Is Single Life a Vocation?



Dear Mary Beth,

I’m reading a book that says the Catholic Church only recognizes three vocations: marriage, priesthood and the consecrated life. So where do we as singles fit in? I think a lot of people would be interested in knowing this and knowing why!

                                                                                                            Vocation-less in Vallejo

Dear Vocation-less,

It’s true. The unconsecrated single life is not a vocation, as the Catholic Church formally defines it. But that’s not to say we’re “vocation-less,” or that we’re any less important in the life of the Church, or any less worthwhile in the eyes of God, or any other conclusions you may draw.

To me, it all comes down to the making the distinction between two different but related definitions of the word “vocation.” I call them “Capital V” and “Small V” vocations, although that’s my own terminology and not the Church’s. (Nor is it relevant to the actual spelling of the word.)

By “Capital V” vocation, I am referring to the Church’s formal definition. It is best understood in light of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 24, which says that “Man, being the only creature created for his own sake, finds himself only in a sincere gift of himself.” In other words, we were created to find fulfillment through giving ourselves to another. Giving, not loaning. Permanent self-donation. And that is done, permanently, in two primary ways. The first and most basic way is in giving ourselves to another person in marriage. Blessed John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, discusses how the very complementarity of the male and female body shows that men and women were created to give themselves to each other. So that makes marriage the “fundamental” way that men and women give themselves to each other.

The second (and more recent) way is through some sort of consecration to God. Priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay consecrated persons all take a vow to give their lives exclusively to God. They specifically renounce marriage, not because it is bad, but because they have “married” God, consecrated their lives to Him in such a complete way that they are no longer free to give themselves to another human person.

What both have in common is that they are permanent, irrevocable gifts of self to the other (spouse or God). It’s difficult in this day and age—when marriages end in divorce and even priests abandon their vows—to comprehend of such a complete gift of ourselves. But the Church still teaches that a validly contracted marriage is permanent, and that a priest is a priest forever, regardless of whether he is laicized or even abandons his vows.

In that context, what is single-ness? It is the state of not having given ourselves. Or not having given ourselves yet. We aren’t referring here to those singles who are consecrated. They, in a sense, aren’t single anymore. They are “married” to God. But, for the rest of us, our singleness lies precisely in that absence of consecration. I could give myself to God tomorrow. I could get married tomorrow. But, as of today, I have done neither.

The theory is that, in a perfect world, we are all called to give ourselves either in marriage or in a religious vocation. But, as we have found, in an imperfect world, things get in the way. We don’t find the right person, we don’t become the right person, we find the one we thought was the right person and it all goes horribly wrong, etc.

God knows that. And He loves us through it.

Hence, the importance of “Small V” vocation. This quite simply refers to what God is calling us to, right now, in the concrete circumstances of our lives as they are. The Church frequently speaks of the “universal vocation to holiness.” In other words, we are all called to become holy, to grow closer to God and to allow Him to transform us into what He’s calling us to be.

God may call us to many other things. He has called me to speak and write. He has called others to teach, to take care of loved ones, to work in a certain profession or ministry. These aren’t “Capital V” vocations—they aren’t irrevocable gifts of ourselves to another person. They generally aren’t irrevocable at all. I could quit speaking and writing. He could call me to something different later. A teacher can quit teaching.

“Capital V” vocations are important, of course. If we believe we are called to marriage and we are free to marry, we should remain open to that possibility. If we feel a call to religious life, we should pursue it.

But in our day-to-day lives, it’s the “Small V” that matters most. What is God calling me to do today? Where does He want me to serve Him? Where, in his Big Picture, does He want to place me? What is my role? How can I grow closer to Him, and hence more in tune with His plan?

In all of those ways, we “give” ourselves—to God and to others. And if we are faithful in those daily discernments, then we are living lives that are pleasing to Him.

And that, my friend, is a vocation.


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  1. Michael L. May 18, 2016 Reply

    I’m 60, and I’m still amazed my parents, now deceased, never encouraged me to marry or even date.
    The dating most people do in their teens, 20s never happened for me until I was 35 plus. That was pre-Internet. I found it very hard to meet anyone, and the few dates I had were nightmares. Every woman I met was a loser. The good ones go first and fast. The reason so many folks end up single for life is failing to date
    early and often. Once your population cohort hits 30 plus, if you’re still unattached, you have small odds of finding a quality prospect if anyone at all. I didn’t know it at the time, but the best prospects I ever had for marriage I met before 25, after that it was all downhill. I never felt a huge call for marriage because the role model I had for family life was not pleasant or encouraging. I always feared I would have recreate and relive much of the drama I endured as a child if I married or had a family. Today that is all over. I will never know until I meet God if he wanted me to marry or not. I quit dating 15 years ago, and dating anyone over 50 simply doesn’t interest me. Younger people are not on my wish list either–too much drama and costly to go there. I only wish someone had told me with age you must learn how to deal with loneliness. It’s tough once friends die or your career ends as my did at age 56 due to cancer. I never thought it would happen to me. If you are a senior 55 plus, good luck trying to find a social life out there. You are on your own, and I found seniors are invisible to others. Moral–if you seek marriage do it before 30 or face tough odds of ever being with someone.

  2. Dana E. May 13, 2015 Reply

    Since this is the Year of Consecrated Life, this is a good time to educate people on what Consecrared Life really is. For many years I tried to find what vocation God was calling me too. Obviously I checked out religious life first. But God said no. After years of bouncing through blogs I finally googled “what is consecrated life” and was led straight to the USCCB website, to a page entitled “Forms of Consecrated Life.” Wow! We’re my eyes opened!! The Church defines Consecrated Life as taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows may be taken privately (see Lumen Gentium, 5:39) or in a public form recognized by the Church. These include: religious life, consecrated virgins and widows, hermits, secular institutes and societies of apostolic life. There are MANY ways for a person who is called to remain single to consecrate their life to Christ! Please check this site out! Peace and joy. Kathy

  3. Patrick-341178 September 8, 2014 Reply


  4. Steve C. March 18, 2014 Reply

    The single life absolutely is a vocation. If one is called to remain unmarried and not called to the priesthood or consecrated, then we have the single vocation. Anyone who disagrees with my vocation can discuss that with the good Lord and perhaps tell Him He can’t do that. LOL.

  5. Dave H. January 16, 2014 Reply

    The comment in the article from Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 24, which says that “Man, being the only creature created for his own sake, finds himself only in a sincere gift of himself” says nothing about Vocations. If the only way to fulfill that quote is to say you have to be one of the three Vocations “you” is a Vocation than that means single people cannot find himself or herself. You can’t even say it is a stretch to say the above statement is talking about Vocations. No matter how you far you stretch it. Here is a quote from the CCC on single life. 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.” So all you people who became doctors never got married went to live as missionary in a poor country to help others guess what you don’t have a Vocation. Or my brother who got a Masters in Theology and teaches 5-8 religion gets paid very little and isn’t married doesn’t have a vocation either. Guess what guys you aren’t making a gift of yourself. I could go on but I hope you see that this absurd. Many saints were single and not consecrated. Where does the Church say human beings can only make sincere gift of themselves if they are one of the three Vocations you say they are, it doesn’t at least not that I have found.

  6. Robert-990309 January 10, 2014 Reply

    As a 59 yr old man dedicated to his career, the realization came to me after I retired a few months ago that’s all I wanted in my life . Really never had any desire to marry . Am content with my “vocation” Lately, I have found myself asking God “Why can’ t I have have someone to share life with?”
    “What are you going to have me do with whatever time is left?” Of course it’s up to me to decide which path to take, I’m hoping God will shine a little light on the road ahead to help me choose another vocation or stay single. I have spoiled myself over the years,but find sharing time with single women removes a lot of self-indulgence.

    • Dave H. January 16, 2014 Reply

      Robert read my post below and the CCC quote I put there. You can dedicate your life to making the world a better place. Help the poor. Teach children. In my opinion you do have a Vocation you can make a sincere gift of yourself. Single people have a great gift, to give of themselves in a way a married person can’t.

  7. Robert W. January 10, 2014 Reply

    The capital V you are referring to is the sacraments (marriage and Holy Orders – Priesthood/Religious Life). I agree with the notion that the Single Life is also a vocation. In my case, I have cared for an elderly parent until her passing, and now I’m helping a next door neighbor do the same with her parents (she is also single/divorced). I have heard people suggest the priesthood for me, and it’s subordinate Diaconate. However, I also sing in the choir at my local parish (and 3 others before they closed), and have taken on a bigger role as the main (and sometimes only) tenor. I love choir too much go go for the higher vocation,

  8. Lyna N. January 9, 2014 Reply

    Wow ! I “feel” all of you, I am a single christian woman who believes that I was called to the Vocation of marriage. I got heartbroken by a man I loved so much and for almost a decade, alongside my professional and other social “vocations” I went full circle through prayer, depression, prayerlessness, bitterness, bitchiness, flirting for it’s own sake, spiritually superficial involvement in prayer groups within the church and back to prayer. I had and still have all these “all will be well”, “do something” & “do it right” conversations. I can certify that not only is singlehood terrible but also that the church makes it worse (Yes Deanna, I agree). I believe the Pope himself should lead the church to look into the matter because as Stewart notes, the inability to produce families is just the start ….

  9. Deanna-969445 January 8, 2014 Reply

    how is a single women suppose to feel good about being single when the parish they go to only concerns are for married women and mothers, children and of course men whither single or married single women in my parish recieve no support when the others I mention does this is one of the reasons I don’t go to mass very often or any other parish functions I’m so tired of hearing in the announcements of the things going on that caters to the married, children and men I feel that single women are not accepted and expected to be marring the first guy to come along just to be accepted. I live in a small town and live in poverty and can not afford to drive to the city to go to another parish.

  10. AnnaMaria-45514 January 8, 2014 Reply

    Great article! Yet who is the holiest person who ever lived on earth? Blessed Mother Mary …. and she was married both to God (Spouse of the Holy Spirit) and to a man (St Joseph) …. one does not exclude the other. Some of the holiest women I know were married to a man on earth while still being consecrated to God and involved in Church ministry.
    God bless ya! 🙂

  11. Stewart-821725 January 8, 2014 Reply

    There is no little ‘v’ single life as a vocation, unless you have made a solemn promise, vow, or are an eunuch. It IS NOT a vocation! If anyone here thinks they have a vocation to single life, why are you on Catholic Match? I dare to venture that the reason so many are single is simply due to either selfishness or fear! So many women no longer flirt for the purpose of marriage but to puff up there own ego instead. Men no longer care or commit due to fear of some feminist taking them for all they are worth and the kids. Men don’t stand up for values for fear of reprisal and SO many women no longer take on the role of a woman because they have been brainwashed to think otherwise. US CATHOLICS have become crying little sissies. When the various Marian apparitions warned of the chastisement she was not joking. What we are in right now folks is the tip of the iceberg! This inability to produce families in my belief is just the start of it. This mentality that single life is a vocation is just more spirit of V2 nonsense trying to tell us “There, there everything is going to be alright”. It is not going to be alright because no one does anything of value. I am near wits end with people making excuses for not putting themselves out there. If you have two feet, two arms, and working re-productive organs, you should be asking others out on dates, or at least trying to get to know others of the opposite persuasion! This isn’t directed at any particular person, it is directed at everyone! Thanks for listening…

    • Dory-828369 January 9, 2014 Reply

      This post is really worth listening too. It dares the reader to take the challenge but only within the bounds of decency. Another good comment to the article!

  12. Paully A. January 7, 2014 Reply

    I am a math teacher, so I always go back to the numbers. If marriage is the natural Vocation, can someone explain to me why woman outnumber men at least 5 to 1? Not even including the men called to the priesthood, is it even possible that 80 percent of women are called to be nuns or sisters?

    • Jerry-74383 January 8, 2014 Reply

      What is the source of your statistic that women outnumber men “at least 5:1”?

    • Dory-828369 January 9, 2014 Reply

      This is another post that really appeals.

  13. Marie-110909 January 7, 2014 Reply

    It is often said that the vocation to consecrated life is a higher vocation that marriage. What do people think about this?

    • Bob-713269 January 14, 2014 Reply

      I think people who feel called to be married might think religious life or consecrated life would be a higher vocation or at least one that would seem too difficult for them to do. And I think people who feel called to the religious life or consecrated life might think married life would be a higher vocation or at least one that would seem too difficult for them to do. The point is we need them all. We are in this together…. The higher calling is the one we are called to be about…… Although you cannot have married people without the ordained to minister the sacrament; we cannot have a body of Christ if we don’t have married people bringing members of the body of Christ into the world. And none of us could do anything probably without the prayers and sacrifices of the religious and consecrated…… is it the chicken or the egg thing, right? Ha! 🙂

  14. Steven-94269 January 7, 2014 Reply

    My Small v vocation is called to be a printer and by doing so I am giving God his reward because he has given me the tools to do this and has blessed me with this. As far as a single vocation after 8 years on CM and praying for him to bring that person that will bring me closer to him through the sacrament of Marriage I feel god is telling me to move on. Weather that is what he is saying or not after 8 years on CM and asking for god to lead me to that person. So what do I do? Do I move on and see where God leads me or do I stay on CM and see where God leads me.

  15. Julie-434302 January 6, 2014 Reply

    All I can say right now is that this is exactly the article I needed to read! I, too, believe we are made to give ourselves to others. There is a longing in us to do so. I will definitely come back to this and re-read. Thank you.

  16. Bob-713269 January 6, 2014 Reply

    Great topic and great conversation! I have gone back and forth on this… Is the single life a vocation or not a vocation? My understanding is that a vocation is a permanent commitment and it comes with special grace from God to be stretched to love beyond the limits we would normally be inclinded to set for ourselves. So if I am dating, if I have my options open, if I am free and available to set my own limits on how much to love, then maybe I am not yet living out a vocation in the capital “V” sense. It is through a permanent commitment, like marriage, priesthood, religious life or the consecrated single life that will force us to love when we don’t feel like loving. As a single person I do try to lay my life down as much as possible and be loving in every way, but at the end of the day when I am “tapped out,” I can go back to my cave and recharge know that I can take a break. No children are going to wake me in the middle of the night to console them, no phone call in the middle of the night will come to console a grieving family because there has been a fatal accident, no community is expecting my presence for a rigid commitment to communal prayer. As a single I have options, too many options maybe. I can eat what I want, when I want to eat and where I want to eat. I can watch whatever I want on TV and whenever I want. I don’t even have to worry about the volume. 🙂 As singles we have to be careful not to become on all our desires and needs. Without that permanent commitment that really is a commitment to selfless love, to focus on the needs of others more than my own, it may be all too easy to be preoccupied with our own feelings and needs making us a bit more unaware to the needs of those around us. So, I had a light bulb moment one day. It occurred to me, I am not just going to wake up and be able to live out this vocational type of love as I like to call it on a moments notice. In fact that is why I think so many vocations might be in crisis mode especially marriages because each person may be still too preoccupied by their own needs and desires. In fact even when children come along there is resistance and a sense of burden and stress and difficulty builds. So if ultimately God has a vocation in mind for all of us and we hope to enter into a vocation at some point in our lives, then we need to start preparing for it now, today, by how we are choosing to love others. Are we practicing this vocational type of love? Are we letting go of our needs and desires, trusting God will tend to them and so we need not worry about them. That should free us up to focus more on the needs of others and helping them to fulfill their good and holy desires… Unfortunately, the world is not so conducive to preparing for a vocation, maybe we even have bought into the lies of the culture which may have seemed to hijack our vocation. Honestly, I don’t think it is necessarily the end of the world if we never quite get to enter in our permanent, capital “V” vocation in life. What I believe to be important is that we make the commitment to practice this vocational type of love in our daily life as best we can and we pay attention to the things and people we make commitments to or struggle to make commitments to. If we do this and keep Christ at the center, we can have no regrets and we can trust God will lead us to where He wants us to go. Commitments to others is what challenges us, that is what helps us to grow and to love in ways that we are unable to if we are alone or give ourselves permission to walk away from commitments when it is too tough or too challenging. Also, so often we are impatient, we often succumb to the easier paths in life. We don’t want to take the time and energy needed to address our hurts and wounds. Instead these hurts and wounds fester and turn into to bitterness or cynicism. Instead of people the people we are created and called to be, we are some lessor version too impatient and too distrustful to wait and receive what the Lord has planned. We move things along; we jump in, we grasp….. I heard a priest say something during a parish mission that resonated so well with me. He said that we all have the innate, fundamental vocation to love. That is it! That is what we are to focus on! It is just that simple. From there everything will take care of itself. God will give us the grace to become that person we were created to be and in that we will find the disposition to humbly trust and wait for the many good things that the wants to give us….. I have great peace in my singleness. My life is full and fruitful and I have made a permanent commitment to living my life for Christ and making a permanent commitment to helping and supporting others to do the same. In that I very much feel I have found my vocation and am living out a vocation even if it is just with a lower case “v.” 🙂 … How do I know that my commitment is permanent (now that doesn’t mean it is perfect)? I think of the words of St Peter when Jesus said “Will you leave me, too?” St Peter said in reply, “To whom shall we go, You are the One with the words of everlasting life.”

    • Therese-632256 January 7, 2014 Reply

      Wow! What a wonderful, thought provoking response. It is alot to ponder. Thank you Bob
      Doing all for Christ… That is what my priest told me to do when my husband first left. When you spend your life in what you think was your Vocation, taking care of your family and the adult children have left home to fulfill their own Vocations, there remains an emptiness that is hard to fill after your annulment.
      What to do now? It is the only thing that continues to make sense… do all for Christ. Make the beds for Christ, do the gardening for Christ, the dishes, the laundry, the housecleaning, all for Christ! Living in the present moment, with Christ in the center, and bringing Him to others….
      That now is my vocation as a single Catholic woman, until God shows me otherwise. Until then I give all to Him and I listen with all my heart to his quiet whispering.
      God bless us all in our search.

    • Dory-828369 January 9, 2014 Reply

      Great post!

  17. Carole-11018 January 6, 2014 Reply

    Apparently, God never called me to become an nun (i.e. religious)…and obviously He has no plans for me to ever become a wife (I’m almost 54)!
    So, YES, I firmly believe the Single Life IS a “Legitimate Vocation” in and of itself – from God Himself. (I just happen to now be in the ‘lengthy’ process of learning to accept the “Single Life” as God’s will – and Vocation – for me).

  18. Michele-978184 January 6, 2014 Reply

    for us singles who feel discouraged to be considered “vocation-less”, take heart, the word VOCATION is in 53 paragraphs of the Catechism (do an online Catechism search for the word “vocation” and see:
    Special encouragement for all ladies is in the encyclical by JP2, on The Dignity and Vocation of Women
    Plus in the world, “vocation” can mean a professional calling, such as the work we feel called to do, and if this is for God’s glory, it can please Jesus and we may find fulfillment, by sanctifying our space.
    I’m like others, feelings stuck in between “real” vocations, as if my life doesn’t count, but each of us has something beautiful God wants us to do – God’s Will for each of us is holy, and in it we find out happiness.

  19. John-221057 January 5, 2014 Reply

    I don’t think anyone should have to live their lives alone, even priests. Human beings are meant to be with other people. Any other way is to live a miserable existence.

    • Michele-978184 January 6, 2014 Reply

      that is why priests often live with a small to large community of other priests, for the fellowship and friendship, whether or not they serve the laity outside of their community. Pray for holy priests. A priest is a priest forever! May God bless their hands, their words, and their hearts.

  20. Paul-858743 January 5, 2014 Reply

    My question to you Mary Beth is why in the world are you still single? I’ve been seeing and hearing you on EWTN and other places for 20 years.

  21. Pat-5351 January 5, 2014 Reply

    I have written on this topic too, so many thanks to Mary Beth for writing this, which reiterates that perpetual singleness (be it voluntary or involuntary) is not one of the three vocations (marriage, priesthood and consecrated life) –many well meaning priests or lay persons mistakenly refer to a “single vocation” which have led to much confusion for an already confused single population. This term “single vocation” is meant to be a balm to our pain, so we don’t feel left out, so they have a way of talking about us that seems fair and inclusive, but really, it just leads people more astray.

    To “vocation-less,” I would say emphatically that you are not without a vocation. Vocation comes from the Latin “vocare” which means “to call.” We are all called by God to one of the three vocations….The problem is that many do not hear the call (or more often, shut their ears to the call they are sent).

    For most who are single, you are called by God to the vocation of marriage. It is the “natural” vocation, as it is inscribed in our flesh as men and women–if you haven’t heard the special call to priesthood/consecrated life, you can be confident that your call is to marriage. And 90% of all of you will indeed marry at some point in your life.

    But what of the other 10%? To be blunt, you either had another vocational call that was not heard/received by you (to the religious life/priesthood), or, you have at this point an “unfulfilled vocation” to marriage.

    Why is it unfulfilled? Well, that is a topic for a entire new book I am writing, but we live in a very broken society, influenced by sin, and the individuals living in it are subject to that consequences of that (including ourselves). That is going to affect things, negatively, and may mean some people’s vocations to marriage will remain unfulfilled for a lifetime, despite their every best efforts.

    But never think that God has left you out…no, He has called you…you must do all you can to answer, in whatever that vocation is. And you can live your life ordered toward/advancing the vocation of marriage, even if you are not in a marriage yourself at present.

    May the merciful God fulfill everyone’s vocation to marriage, within His Holy will!

  22. Laura-990576 January 5, 2014 Reply

    beautifully written! 🙂

  23. Sara-979131 January 5, 2014 Reply

    Thank-you Catholic Match for providing this article on vocation. Thank-you Mary Beth for writing so succinctly and infusing it with your own perspective of the little “v”. As society becomes more complex, ambiguity is ushered in and many of us are caught in the middle places.

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