She was a new face, but the story she told me was one I had heard many, many times before.
Over a cup of coffee and a piece of Key Lime pie, she told me of her desire to be married and have a family. She confided her frustrations with searching for so many years and not having the right man come into her life. While she hated to admit it, she was beginning to feel the pressures of the "clock ticking," and the shrinking pool of eligible single Catholic men. It really wasn't necessary for her to verbalize to me what her eyes told me before she said a word: she was fighting feelings of sadness, loneliness, and even desperation…she was struggling to hold her head up high as the single woman she had never planned to be, "at least not at my age!"
I can relate to her frustrations and her pain, and so can many of you.
If you feel a strong call from God to the vocation of marriage, living the single life and waiting on God's plan and His timing for your life can be hard. Sometimes really hard.
I know that I am always in need of reminders that God's dreams for my life are much bigger than mine are for myself, and that God will be faithful to me if I am faithful to Him. Family, Christian friendships, and my church young adult group are vital support and encouragement in my life. In recent years, I've discovered another source of inspiration to be faithful as a single Catholic. The person who most gives me hope and courage is a woman who, ironically enough, got married when she was still a teenager.
She is our Blessed Mother, Mary.
Tradition has long maintained that Mary was betrothed to her husband, Joseph, when she was a young teenager, maybe even as young as thirteen or fourteen years old. What would a girl who got engaged, married, and had a baby that early on in life have to teach single adults who are two or three or even four times her age? Plenty.
Mary was uniquely chosen by God to exemplify in her life what each and every Christian should be striving for in their lives. Her faith, virtue, and grace-filled example are a model to all her children, no matter their age, race, or state in life. However, there are several specific aspects of the Blessed Virgin Mary's life from which single Catholics can take particular solace and encouragement.
Obedience and Submission to the Will of God
My mom is an amazing anchor in my life. If she ever hears me complaining about life or some situation, she says to me: "Steph, remember: trust and obey!" Regarding the fact I am still single and waiting for the fulfillment of my vocation to marriage, Mom has had to remind me of the "trust and obey" motto many times.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church and many other Church documents talk about the responsibility of Christians to respond to Christ with the "trust and obey" attitude, which the Church calls the "obedience of faith."
The Catechism states: "By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God …'the obedience of faith' … It participates in the 'Yes' of the Son become servant and the Fiat of God's lowly handmaid" (sections 143, 2716).
More than any other human being, the Blessed Virgin Mary exemplifies for single Catholics this call to submit our intellect and will wholly, entirely, and without compromise, to God. She believed without seeing, and said yes with a supreme act of faith. The Catechism continues:
"The Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith. By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that 'with God nothing will be impossible' and so giving her assent: 'Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.' Elizabeth greeted her: 'Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.' It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed" (section 148).
As a single Catholic adult, God is asking you to have the perfect faith of Mary and trust that His promises for your life will be fulfilled. If you feel called to the vocation of marriage, the waiting and searching part of the journey is hard — but if you trust and obey, God will in turn be faithful to you.
I never thought too much about the patience of Mary until my brother-in-law, Dan, brought it up during a talk he was giving to a group of college students. The Archangel Gabriel and the prophet Simeon revealed very specific promises to Mary. Gabriel told her that her Son would be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. Shortly after her baby boy was born, Simeon told her of sorrows to come that would pierce her heart. And what happened next?
Thirty years passed.
Thirty years of silence. Thirty years of observing her Son working alongside His father in a carpenter's shop in Nazareth. Thirty years of cooking for Him, cleaning up after Him, taking care of Him. Watching. Waiting.
The Bible does not mention much about those years. We have no record that Mary ever complained, ever questioned, ever began to wonder if God's promises to her would actually come true.
As single Catholics, many of us struggle with the "waiting" part of following God's will, particularly in the area of searching for a spouse. In those dark hours, take courage from the example of the Blessed Mother, who knows what it is like to wait on God's timing. She will be with you and comfort you.
Understanding the Need for Friendship and Support
Mary understood the importance of friendship, community, and support during difficult times. Shortly after discovering her role in the divine plan of salvation, Mary traveled to the hill country of Judah to stay with her cousin, Elizabeth. More than any other friend at that time, Elizabeth could understand and relate to what Mary was going through. She too was carrying a child who had been conceived in fulfillment to the word of the Lord.
If you are single, follow Mary's example: do not "go it alone" through difficult times. Form solid friendships with other single people, particularly those who share your faith. (This website is a great platform for meeting like-minded singles and forming solid, faith-filled friendships!) Get involved in service and outreach opportunities. Attend singles get-togethers such as Theology on Tap, Frassati Society, and the many local and regional singles events posted on the 4Marks Events Calendar.
The Bible says, "And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Surrounded by the support of other single Catholics, and with the Blessed Mother interceding for you, you will have a strong shelter from any storms of discouragement or loneliness that might blow your way.
Mary's courage in difficult times is unparalleled. She could have denied Him. She could have chosen to stay home, or stand back on the sidelines and watch at a safe distance. But she didn't. She did not leave her Lord in the hour of His brutal agony, but instead followed Him even to the foot of the Cross.
The very fact that you are single and a Catholic in the year 2007 demands courage. In our relativistic, moral wasteland of a culture, you are standing for truth, living your faith, and thus giving God glory. It takes courage to follow what you believe and live your faith without hypocrisy.
There is one aspect of the single life that I believe demands an extra dose of courage today. That is, avoiding the temptation to compromise your high standards for what you are looking for in a spouse because you are starting to feel hopeless, helpless, or desperate since Mr. or Ms. Faithful Catholic does not seem to be presenting himself or herself at your doorstep.
Don't compromise! Your dream of lasting love in a god-fearing marriage will be realized in God's perfect timing. Don't give in to pressures from the world or temptations from within to let your standards slide because the journey is difficult. Be inspired by your Holy Mother's courage, and remember that she is praying for you.
A Radical Suggestion (But I Really Hope You Go For It)
I have discovered a devotion to our Blessed Mother that I think has very special merit for us single Catholics. It is the 54-Day Rosary Novena to Our Lady. The 54-Day Rosary Novena consists of a series of six consecutive nine-day novenas. Three novenas are first said asking Mary for your petition, and this is followed by three novenas said in thanksgiving for Mary hearing and answering your request.
I first learned of the 54-Day Rosary Novena when a couple I knew from the Midwest discerned their courtship by praying the novena. They had been friends and partners in apostolic work for years, but it wasn't until they prayed this novena that their hearts awoke to the feelings they had for each other. After a successful answer to prayer, the couple then invited single Catholics from all over the country to join them in praying for godly spouses for all who prayed this novena. Success stories of the Blessed Mother's favor abound for those who have reverently prayed this novena.
I know that our Mother Mary has a special place in her heart for her single-and-still-waiting children. I challenge you to honor your heavenly Mother by praying the 54-Day Rosary Novena for your special intention of finding a spouse. [Note: The 54-Day Rosary Novena is available in booklet form under the title Rosary Novenas to Our Lady, and is available here.]
Whether or not you choose to pray the above novena, I hope that as we honor mothers, and especially our Blessed Mother, you will turn to Mary as a source of encouragement and inspiration for your life. She will give you the courage to believe that "with God nothing will be impossible," and to pray "Let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:37-38).