The Church loves you, single people! Why am I making this statement of the obvious? Perhaps because it’s not so obvious. Many single adults feel disenfranchised, neglected, even ignored in the Catholic Church. Why do they feel this way? Because so many groups, activities, announcements, etc., are geared toward couples, families, children and youth. Some singles even feel that the Church is signalling to them that they should be married, there’s no place for single people in the Church, and if you’re not married, basically “you’re on your own,” pastorally speaking.
THE STATE OF SINGLEHOOD TODAY
So what’s going on with singlehood today? For starters, there are more adult singles in North America than ever before. Not just young adults, but also those approaching middle age. For example, close to 50% of NYC adults have never been married, and more than 50% of NYC households are single adults, living alone–a truly startling phenomenon in the history of humankind! However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t sexually active—which is a whole ‘nother story and statistic, and a big part of the reason the Big Apple finds itself in this situation. The old adage will forever ring true: “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
SINGLES IS A VAST CATEGORY
But let’s not forget that “singles” also includes the widowed, separated and divorced: people whose vocations are/were marriage, but circumstances, conflicts and choices intervened. When my Dad died, my mother moaned: “I’m only half a person now!” I told her: “No, Ma, you’re a whole person, but you and Dad were so united that it just feels that way. Your vocation in life was marriage, and now you aren’t able to live that out any more—you never wanted to be single!” (Incidentally, my mother calls herself a “onesie” now.)
THE “DON’T WANNABE’S”
Many who are single today—for whatever reason–don’t want to be. They were married and their spouse died. They were married and it didn’t work out. They want to be married and they can’t find a suitable partner. For the last two scenarios, the Sexual Revolution’s denigration of marriage and sexuality has contributed greatly to this state of affairs (pun not intended). Whatever the case may be in a person’s life who is thwarted from following their vocation–it can be exceptionally painful. This suffering can be exacerbated by others’ attitudes, ribbing and comments, especially the point-blank question: “When are you going to get married?” Single women in particular can be particularly sensitive to this question, in part because women wait to be proposed to.
Now, I don’t want to add insult to injury here, but some single people have fallen into the extremely bad habit of whining about their singleness. On repeat. And do you know what non-single people say about this behind closed doors? “No wonder he/she is single.” Yes, they do, sorry to say. It’s almost like going for a job interview. If you project either too much entitledness or lack of self-confidence during an interview, guess what? Your’e probably not going to get the job. Some single people have almost made a career of (pout-ily) “advocating” for singles everywhere, even where singles are clearly included and invited because all women, or all adults, or all Catholics or all human beings are invited: “What are you offering for singles?!” “I don’t see singles included here!”
WHAT CAN SINGLES DO TO HELP THEMSELVES?
Singles can help themselves immensely (especially those who are hoping to get married someday) by maintaining an optimistic, altruistic attitude, and not constantly talking about the woes of being single. Go ahead and give suggestions (with a smile) about how to be more inclusive where it seems singles are truly being overlooked. Start a single’s group if there isn’t one in your church or locale. Start an alternative single’s group focused on a particular interest (e.g., hiking) or charity (e.g., orphans, homeless, pro-life). Join online singles groups like NationalCatholicSingles.com that have in-person conferences. Include yourself everywhere you want to be (harder for introverts than extroverts). Find at least one single friend you can go places with. Take advantage of Catholic dating sites like CatholicMatch.com (I personally know four couples—two American, two Canadian—who met there). See what you can do to help parents, families and kiddos. One of the reasons the Church spends so much time emphasizing and assisting marriage/family life is because the munchkins are the future. For anyone (like myself) whose genes have no future, we need to exercise our spiritual motherhood and spiritual fatherhood to assist and build up families in whatever way we can in these challenging times. Enjoy the perks of being single: more time for prayer, the ability to choose your own apostolate(s), more opportunity to be single-hearted (see 1 Corinthians 7:32-40), more availability to volunteer and get involved in whatever matters to you, wherever you want to make a difference.
WHAT CAN THE WIDER CHURCH DO TO HELP SINGLES?
The Church can help out here by intentionally, overtly including “singles” by name, simply so they’ll feel welcome. If there’s no singles group in your parish, look into delegating/helping someone to start one. (These groups can often become solely dating pools, so it’s important to be clear about the purpose of the group, have ground rules, etc.) Have a “Singles Appreciation Day”—why not work it in to St. Valentine’s Day, the loneliest day for the unattached? Ask singles in your parish or Catholic organization what they need, how they would like to be engaged (no pun intended). One important note here: for the same-sex attracted (SSA), singlehood is pretty much going to be lifelong. By reaching out to singles collectively and individually, you will automatically be including this group as well. Offer your personal friendship to those who live alone.
MORE FACTS ABOUT “BLESSED SINGLENESS”
Many, many saints and holy people have been single (and not just religious/priests). St. Agnes, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Dorothy Day, Matt Talbot, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Doctor Joseph Moscati, etc. In our own day, heroes like pro-life activist Mary Wagner are able to go all-in for their cause because they’re single. If you feel that it’s God’s will that you remain single permanently (there are many reasons this may be the case, or simply that you don’t feel God calling you to either marriage or religious life/priesthood, even though you’ve prayed about it and “checked them out”), you may wish—after consulting your spiritual director–to make your singleness “formal” or “permanent.” How? Through private vows, joining a “third order” (like St. Catherine of Siena, a laywoman and Doctor of the Church) or “secular institute,” or becoming a “consecrated virgin” in your diocese. If you don’t wish to “lock yourself in” because you’re just not sure what your calling is, or it’s marriage but that’s not imminent, you can also attach yourself to a religious order or congregation whose spirituality/charism/mission you’re attracted to, such as the Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans or Paulines. You can then share in their mission and way of praying, and be part of a time-honoured spiritual family!
THE CHURCH NEEDS SINGLES!
Did you know that married people are not supposed to spend all their time at church? That’s right! They’re number one job is the home, the family, the “domestic church.” Even a married man who wants to become a permanent deacon must have his wife’s support during the entire process of getting to ordination, because his first vocation is marriage. (I’ve known several men who didn’t continue on to the diaconate because it was nixed by their wives!) But as a single person, you can spend yourself at church for God and souls! Find what is life-giving to you and others at the same time and pour yourself out! Go for it! Join (or start) a Bible study or a parish-based outreach such as the Vincent de Paul Society, Legion of Mary, seasonal food and clothing drives, visit nursing homes, teach adult literacy, be a youth ministry leader, or ask the pastor what he envisions or needs help with for the parish.
SANCTIFY YOUR TIME
Singles usually find there’s something they have a little more of than hectic families: free time on their hands. Have you considered using your time in a majorly fruitful way—beyond the ordinary? Think big! Perhaps God is calling you to write a book, start an organization within the church, dedicating yourself to serious prayer, e.g., Holy Hours for a specific intention. Have you ever thought of going back to school to get a theology degree, study law or interior design?
Spiritual direction could help unveil a remarkable calling: maybe God is calling you to do mission work, or to teach English as a second language in Japan or Spain, or maybe to volunteer at Canadian Food for Children, Dr. Simone’s ministry–or visit prisoners in jail. Your time can really be sanctified and help others in big and small ways. You may find yourself up to your ears in friends with no time to be lonely!
DOES GOD LOVE SINGLES?
If you are single, you’re not “neither here nor there,” not “neither fish nor fowl,” not “in between” states of life. You are a consecrated (by your baptism) child of God; a complete man or woman of God. God validates you. God loves you. Just as you are today.
Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She has a B.A. in theology/philosophy, holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA.