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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Reevaluating the Single Vocation

Disclaimer: This is a "thinking out loud" post, otherwise known as...pondering ponderously, not looking for agreement or disagreement, not advancing a position, just...putting thoughts into words and seeing where it ends up. This will be a long post. Get yourself some coffee or maybe a nice cup of tea. Sleepytime Tea might be appropriate.

I used to write on this a lot, and my position was that being Single is a legitimate Vocation, although such goes against John Paul II's Theology of the Body. I changed my position on that after awhile, and have been holding to the standard that there are but three possible Vocations: Marriage, Priesthood, and Religious Life.

I eliminated Marriage; at a wedding a couple years ago, a truly beautiful wedding involving a Presentation to the Blessed Virgin Mary after the Vows, I was absolutely floored to realize I didn't WANT to get married! EVER! And it was one of the most freeing, refreshing moments of my life. It was not to say I did not love and support marriage, but just the realization God was not calling me to it. It was beautiful.

This revelation freed me to comfortably discern religious life, knowing the door to Marriage was closed.

Where does that leave the Single life?

It's a legitimate question. For myself, I'd stopped considering it. The Single life, as it is lived today, is simply unnatural. I know that what I'm living just isn't right somehow, although I can't really put it into words. We Singles, at least in America, tend to live alone, or maybe with one or two others who may or may not share our religious and moral beliefs (which SHOULD be one and the same, but just sayin'). Myself...I live in solitude, and as much as I love my solitude, I know that it is somehow disordered. It's not what is supposed to be. It hinders my ability to grow in holiness for there is no one to hold me accountable for my behavior, even in the little things.

Single life was not always so, nor is it so everywhere, although as the world as a whole becomes more secularized and less family-oriented, the disordered existence of the single life is becoming even more so. What do I mean by that?

Juxtapose the first paragraph of this section with other cultures: single women live with their families, maybe for life. They live to take care of their parents, to assist with nieces and nephews, remaining always a part of a community of sorts. When monasticism was more common, single women would enter what was then called "Third Orders", and live their single life in the community, with their family, but they weren't proper religious. They lived for the Church, they cared for the poor...but they lived a limbo that did not belong properly to marriage OR religious life.

A Brief and Incomplete Discussion on "Third Order" or "Tiertiary" statuses

The Third Orders have changed over time. Some Third Orders today are proper Religious who take vows and wear a habit, such as the Third Order Franciscans. (You would recognize them as such: Father, Brother or Sister John Mary, TOR)

I had my head bitten off by our local Vocations Director when I used the term "Third Order" in an email, because, confusingly, some Lay Orders still use the term "Third Order" and most do not, all due to the changing terms. Those orders that are proper religious get snarky when lay communities continue to use the term, and I'm quite sure Fr. Vocations Director has gotten an earful more than once himself. Which he passed on to me. Point taken.

Yet I have also come to learn that even using the term "Secular Order X" is in question, for some Secular Orders are actually religious, a way. And I don't totally understand that. So I'm leaving it alone.

What we seem to have available to us, in terms that offend no one and don't crowd in on anyone's wanting to redefine terms that are constantly being couched or appended, for good or bad, is the phrase, "Lay".

We the laity, whether married, single, or even those who are Clergy (Priests, Deacons), can all enter into communion with a religious community as a "Lay Dominican" or "Lay Franciscan" or a "Lay Cistercian". Each Order seems to have a different term to apply to this particular status. The more left-wing Religious Communities call them "Consociates" or maybe "Affiliates". The more traditional (and I mean really traditional) will still use the term "Third Order." I don't think anyone uses the term "Tiertiary" anymore.

Why did I digress into all this? Because if I didn't, some commenter would jump in and define all this, and I have no doubt that will STILL happen because it's IMPOSSIBLE to be thorough in what is intended to be a brief blog post. (Which alone is clearly an impossible feat for me.)

Anyway, what does this all have to do with the Single life?

EVERYONE who reads my blog knows that I've really been struggling lately. I've been on edge, outright depressed, realizing that yes, God is calling me to something, but it's not Marriage, it's not Religious Life (which I thought it was, as my only other option), and my longer-term followers know that some time ago I was working with others on forming a chapter of Lay Dominicans. Which finally hit a wall and died. For ALL of us who were exploring the option. The Holy Spirit has spoken.

So here I am, still a single woman, still certain I am NOT called to marriage. So often I am in Adoration while weddings take place next to the chapel. I hear the music, watch the Bride and Groom process out with great joy, and doesn't call me. I'm happy for them and pray for them and hope they realize that their Vows before God and the Church are for life. But I don't want to be there and be one of them.

I've written of how Religious Life isn't calling me, either. Maybe that was the source of my terrible terrible interior experience while I visited the Sisters this summer; it ISN'T calling me, although I so thought that it was...and SHOULD.

Because, as I said was my only other option. Knowing that I wasn't called to Marriage, knowing the Single life isn't right and isn't a legitimate Vocation, well...religious life has to be IT!

And so many told me how the Hound of Heaven would come after me if I tried to flee my Vocation, how I won't attain the holiness God has in mind for me, how I won't find true happiness if I flee and just ignore the Call. Some have said they think I'm just not accepting the Gift of Vocation (implying in the context of our conversations that my Vocation is religious life), and the worst, the worst, the very worst...the implication that I should just "do it!" because I allegedly have nothing to lose.

I confess I have sometimes thought that if I won the lottery, I'd pay off my debt, get rid of my stuff, and enter religious life, if I was accepted. But that wouldn't be a true sacrifice, would it? And those AREN'T my circumstances. The reality is that YES I have something to lose, and maybe God isn't calling me to lose it. The fact that I don't currently happen to CARE about what I have to lose doesn't mean that God doesn't have something to say about it.

I can't make a decision on something so important as my Vocation just because maybe I have "nothing to lose". If I don't know what I truly have, if getting rid of my house, my debt, my crappy stuff isn't a loss to me, how is that a sacrifice? Isn't that just looking for escape?

No. I won't enter religious life on a whim that I have "nothing to lose". That's a fallacious argument from silence. I might in fact, be placing myself out of God's will to do such a thing. I truly don't care if I lose all that I own. The sad thing all owns me. I CAN'T escape it. I have nowhere to go. My impediment to entering religious life...I am owned. By sin and by debt and it's all my own fault. If it was what God intended for me originally, in any case, I don't want it and the door is shut.

And that's what it comes down to; I don't want it and the door is shut. I shut it. Maybe God already did but I thought it open. I tried the knob, it hasn't opened, maybe it's just stuck, but I'll take a hint. NO ONE can say I didn't seriously attempt to open the door. No one who knows me.

Or maybe my depression of the last couple weeks is indicative of my interior struggle at refusing God's sincere Call. I'll be discussing that option with my SD and with no one else.

So I am back to being Single

Do you see why I've been so depressed?

The premise that I have sought so sincerely, and single heartedly has not been borne out.

I defined my options as Priesthood, Marriage, and Religious Life. I am a woman and God has said only men are called to be Priests, and I agree with God on that. Wholeheartedly! I have eliminated Marriage, and now, I have eliminated Religious Life.

I am bereft.

Single, alone...without a Vocation. God has left me abandoned. So it seems.

A friend a few years ago, before I began discerning anything, said to me, "It's clear you have been set aside."

At first I was insulted, but over time came to realize that "set aside" is the highest of compliments. Things that are holy are said to be "set aside". They are marked in a special way to be designated for God, to point to God, to be used by God for something amazing.

For the record, there is NOTHING amazing about me. I don't stand out in a crowd and never will (Ironic I used to want to be famous. How dumb.) If I could avoid standing in front of a crowd and speaking...I would. If I could hide under my desk at work all day and just push stuff out through a little window...I would.

Then, today, I had an amazing revelation as I did my Mariology reading. There was mention of St. Catherine of Siena, one of my favorite Saints.

Back to the Single Vocation

St. Catherine of Siena was SINGLE. She was not properly a religious. Yes, she wore a habit as a Tiertiary Dominican, but she lived at home, with her family. At the command of God, she was essentially cloistered in her own room for three years, communing with God. She was an Anchoress, receiving visitors at her window, providing spiritual direction. Her mother used to command her to "Come out and help with the housework!".

Finally God told her to be obedient to her mother and to do as she asked. This St. Catherine did, and also entered into the community to care for the sick. And not just the sick, but those most ailing. Those no one wanted to touch. (I'm quite certain St. Catherine of Siena was a great inspiration for Bl. Mother Teresa!)

St. Catherine's family tried to force her into marriage, but she "disgraced" herself by cutting her hair. God never called her to Marriage. He never called her to enter the Dominican Monastery and live as a contemplative religious.

In her time, yes, she wore a habit and fulfilled all, but her juridical status was as a single woman...and what great things she did! She lived and died for God! She had a mystical marriage to Him, suffered hidden stigmata (which appeared after her death), and as a Single woman...saved the Church.

St. Joan of Arc was also a single woman. God did not call her to enter a religious community, and did not call her into marriage. She lived for God and died for Him, a virgin martyr.

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, did all he did as a single man. I believe he discerned he was called to marriage, so an argument can be made there. However...he was never married, was he? In reality, he lived and died in God's a Single man. He, too, for those who don't know, was a Third Order Dominican.

I have to say, then....was he REALLY called to Marriage? It seems not, for he did all of his great work in this life as a Single man, and died before Marriage. As that Married Vocation wasn't lived out, can it really be said he was called to Marriage? I don't think it can. God couldn't have called him to marriage if He had intended and known that dear Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati be called Home before such Vows could be expressed.

There are other Saints and Blesseds out there who make this point.

A Vocation isn't a Vocation until it is realized. Until then, it is all discernment.

Just as in law, the crime label upon someone isn't imposed until sentencing (which is often for a lesser charge), so it is in the spiritual life a Vocation isn't imposed until profession or ordination.

That is what is binding.

So perhaps, after all this, God is calling me to the Single Life. So be it. I will accept that. All it means is that once again I am thrust into discernment; for the Single life, properly lived, still means there is a mission and there must be some kind of consecration to God, whether ordinary or extraordinary.

As there is nothing extraordinary about me, I'll once again look into what is ordinary (i.e. Lay Dominicans, where I am most drawn) and hope to live out the simple holiness God has always intended for me. We are ALL called to Holiness, and no matter what, I will work on that foundational principle of the Christian life.

Single, apparently IS a Vocation...but not one without strings. So I'm off to find that string again, one I thought was gone but maybe is just waiting for me to come back to it.....
St. Catherine of Siena, St. Joan of Arc, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.... PRAY FOR US!

*********Please, for the love of God and for His Mercy, stop offering me advice. I'm not asking for any and don't need it. Thank you. ***


Hidden One said...

I have said before that the three most misunderstood vocations in the Church are those of the Carthusian, the Missionary of Charity, and of the diocesan hermit.

Perhaps I shall eventually add something to my list.

Miss Heather Barrett, OP said...

I just want to say that you are in my prayers, and I hope you soon find a door that God has opened for you!

smk said...

there is an option.. you may (or may not have) considered: Secular Institute. Prayer, support, structure, obedience...

Mac McLernon said...

I found that God was calling me to renounce any hope of marriage and children for His sake, and yet did not feel called to any religious order.

My SD suggested that I should take private vows to remain in the single state living and working in the world. I have a rule of life, and my SD is there to make sure I don't go completely off the rails.

There is also the route of Consecrated Virgin - same sort of thing as the private vows, but you swear obedience to the Bishop of your diocese (I did make enquiries along those lines, and it started off well, but then petered out... and my SD said that this was probably an indication that it wasn't meant for me)

I shall keep you in my prayers - good luck with the discernment

Adoro said...

SMK ~ Yes, I have considered that. That's what I'm TALKING about and what we were trying to do before when the door slammed shut on us.

Mac ~ Consecrated virginity is not something that I'm called to. I know others are and I hope they find it and see it as their option. But it isn't mine.

Adoro said...

Hidden One ~ ALL of those are Consecrated Religious. The 1st 2 you name are religious Orders, the last is also an Order, for there are Orders of Hermits, although they live out their Religious Vocation in solitude. (I know of an Eremetical Order of St. Augustine, actually. They wear habits, even.) But yes, you're right, the latter are misunderstood.

smk said...

I may be wrong, but I see a HUGE difference between 'third order' and actual communities called Secular Institutes. Secular Institutes have a much greater structure, community and often obedience ... a real superior who assigns them, or co-discerns, jobs and apostolates. Many times they live together in commmunity, although they work in secular jobs. I'm most familiar with Focolare... a world apart from the average "Third order" community.

Adoro said...

SMK ~ I HAVE looked into that...doesn't even come CLOSE to being of any interest to me. Makes me feel even SICKER than religious life does, if that's even possible.

Mac McLernon said...

Have you considered taking vows to remain single (and thereby giving your life to God) but remaining in the world?

It means that you are not "single by default" but have chosen to follow that path, and are, therefore, unavailable for marriage or religious life... and it is an incredibly liberating decision.

It is, however, a very difficult one to take, because it is so unrecognised and unstructured.

I was as unhappy as anything when I realised that God was calling me to be single, but not to a religious order, it felt like I was literally abandoning everything. Once I committed myself, I realised how right it was... but I had to make the commitment first!

Adoro said...

Mac ~ No, I haven't, and I'm not sure that that calls me, either.

Then again, it's just this week I realized that religious life is a big collapsing whoopie cushion for me.

What you're talking about is a Private Vow of Celibacy, which may be the only damn thing I have left, but without seriously spending some time discerning it with my SD, no I can't say I've considered it, nor am I sure I want to.

In spite of the fact it's the only damn thing I have left.

Sorry about the language. I'm really really frustrated right now and still depressed.

pennyante said...

I hope this isn't too simplistic sounding, but when you say that the single life is not a vocation in itself, I believe you are limiting what God may want in your life.

When you write that you have been "set aside" and that maybe God has abandoned you, those very feelings may be God's call to you to simply stop trying to figure out where you belong but let Him lead you where He wishes you to go. The total abandonment to His Will may be what God is asking you for. And until you are able to do that, you will continue to feel the discouragement, torment and pain you are feeling now...

Mother Teresa prayed:

Lord, I accept all you give to me. I give all you take from me...

Melody K said...

I don't know where this notion has come from that the single life isn't a vocation. I was taught (by old-fashioned habit-wearing nuns) that there were three states in life to which God called people; namely, the religious, married, and single life. I think that was even a question in the Baltimore Catechism. Two of my aunts would certainly have been surprised to know that their lives weren't a vocation. They spent their professional lives as educators, and went the extra mile for their students. They, too, discerned that marriage wasn't for them, they were both engaged a couple of times; but when it came right down to it they chose to stay single. It isn't hard to name many other good single people I have known.
Certainly the lives some people live are disordered, but that doesn't make the single life itself disordered. As to solitude, it depends on the use to which it is put. Single life is a gift, the same as married or religious life. A couple of things which come to mind are freedom and time for prayer; and the gift of friendship to others, which sometimes has to come second to a married or religious.(Of course I realize that single people can be over-committed to busy-ness, the same as anyone else.) As far as vows, why would any be necessary except for one's Baptimsal vows?
There is a phrase, "the sacrament of the present moment", which I interpret to mean that right here, right now, is where God meets us, and where we are called to be.

Melody K said...

P.S. Isn't it about time for some more "horse therapy"; a ride in the woods to see the changing colors of autumn?

Adoro said...

pennyante ~ I don't expect you to know this as you have not been following my blog for long. But that's exactly what I tried to do for a damn long time. Too damn long. So yes, it IS too simplistic and it implies that I haven't been doing that ALONG with my discernment.

In fact, it's IMPOSSIBLE to seriously discern one's Vocation WITHOUT doing what you suggest.

But that doesn't mean there aren't times of frustration, darkness, outright depression and every other kind of suffering.

Melody ~ Living in the present moment doesn't mean that it's a Vocation. It's what everyone is supposed to do, no matter WHAT their Vocation. Holiness is found in the present moment. Period.

But Vocation...that is what helps one to live more fully in the present moment. I haven't found my Vocation, and I'm trying really really hard to live in the present moment. Which is actualy pretty easy right now considering I have no goals, no ambitions, nothing other than to follow God's will.

And unfortunately, finding one's Vocation also involves SOME discernment of the future, for our future is our end, and our Vocation is how we get to God, thus we MUST have SOME kind of goal to lead us to God...which involves recognizing that although holiness is in the present moment...salvation involves our future. I guess that seeming dichotomy ensures we don't sit on our lazy butts and never do anything but take what comes (ie "perpetual discernment")

smk said...

Go back to falling in love with Jesus... focus on that! That is the heart of any vocation. ("just sayin') :)

Rachel Gray said...

Great thoughts. I didn't know all that about St. Catherine of Siena, and I'm glad to have learned it! I have a fear I'll end up with no vocation to marriage or religious life, so this was a most interesting post to me. I'd rather be in God's hands whatever His plan is.

Char said...

I know it's easier said than done, but keep your head up. God has not left you. Discouragement is exactly what the Devil wants us to feel in times like this.

Praying for you :]

Sponsa Agni said...

Pray, pray, pray!
There still are some more options: for example the life of a consecrated virgin... or a hermit.
Please, calm down - and leave God the decision. (You´ll only have to agree/disagree)
"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans..."

Well, I first wanted to be a mother. This was MY will - and then HE seduced me, and I have let myself be seduced.
And realized that my will is not what counts. And I decided to follow him and enter a contemplative order - because this was the way of life I found quite suitable for me. And I visited many communities - and every time I was there I knew immediately: I want to stay - but this is not the place where HE wants me to be for the rest of my life!
It took a lot of time to realize that I have to say and pray: YOUR will be done - and give it to HIM - and a few weeks after I stumbled upon a vocation I had never heard of before and it was my true vocation - I´m a consecrated virgin of a German diocese now!
And I´m so happy in my life -
Just pray - pray - pray!

shadowlands said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sprachmeister said...

Hey Adoro, just started following your blog. I'll pray for you. In the Liturgy of the Hours' evening prayer today the concluding prayer says:
Almighty, ever-living God,
whose love surpasses all that we ask or deserve, open up for us the treasures of your mercy.
Forgive us all that weighs on our conscience, and grant us more even than we dare to ask.

If you squint your eyes and tilt your head, it could be somewhat appropriate for you.

God bless

Adoro said...

Sponsa Agni ~ Um, as I said before, Consecrated virginity is um....not an option. And I don't WANT to be a hermit. I considered it, I looked into it. NO.

I'm glad you're happy. But my options are done. I'm going to be Single, whether I like it or not.

Warren said...

One single catholic woman that I respect very much said in a blog post recently that basically, she thinks it possible that her vocation is (or WAS) marriage, but that her vocation could be kyboshed, more or less, by the lack of eligible truly Catholic men. Believing as she does that it is better not to marry than to marry someone who could not be a moral and spiritual leader of a Catholic family and household, she is single.

She is clear that she does not have a religious vocation. The absence of a man is most definitely NOT a sign that a woman has a vocation to the Religious life.

I know many dozens of single devout Catholic women. I know ONE single devout Catholic man. He had his heart broken in little pieces a year or two back, and isn't looking. So it's grim in my area code, folks. How about yours?

Does that make singleness a vocation? I don't think that either. I think one still has a vocation (marriage) and that there must be a way to live that life with its graces, whether one is married, and yet separated from an unfaithful spouse, and yet one can consider oneself still living (to the best of your ability) your vocation. So why not live the vocation you're called to, to the best of your ability, when you're single, and not called to religious life?

Now THAT is cryptic. Forget TOB for a minute though. Is there any Catholic doctrinal sources that come directly from the church that suggest that Singleness is a vocation? It is a state in life, and there is a plan for it, that involves purity, chastity and holiness. It is not a vocation, as far as I know, in and of itself.

In other words, I do not believe someone can rightly say, "I know I am not called to marriage or the religious life, because I have received a call from God to live the single non-religious life".


Adoro said...

Warren ~ all of that was hashed out on a few blog posts here a few years ago and I'm simply not going to get into that discussion again. I'm done with it and don't really care about it anymore.

Mary333 said...

Set aside is something to be treasured. As soon as I started reading this post "set aside" came to my mind. When I read further down that someone had mentioned this to you I was floored! I don't claim to have any idea what God's plans for you are, but to be "set aside" is a very precious gift.

Lee said...

This is helpful. It helps me to discern a narrow way, and to see that others are discerning it as well. I also have discerned, as I believe, that I am not called to marriage, but some form of consecration to God, what St. Paul describes as "devoted to God in both body and spirit" with no divided interests that marriage would entail. That's a step, and I'm grateful for that - but I also am waiting to find out how that will practically translate out in terms of vocation. Sometimes I think God has us hover around in what feels like limbo for a while to teach us patience, but in the middle of it we're fighting the urge (or else yielding to it) to scream "HEY, I'M TRYING TO DO YOUR WILL!!!!! SHOW ME WHAT IT IS!!!!!!" It's difficult, and sounds simplistic, but it's true that it's a matter of praying, patiently waiting on God, loving and walking with Him daily, just doing the basic demands of holiness in our daily life, and He'll lead us through the door He has for us in His time. Spiritual directors help too, and thank God He's given me one.