Is the single life a vocation?
No, according 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. (Whew – that’s a long title!)
Catholic sociologist and writer Christine Whelan put the question to her after a reader of her Busted Halo column Pure Sex, Pure Love asked whether God could “call” someone to the single life. Whelan writes:
[Dr. Notare’s] 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.”
But Dr. Notare advises singles to pray about their vocation, which may include vowed single life, as in a religious sister or brother, or consecrated life, in which a single person makes vows to a celibate life in the world for the sake of the kingdom (often called a “consecrated virgin”). This is normally done with the blessing of a bishop and a wedding-like liturgy marking the beginning of this vocation.
More recently, committed lay celibacy has taken different forms, as evidenced by the international ecumenical organization Servants of the Word, whose members, all guys (including many Catholics), live a single, celibate life. Its website states:
By choosing not to marry, brothers in The Servants of the Word are free to devote the time, energy, and commitment typically invested in family life to other services and mission so badly needed to spread the Gospel. Christ Himself is our foremost example of one whose calling befitted from the special freedom possible in the single life of devotion. We call this “Living Single for the Lord”. We do this by living out a common life, pooling our resources, but most of all being singlehearted for the Lord and his kingdom.
The pivotal factor here seems to be commitment. To live a vocation means to have made a lifelong commitment to God, usually through ordination or vows, as do priests, married, and religious.
So, singlehood isn’t a “vocation,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a lesser life state, Whelan writes in a follow-up column. She points out that the vocation rhetoric can seem hurtful to single Catholics, as it suggests that they’re in vocational limbo as they wait for their real life (and value to the church) to come along.
That’s not the point.
Even though they haven’t given themselves to a spouse or the church or God in a particular role, single Catholics are still called to live a life that witnesses to the Gospel and the love of Christ for each person. Time is the central gift of singleness, and how its used now will create the foundation for later, whatever the future might hold.
In the meanwhile, Whelan suggests moving away from church-hosted, “meat market” singles events (which are totally awkward, in my experience!) to events that nourish the single Catholic soul. “It’s time for young adults” — and I’d add older adults, too! — “to speak out on this issue and create parish communities that reflect our new social realities.”
Whelan posed the question to her readers, and now I ask you, CatholicMatchers: what events/groups would you like to see your parish offer for single Catholics that honors your special state?
A poll that launched last September asked CatholicMatch members “Is the single life a vocation?”
No, said 47 percent of respondents, the most common answer. “It is not a vocation, just a state in life.”
The second most common response, with 27 percent, was yes, it is a capital-V vocation, akin to priesthood or religious life.
Peruse the 125 comments left by members elaborating on their votes.