all people to serve God (no matter what their vocational state). I am so tired of sitting alone in mass, or tagging on with a family that has extra space on their pew. Those families are not warm or welcoming. Many seem uncomfortable that I have joined them. It’s like they don’t really know how to respond. Should they pity the poor lady who has no family of her own to sit with? Its like, “What happened to her?” Sometimes, one married lady will give me a forced smile, every now and then. It’s more like a “keep out” sign than a genuine smile. I can tell because her eyes are not smiling. It’s one similar to those corporate kind of cold “hi” smiles. After mass these people never stop to say a word of welcome or exchange a greeting. The grab their children and head out the door without as much as a back glance. The priest will shake my hand, and then look around as if to say, ‚ÄúOh, just you?‚Äù

    Could it be that single people make married people uncomfortable? Could it be that single females in a parish community are threatening to married females? Could it be that since the Church has not officially identified the single status as a valid state of life, most people are not sure how to categorize the man or woman who is attending mass without a spouse or a child?

    I am a cradle Catholic, but now I am getting fed up with being in a Church with no place to be. I have considered quitting mass. It makes me sad to go there by myself. For the time being I stay home and read the Sunday prayers and readings from the missal. I wait for a weekday mass to receive Communion. Hopefully I will find a place to worship where my time and talents will be welcomed and appreciated…a place where I will not be looked down upon, pitied, or ignored.
    Just in case anyone is wondering, I am very happy and content with being a single. Because I know why I am single. I have forgiven my spouse for the abrupt way he handled leaving the relationship. We are on Christian speaking terms, but I believe it is best to let him completely move on in his new relationship. There’s nothing left for us to talk about. We do not have any children.

    I am finding fulfillment in Christ. I am getting to know myself, catching up on my reading, music, and sleep. I am planning to go on a singles cruise next year. This year, I am working hard to know, love and serve the LORD. I have a call on my life to the ministry. Not sure how to make that happen in the Catholic Church. I am not interested in becoming a religious (too much of an independent extrovert for that kind of routine).

    Maybe, one day the Church will recognize the potential value of the single adult. Until then, we seek and serve the LORD, and each other on our journey to do God’s will. Remembering that “with God, all things are possible.” Our time and life are in His hands.


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