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”?
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.