Must every single person be searching for a vocation in virtue of being single? Ah…the New Year is starting and we all want a plan. Having a plan seems to have a lot do with having a vocation. Thus, the question of vocation arises for those of us who don’t have a spouse and haven’t made religious vows: Do we have a vocation? And if not, will this ever be fixed? There are three commonly recognized vocations: married life, religious life, and the consecrated single life. Most websites seem to call single life a vocation as long as it involves making a vow of celibacy. Other websites are vaguer. So where does that leave us? The Catechism says that “We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors” (1658). However, the single life is obviously not included in the sacraments. The Catechism has not included us after all, so it seems.
The Beatitudes: The Vocation We All Have
One way of looking at the question and perhaps the most correct one is to realize that every single Christian has a vocation. The Catechism refers to this as “Our Vocation to Beatitude,” saying that “[The Beatitudes] reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude. This vocation is addressed to each individual personally, but also to the Church as a whole, the new people made up of those who have accepted the promise and live it in faith” (CCC 1719). The Beatitude that we seek with God and is expressed on the Sermon on the Mount is demanding. Indeed, the Catechism goes on to explain that this beatitude saying, “It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any achievement” (CCC 1723). Evidently, the Sermon on the Mount has given us a vocation. It’s on the Sermon on the Mount where besides giving us the Beatitudes, Christ also gives us guidelines about anger and purity and speaks of hell. It’s here he says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29). One might say that it is here that Christ gives us the most warnings and the most hope, all at once.
In his introduction to his book on the Beatitudes The Eight Doors of the Kingdom, writer Fr. Jacques Philippe says “Today’s world is sick with pride, with insatiable desire for riches and domination, and cannot be healed except by accepting this message [of the Beatitudes]” (Philippe 1). He adds “To be faithful to the mission Christ entrusted to the Church, to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world,’ the Church must be poor, humble, meek, and merciful” (Philippe 1). In sum, we can say that our vocation is beatitude with God and we will attain it by following the Beatitudes. Of course, this means becoming more and more like Christ who is supremely “humble, meek, and merciful.”
Wanting a “real” vocation is often a source of distress to single people. Mary Farrow addresses this in her piece “Is the single life a vocation? Maybe we’re asking the wrong question.” In her piece, she quotes and paraphrases Jason Coito, Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry for the Archdioceses of Los Angeles at the time of the article. Paraphrasing, she writes “Coito noted that one of the worst patterns of thinking that a Catholic can fall into when thinking about vocation is to believe that they are somehow less-than or incomplete until they are married, or are a priest or in a religious order.” The reality is that no one and nothing can complete us, no one is really our other half. The Beatitudes have already made this clear, only God can make us happy.
Being single might be a time when we really have to admit that this is true. The temptation to want to find a solution in a spouse is perhaps just as strong or more so than to seek it from a spouse in married life. As a single person, we have to believe that God is calling us to happiness in him. We have to believe that we can find it in him, married or unmarried, and we have to have faith and peace in his power to provide what is best for us. To do this, we must essentially learn to accept ourselves which can be difficult. In his book Interior Freedom, Fr. Jacques Philippe says “Accepting ourselves is much more difficult than it might seem. Pride, fear of not being loved, the conviction of how little we are worth, are all too deeply rooted in us. . . . Only under the gaze of God can we fully and truly accept ourselves.” Through acceptance which doesn’t mean defeat, a single person can start to feel complete – made whole in the love of God.
Another point addressed in Farrow’s article is family. The Catechism tells quotes John Paul II’s “Familiaris Consortio” to tell us that “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially for those who ‘labor and are heavy laden’” (1658). Farrow also talks about single Catholics both young and old who would benefit from “an effort to create a cohesive community, rather than always segregating people into groups according to their state of life.” Finding family for a single person might also mean actively becoming involved within the Church by devoting some free time to teaching CCD for example. It’s definitely not always easy to feel part of a family at church, but we should know that the Church intends us to find a family in it.
It’s easy to view being a single person in terms of negatives or in terms of things one doesn’t have. It’s easy to keep asking the question “When will my vocation come?” Perhaps, Mary Farrow is right: this question isn’t the question we should ask. At least, waiting for something to happen is not really the way I’d like to think of being single now. Being single can be a rich season, not a season of attrition or even hibernation. To me, this is the healthier and more fruitful way to think of being single.