Have you ever had a negative visceral reaction to an article whose premise you actually agree with? A few weeks ago I read an article entitled “There’s no vocation to the ‘Single Life’” that made me physically angry at the author. And yet, I agree with the premise.
I do not, however, agree with her reasonings, foundation, or assessment of all single people. Or even her thoughts on Online Dating, even though I also dislike Online Dating. I have never been so infuriated with someone who has the same beliefs as me.
When trying to figure out why I agree with her premise but was so angry at the article I started by writing a response that could be characterized as “What do you even know? You found your husband, had two kids, and now want to just hate on single people because your envious of our great lives.”
So I just saved that response to my computer, and let it go. Until I couldn’t let it go anymore this morning. Here we go.
She writes that single people are CHOOSING the single life because they like a life without obligations, consequence, and responsibility. I don’t believe most single people are CHOOSING a single vacation because they “love a life without obligations, consequence, and responsibilities.” Are some? Sure. However, it’s my experience that most fall into this relationship status. For that reason, I don’t think it’s a “capital V” Vocation.
A “capital V” Vocation is something you discern and choose to undertake. You don’t just “wake up one day and find that you’ve been living it for the past 5 years so it must be your destiny.” It’s a choice that you have adequately discerned. We know that’s true for the priesthood and religious life because we see the way seminaries, monasteries, and convents are set up. Process of Postulate, Novice, Fully Professed, Life Profession, etc.
We’ve lost this view when it comes to marriage a bit, in my opinion. People ‘fall in love” and then just take the next step into marriage and then half of them take the next step into divorce. We take marriage for granted as the default because most people do end up marrying. We all (those who are married, those who are single, and those who have discerned and are living celibacy) have a desire to “love someone the most and be loved by someone the most” therefore we attribute the Marriage Vocation as our default and therefore one that doesn’t need discernment. Here, we are wrong.
I heard that on a new podcast I was introduced to entitled, “What God Is Not.” Fr. Michael O’Loughlin and Sister Natalia of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery began hosting this together during the quarantine (I’m 2 episodes in, and it’s a great listen.). A spiritual father and a spiritual mother discussing spirituality and helping us get to know God better to bring us closer to theosis. Their first episode is about vocation as they both tell their stories of discernment.
They didn’t fall into priesthood and religious life. It wasn’t their default because no one invited them into marriage. It was a deliberate discernment to celibacy, sacrificing a natural good (marriage, physical love, and children) for a supernatural good.
I’ve always thought that if the Lord wasn’t going to lead me to a husband He’d remove my desire for marriage, physical love, and children. He hasn’t. Then I listened to this spiritual father and spiritual mother discuss how they are fully in their vocation to priesthood and religious life with a promise of celibacy and they still have that desire. To remember what they’re sacrificing for a greater good. So He hasn’t removed the desire, and He probably won’t remove my desire for these natural goods.
And yet, I still may remain single. Not because I’m choosing this “capital V” Vocation, but because we live in a world where not every desire is fulfilled. I may have missed my Vocation to Marriage due to circumstances in my own life or because of the state of brokenness in our world. We worship a God who values the sacrifices we’re making out of Love for Him.
Should the Church promote a ‘Single Vocation’? If She does, it shouldn’t be something you “fall into because you didn’t get married.” A “capital V” Vocation isn’t something you ‘fall into because nothing else appeared.’ It’s a deliberate decision made after careful discernment. So what’s the Church supposed to do about all the single people?
I’ve got a few ideas, of course I do.
First, teach what discernment is and how to do it from a young age. Help children employ it with small decisions, teens with bigger decisions, and adults with all life choices. Help us make discernment our default instead of just the “thing men do who might enter seminary and women do who might join a religious community.”
Second, remind people about the beauty of marriage and our calling to “love someone the most and be loved by someone the most.” Reordering marriage and family to be a high calling, a “Capital V” Vocation rather than something people just ‘fall into.’ Treat marriage like the Holy Sacrament it is by witnessing to the foreverness of it, the beauty of it, and the willful decision to enter into it.
Third, call everyone to their primary “small v” vocation of HOLINESS. This is the first vocation the Lord calls us to and is the primary goal of any other “Capital V” Vocation we enter into. We are called to be Saints. We are called to be Holy. We are called to enter into the Heavenly Kingdom. Anything that doesn’t get us there isn’t for us.
Finally, provide community for the single people around you. Those who are actively looking for a spouse, those who are not, and those who may never get married. Bring them into your Domestic Church, into your vocation to holiness. Don’t ignore them because you aren’t sure what to do with them. Don’t invalidate their life or call them inherently selfish because they never got married. Don’t dismiss any avenue they’re using to find a spouse. We can’t all marry our high school sweethearts (if I even had one). We don’t all look across the Church during Mass, lock eyes with someone, and fall in love (wouldn’t that be great, yet hard to do wearing a mask).
The real rub of the article was that she seemed to be calling single people selfish, and then condemning the Church for supporting them in their selfishness. Are some single people selfish? Yes. Are some married people selfish? Yes. Are some celibate priests and nuns selfish? Yes. Why do I know that? Because they are all human, we are all human, and we all fall into sin.
Instead of dismissing a group of people who are already feeling lost and unwanted in the Church, find a way to bring them into community, support them in their vocation to holiness, and walk with them through their suffering. There are enough places telling me my singleness is the thing wrong with me that I need to fix, the Church shouldn’t be another one to add to that list.