Sunday, May 06, 2007
Single for the Sake of God's Kingdom
Yeah, it's an old, tired discussion, but for those of us who are single, it's not old or tired enough, because so many haven't gotten the message.
The Vocations talks are great, and we're all for chaste marriage and religious callings. Most of us who are single have considered those routes, and we have either chosen neither or have been chosen BY neither. So we are in a "no man's land" of singledom. So be it.
It does not help to ask us, when we adopt pets from the local animal shelter, why we don't just get married. Well, the short answer would be "free will."
We're waiting to be "adopted", too, but given our own "free will" to not choose guys (or girls if you be a male) who are not good for us, or the free will of the other half in a marriage, we're still waiting in the wings. It's better to not be chosen than to be chosen or to choose incorrectly. Just ask all the divorced couples out there, or the battered women, or the miserable men who were doing what everyone else wanted without considering what God wants.
I have dogs, and people sometimes condescendingly suggest they are a replacement for childen.
Apparently it simply doesn't occurr to people that I just like animals and I can identify with the "unwanted" in some way, nor does it occurr to people that to suggest "you should get married" can actually be a harmful comment.
People tend to go about their lives wearing a type of blinder that allows them to see things only from their relational perspective, thus, the options, if they are Catholic, are surrounding either the married or the religious life. We who are not married simply don't make sense to them.
But that leaves an entire section of the Gospel out of the mix, doesn't it? Jesus did indeed discuss the option of being celibate for the sake of the Kingdom, and it wasn't just in reference to the ministerial priesthood. He calls men and women of the royal priesthood to the same thing; we are not all destined for "someone", no matter how much Hollywood and Hallmark try to make us believe otherwise.
A couple years ago, in conversation with a new friend, he commented that, "obviously, you were set aside."
My initial knee-jerk reaction was to be offended, thinking he was suggesting I was "unwanted." Thus there must be something wrong with me, because that is the attitude expressed by the larger society. But I thought about what he said, and I realized that he meant "set aside" to be the highest compliment in his vocabulary; for from being "unwanted", he meant "chosen for something specific". The friend who suggested this was single himself and perhaps had come to a certain level of comfort with that.
Perhaps that's the perspective all we singles need to adopt. We are not in some strange form of "limbo", but rather, we have been "set aside" for a specific purpose. Maybe it is marriage or religious life...but later in life. Maybe we have certain gifts to offer at a certain time, and our singlehood allows us to live fully with those gifts and offer them without hesitation or obstacle as we have no family that clamors for our attention. Perhaps we all need reminders that we are all adopted sons and daughters of God, and He did not bring us into the world without a purpose or a specific Vocation.
I do think the Church needs to do a better job at including singles in some way. It's getting better, and yes, we need to be willing to step up on our own to offer our services, but sometimes we need to be invited. So much of parish life has to do with families, as it should. But sometimes, it would be nice if we as singles were specifically called or invited to participate in something.
I don't think any families or priests or anyone in the leadership of the church specifically means to exclude singles; far from it! They often simply don't consider us at all, given that most of them are caught up in their own vocations, seeing life from the perspective of knowing what it is they are called to do, and forget that there is an entire group of people who sometimes feels lost or perhaps needs their Vocation to the single life to be affirmed.
I once spoke with a priest regarding this, and his position is that there is no call to the Vocation of Singlehood. If one is not a priest or religious, then by default, one must be called to marriage. I considered this seriously, but upon a great deal of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that he is wrong. There are many people God has not called to either; does that mean that they will not come into full personhood if they do not go through a specific committment ceremony, be it Ordination or formal Vows? I can't believe that. I think this priest has missed something somewhere. Like everyone else, he means well, but he is forgetting that God has his own designes upon each life...and those who are "set aside" perhaps have another role to fulfill, no matter how humble or sublime.
I am single, I'm soon to be a year older, and I'm still not married. I don't think I'm called to religious life, and truth be told, I haven't figured out why I've been given the great gift of life. But I know, even if I remain single for life, God has a plan, He has always had a plan, and it is my job to seek his will and rely entirely upon him, making my way as I am able. That reality would not change even if I took Vows, for we all live our lives in reference to God.
If I may be so bold as to make a request; for those of you who are married, please do not suggest to your single friends and acquaintances that they have only two choices. To do so is to undermine God's will for them and send them upon a spiritual wild-goose chase. Just love us, be our friends, and be willing to be there for us in proxy for our families if we have none present. For those of you who are priests and religious, I say the same, although your role is a bit different with regard to how you respond to and guide us. Perhaps your role is to, not only to serve as "family" in whatever way you can, but to assist us in connecting with families in the same spirit of "adoption" shown by God to us all.
The greatest ministry to a Single is to affirm us in our Vocation, even if it is only temporary, help us to live it out to the fullest, and include us in whatever way you can. Sometimes you are the only family we have.