Well, the first National Catholic Singles Conference was a smashing success.
Nearly 400 people attended, from 30 states. As a single Catholic, there’s nothing quite like the experience of standing in a room with 400 other single Catholics — 400 other people who have experienced what you’ve experienced, 400 people who have also felt like the only single Catholic in the world.
It was awesome.
I’m not the only person who enjoyed the conference. I’ve been getting amazing feedback. It seems that wherever I go in the country now, I run into someone who was there, or who knows someone who was there — someone who was profoundly moved by the experience.
I’m finding it interesting that, literally every time someone talks to me about their experience at the conference, they mention one particular part of the talk I gave there — the part where I spoke about “vocation.”
Specifically, I asked the question, “Is the unconsecrated single life a ‘vocation,’ in the sense that the Church understands vocation?”
It’s a “danged” good question, if I do say so myself.
We are, of course, all accustomed to feeling invisible within the Catholic parish. But, recently, I’ve noticed a trend emerging. People within the parish who used to talk about the two vocations, marriage and religious life, are now adding a third, the “vocation” to the single life.
I’m grateful that they’re acknowledging us, but from the first time I heard it, something rubbed me wrong about the concept of a single “vocation.”
Reading the Holy Father’s letter on women, Mulieris Dignitatem, reinforced my suspicions. In that document, John Paul II says that God calls all women to give themselves in one of two ways — in motherhood or in consecration to Christ.
No mention of singleness in there.
In fact, I find no mention of an unconsecrated single “vocation” in Church teaching anywhere. As far as the Church is concerned, it doesn’t exist.
Here is the problem: “vocation,” in the sense the Church understands it, means “to give oneself completely.” The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes says that man finds himself only through a sincere gift of himself. John Paul II, in Mulieris Dignitatem, speaks of the “spousal disposition of women.” We — women and men — were made to give ourselves, in love, to others. That’s where we find happiness.
Don’t singles give? Of course we do — often more than most. But vocation doesn’t mean “being a generous person.” It means giving our lives completely to another — either to a spouse in marriage or to God in consecrated virginity. And singleness doesn’t do that. In fact, the single state is defined by the lack of that gift. We are unattached, un-given.
I wrote a newspaper column about this several months ago. The response was predictable. I received several indignant letters, all from married people who were saying “How dare you make these poor single people feel excluded?” The letters from single people, however, were unanimous. “Thank you for reaffirming what I suspected. This isn’t a vocation. Something is missing.”
So what about us? Why are we in this state? Did God forget about us? Are our lives somehow less worthy because we’re not settled into a vocation?
Most definitely not.
I believe that God has called each and every one of us to either marriage or to consecrated religious life. Unfortunately, the state of the world today has made it very difficult to fulfill that call — especially for those of us who believe we are called to marriage. Marriage requires a partner. And good, holy, committed partners who share our faith are hard to find these days.
Is that God’s will? Not exactly. It isn’t His will that people are rejecting Him, turning away from His truths. But He allows it. He gave us free will, after all. Each one of us is free to follow Him or to reject Him. These days, a whole lot of people are rejecting Him. That’s called sin, and it has consequences.
One of the consequences of sin in the world is that people who are called to marriage are having a harder time finding suitable partners. The pool is poisoned.
So where does that leave us? Are we the “sad sacks” who were left behind? Are our lives meaningless? Are we destined for unhappiness?
God writes straight with crooked lines. He meets us where we are. When we turn our lives over to Him, he creates something beautiful — beyond our wildest expectations.
That beautiful life will be different for every unique person God touches. But a few threads run consistently.
Singleness gives us an opportunity to turn to God in a profoundly personal way. With no other partner, He becomes partner. And when we turn to Him with that request, He answers.
As singles, we’re more aware that real fulfillment comes from giving. The absence of built-in gift in our lives motivates us to move outside of ourselves and to reach out in love to those around us.
And, for some, singleness gives us the opportunity to stand in a room with 400 other single Catholics, and to begin to live out our single lives together.
(Mary Beth Bonacci, in addition to being a Catholic Match columnist is an internationally known speaker. Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. Contact Mary Beth: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is RealLove.net.)
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