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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January 20th, 2011

Catholic Singles Revisited

Readers respond to the Church's definition of "single as a vocation"



Is being single a vocation within the Catholic Church? Can one be called to a single life — not the Sacrament of Marriage, not the Sacrament of Holy Orders — as a vocation in and of itself? Last month I wrote a piece asking and answering these questions, and Busted Halo readers had a lot to say.

Click here to read the original piece, but in short, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 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.

That blunt answer stung a lot of singles, and perhaps rightly so.

“‘Singleness’ is a topic, I feel, that makes the Catholic Church uneasy primarily because it hasn’t developed a good working theology for its unmarried members and because more people remain single longer or for life than in previous decades,” writes Vicki.

“If there are many gifts that come with being single but then it is boldly declared a non-vocation, it’s like saying no matter what you do if you are single you have not done much with your life. That makes life very difficult and conflicting for a single person that has genuinely looked into themselves and found they are not called to the other vocations or that they can simply not find the right partner to enter into a marriage covenant with,” writes Sandi.

In many reader responses, I could feel the pain and rejection of singleness in modern society — not just in the Church. No matter how many times we can say, “Singles have many gifts to give and are valuable members of the community” — from social events to Church functions — it often doesn’t feel that way. There’s the dreaded “singles table” at weddings or the single person who realizes they aren’t being invited to dinner parties with friends because they are couples-only events.

What is “normal”?

“‘Singleness’… makes the Catholic Church uneasy primarily because it hasn’t developed a good working theology for its unmarried members and because more people remain single longer or for life than in previous decades.” — Vicki

But the idea that being married is the “normal” state and being single is the “transition” state is no longer sociologically accurate: As we marry later and live longer, more of us will spend the majority of our lives single (before marriage, after the death of a spouse or as a result of divorce.)

This is a relatively new trend in the last 40 years, and the Church is still catching up: In 1970, only 6 percent of American women between the ages of 30 and 34 had never married. Today, it’s more than 24 percent — a four-fold increase. More than 42 percent of Americans are single — never married, divorced, widowed or in religious life. (For more on the sociology of modern singles, check out a terrific book by Bella DePaulo called Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.)

So let’s squash the idea that being single is “lesser” or “sinful” in some way; it’s not. And regardless of whether the Church defines “the single life as a Vocation” (with a capital “V”), there is much to be gained by living out our single years with a sense of vocation (lowercase “v”).

“How are we responding to God’s call and living out that call with a sense of purpose, commitment, and prayer?” writes Beth, a reader who also shared a blog and her musings for a book on this very topic.

I’d imagine that if there were more Church events for singles, of all ages, and more recognition of the contribution of singles to the community — from the extra time volunteering to the opportunities for retreats and deepening prayer life without the commitments of a spouse or children — regardless of whether the Church lists being single as an official vocation or not, singles would feel more included.

That means moving away from “meat market” gatherings, toward volunteer events, prayer groups or Ignatian Spiritual Exercises groups — or even shopping trips around the holidays to buy toys and clothes for needy children. It’s time for young adults to speak out on this issue and create parish communities that reflect our new social realities.

So here’s my challenge to you: What specific things would you like to see your local parish do to make singles feel more included? What are the steps that you’d recommend on a national level? Until we can be specific, it’s hard to turn these emotions into action. Share your thoughts in the comments section and perhaps we can get some good momentum to make a positive change for singles within the Church.

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.
  • http://www.facebook.com/veronica.zamarron.16 Veronica Zamarron

    I am single, 55 years old and unable to have children. I was engaged twice and neither relationship worked out. God may have made women to bear children…but in my case, as well as other women, nature may have played a cruel trick and deprived us of that gift. Should I be made to feel inadequate and forgotten by the Church I love? I’m too old for “young adult” groups…and too young for the “senior citizen” groups. I participate by teaching elementary CCE classes, and assisting with parish festivals. I went to an ACTS retreat, which was wonderful and life-changing. But while I basked in the love and prayers and support of my fellow retreatants and the retreat team, I still couldn’t relate to the moms and grandmas, divorced or married, that made up the majority of the ladies. The Church should recognize “middle aged singles” like myself, and also understand that for some of us, the single life may be the only life we’ll experience.

    • Thumper’s Mom

      My situation is practically identical to yours! I am also 55, was engaged once and broke it off because he was my first love and I was afraid I’d always wonder what I missed (it turns out that I missed nothing, but I wouldn’t have known that if I’d have married him), I went through menopause at 37, and every other relationship I’ve been in hasn’t worked out for a number of reasons. The Church doesn’t want older women to start a religious vocation, but if a man of the same age wants to become a priest or deacon, he’s welcome with open arms. Church events are family-oriented. I’ve lost both my parents. I feel as if I am to have a solitary relationship with God, despite wanting so badly to be a part of a community that shares my beliefs. The cheese stands alone. I feel lost and forgotten, despite my best efforts to be a part of my faith, which is new-found after many years of ignoring it and looking for happiness elsewhere. I feel great contentment that I’ve never felt before, but I am well aware that I am alone in this when push comes to shove.

  • Michelle

    “This is a relatively new trend in the last 40 years and the church is still catching up.”
    I would say the church does not need to try and bend to this trend, in fact, she rightly, by natural law, should not. God made women that they can bear children for a certain number of years. A woman’s fertility declines significantly after 35. This is a fact of life the church can’t change or bend to. We, as parents and parishes, should be countering the societal trend to marry later and encourage children to move to adulthood earlier than their secular peers. Parents need to be encouraging teens to think about their Vocations at earlier ages.

    • http://www.facebook.com/veronica.zamarron.16 Veronica Zamarron

      Due to a health issue, I had to have a hysterectomy when I was 40 years old. I wanted to have children, but I was not (and have never been) married at the time. I also had a friend who had the same procedure when she was in her late twenties due to ovarian cancer. I would hope that God would forgive us (and other women) for not following “natural law”. Your comment seems to imply that being sterile is a “casual choice”…it wasn’t for me and my friend.

    • Liberty

      La di da. You completely miss the point. It’s not about following a societal trend. It’s about the fact that it is hard to find someone to marry who is following the Church’s teachings. And a lot more which you probably don’t understand.

  • invisable_man

    No matter how many times we can say, “Singles have many gifts to give and are valuable members of the community” — from social events to Church functions — it often doesn’t feel that way.

    Not only just being single but childless. If you’re divorced with children you’re apt to feel much more included anywhere in the community. But who can relate to an adult who is totally childless with no family?

    • Liberty

      At the same time, this mentality does not help. It’s always “Oh, you’re single so that means you have more time to volunteer and do all the work no one else wants to do!” Great. I’ll just be here cleaning while you and your family have a lovely dinner.

      • Truth Seeker

        What’s wrong with cleaning?

  • ROY

    I felt happy reading and yes I am not alone i have reassurance of so many single friends out here with similar views Lets make it worthy of our life and bring light in others.

  • Cyril

    I think that a more fruitful question might be, “In what sense does the Church understand the single life to be a vocation or state of life?” For instance, it is reasonable for a lay person to have a vocation to be a teacher or plumber, but not in the same canonical sense as a religious or married. Perhaps ‘vocation’ is ambiguous and can be distinguished as charismatic (i.e., not Pentecostal, but given by the Spirit directly) and as institutional; but these are quite different, though related, senses of vocation.

    I was surprised in this discussion that I never saw mentioned (did I miss it?) CCC 2231:
    “Some forgo marriage in order to care for their parents or
    brothers and sisters, to give themselves more completely to a
    profession, or to serve other honorable ends. They can contribute greatly to the good of the human family.”

  • John B

    The Victimhood mentality throughout this article and in the comments quoted within are remarkable. I am in my 40’s and single/never-married and have never felt any of these things written of here. If I experience any unhappiness regarding being single around married people it is self-generated, not because of what other people might think or say.
    Being Single is not a vocation in-and-of-itself. That doesn’t mean we can’t do good work and follow a righteous path. Personally I do my best to be of service to God through the gifts he has given me through the holy spirit. I don’t care what others think of me being single, because I follow as best as I can Gods word in my like and in any relationships I develop. No matter whether we are single or married we are first responsible for our own actions, beliefs and the thoughts on which we dwell.
    I think it is a great idea to help coordinate or to simply become involved with singles organizations that promote service among Catholic singles and rather than lament what others or the Church may think or what you think they are thinking, just get out and do Gods work as best as you can as a single person. If you want to be married then be honest with yourself and do your self-work to prepare your self for the sacrifices that come with a life long commitment to God through the marriage.

  • Nick Schoettle

    Can. 604 §1. Similar to these forms of consecrated life is the order of virgins who, expressing the holy resolution of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are mystically betrothed to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.

    • Liberty

      You miss the point entirely. There are many, many single Catholics who long to get married and have families. That’s not the same thing as “consecrated virgins.” Get a clue.

  • EmersonianIdeals

    This article really spoke to me and articulated the challenges I have struggled with while being single. As a Eucharistic minister in college, I went to a meeting where we discussed how the laypeople in the church are called to drive the church to meet the needs of it’s people, and in many places it is clear that the needs of single people are not being met in their parishes. The other comments here touch on a number of important and related subjects, and I have written about some in my own blog, but I would also like to address the notion that singlehood is a “state” in life because it is involuntary. I do not feel called to be single, but I have chosen to be single because I want my relationships to follow the values of Christ. I have actively chosen not to be in relationships that were damaging or emotionally, physically driven, and/or where my partner did not respect me. I think that it is important that the church step up and acknowledge that we have a responsibility to God in respecting ourselves as children of Christ in remaining healthy so that we can help and nurture others to the best of our ability. The church rarely says so, but entering into a relationship- especially one which may result in the sacramental bond of marriage- requires discernment just as entering into the priesthood or another serious life commitment does.

  • Anna

    I agree that a huge first step a parish can take is to include single people in the prayers of the faithful, and also to understand that “single” is a category that spans a wide range of ages as well as parenting status. (I distinctly recall an All Saints Day mass where the homily was about how we are all called to be saints, but the prayers of the faithful only mentioned married people, professed religious, and “young people.”) It’s also wonderful when members of a parish reach out to singles–and anyone in the pews at all, for that matter–with a personal invitation of any kind: to an event, to run for Parish Council, or to share thoughts/ideas/wishes they have for parish life, etc. On the one hand, I agree that single people should speak up and let parish leaders know what they would like to see. On the other, parish leaders should recognize that 1) there are LOADS of single Catholics, and many of them aren’t coming to church because they don’t feel included, and 2) many singles have packed schedules of jobs, being caregivers, volunteering, etc., so that they can’t necessarily make a time commitment to running a singles group themselves, but they would come if it existed. The young adult faith sharing I participated in for much of my 30s saw a great deal of ebb and flow in membership because of people moving, getting married, changing job/grad school schedules, etc. This has to be factored into planning for inclusion of singles in parish life.

  • http://www.dansmrokowski.com Daniel

    Really interesting article. As a single currently, this article brought insight to the single vocation. Thanks all for sharing!

    • Truth Seeker

      I thought the article said there is no single vocation?

  • Beth

    I would like to see single people included more often in the prayer life of the church. Specifically, when we pray for vocations, I often find myself praying (silently or aloud) for those called to be single. Also, I was recently asks to write the “Prayers of the Faithful” for a friend’s wedding. In addition to praying for the couple’s parents, we made a conscious effort to include a prayer for those called to single life and lives of vowed commitment. My friend has a cousin in the seminary and a sister who is divorced, both commented on how much they felt “included” in the prayers at the wedding.

  • Jill

    I too was shocked to read that the Church doesn’t think of being single as a vocation. That was the whole premise of my question – when do you decide as a single person that you are called to that as a vocation (as opposed to it being just a state in life)? But I really appreciated the comments from the previous article which helped me to focus on what I can offer as a single person and to stop worrying about when or if that label will ever change.

    Sue I too have a medical condition that will likely prevent me from ever having children. It’s interesting knowing this now while being single, since I feel like the type of man I would be attracted to would probably very much like to have a family. My notion of the “perfect Catholic woman” definitely includes her being a doting mother and knowing even if I do get married that still likely will not be me, has always bothered me a bit. I’m not sure the Church purposely promotes that in any way, it’s just the sense I get. And yes, it’s a struggle.

    Anyways, I’m going to email the young adult group at the local parish I sometimes go to and see if there are any other singles who would like to meet together sometime. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Barbara Teleha

    I didn’t get married until I was 41, so I spent a ton of years single! I have to say that I did a LOT more for the Church when I was single, and had more time to volunteer. It was always a sticking point that the Church didn’t have more for young adults or singles. And not the typical “Singles Night” but prayer groups and opportunities to meet with your peers. I think it’s a good idea to take matters into your own hands and speak to the pastor of your parish about starting something like this. I did it when I was single, and we had a small but nice group that got together and met for Mass and fellowship on Sundays.

    • Liberty

      And yet that’s one of the problems: single people are roped into doing all of the volunteer work and remain unappreciated and unacknowledged and uninvited to join in things which would help them feel welcome. Volunteering for something often means you are not participating in quite the same way everyone else is because you’re too busy doing the hard work of something. Then you help clean up and go home to your empty house.

      • Truth Seeker

        Doesn’t God appreciate what you are doing?

  • Mary Latela

    With all respect to Dr. Notare, she does not know her catechism. Being single – pre-Vatican II- was rare, but certainly considered a vocation, particularly for those with family obligations, taking care of others, etc.
    Does she also know that nuns are “lay people”? Only priests have Holy Orders, the sacrament which marks their special calling.
    I think we need to be careful about clarifying the family friendly life-style of Catholics from the life-style of people who are “single.” There is no magical way to pair off people. No one person or group is lesser in God’s eyes, so the church can’t set up distinctions either.

  • Brian Tamayo

    This is an inspiring article that I love reading over & over. My current marital status is single, not seeing anyone at all. It seems to be like the spiritual relationship status version of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Because these are one of the topics that will be covered at Los Angeles’ Religious Education Congress, it will be an interesting topic for those who are in the state of singles status, or looking towards the vocation of marriage.

  • Christine

    Marie, you raise an excellent point. You are correct! And Sue, you bring up another facet of this issue — the acceptance of childless couples within the Church. I think each of these are worth exploring in more detail… thanks for sharing these great thoughts.

  • Sue Ballew

    I loved this article and your response to the topic. I always thought being single was one of three vocations one could have in their daily walk in life with the Lord. Married, single and holy orders. Odd that it is just a state in life. What if someone never finds someone to marry and they are not called to the religious life? They never partake in the two sacraments available, but that should not impede their growth in life toward our Lord.

    I am married 17 years and it has not been all joy, and neither is any vocation, or state of life. But I take my marriage sacrament/the vows seriously. I have been unable to have children, and I am looked upon sometimes with suspicion because of my health status that prevents me from getting pregnant, doesn’t mean I like it that way, it is what it is. Same with some singles, sometimes. They look for that special someone to be married to but many times things don’t work out for them. A devout Catholic might find it hard to find another devout Catholic out there, where they live, because so many young and middle aged people (my agre group) don’t practice their Catholic faith and some downright ignore all things holy and just get wrapped up into worldly things. That can make some people not want to get married at all. I think they need to look beyond the surface, because if they are devout and openly a happy Catholic, others would probably want to get to them and they might be convinced to return to the Church and be marriage material. LOL

  • Marie

    I think my parish, and the ones around town, do a great job of involving single Catholics. I rarely see things that are only for married or religious and there’s meetings for single Catholics, too. You just have to make the effort to get involved.

    From your article – “without the commitments of a spouse or children.” I think it’s important for everyone to remember that being single doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t have children. I divorced before I came back to the Church and have since had that marriage annulled. I have a child from that marriage, whom I have joint custody of, so 50% of the time, I’m a single parent. As my priest told me once, my daughter’s my vocation. :-) That’s the one area I wish the Church would step things up a bit – groups, meetings, etc. specifically for single parents. Childcare at these events, along with at Mass, would be really helpful, too.

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