Last week I decided to write about weddings, and the trial that they can be for clergy and parish staff. Here at Catholic Answers we have heard some hair-raising tales of the shenanigans that go on when couples are planning weddings, and I wanted to share some tips on how not to drive your priest to drink. In the over eighty blog posts I have written since the Catholic Answers Blog was inaugurated last January, I think I have written about weddings precisely five times, including last week’s post (the other posts may be found here, here, here, and here).
That is why I was bemused when the very first commenter on last week’s post opened the discussion with this comment:
How about realizing that not everyone gets married and many of us are still single, may want to marry but for some reason God has chosen for us not to marry? It’s always all about weddings, marriage 24/7, but very little attention paid to those of us who are single and will remain so for the rest of our lives. . . . Do you understand that you are telling us that we do not count?
Um, no, actually I don’t [understand that]—especially since I too am single and have written before on the single life here at the Catholic Answers Blog [here and here]. This time I chose to write about something else. I’m sorry that this post didn’t meet your needs, but not every post can be relevant to each and every person all the time. I hope the next one I write will be more helpful to you.
Now, granted, evidently I have written about the single life less than half as often as I have written about weddings. In my defense, in blog posts I usually write about what interests me and what I think will inform or entertain readers. There are only so many times you can write about the travails of the single life before the vast majority of readers get bored. As the saying goes, cry and you cry alone.
But the reason I chose to write this blog post was that this back-and-forth with the commenter reminded me of a larger problem within the Church and the world today. We live in a time when the great rallying cry of our day is “What about me?”
A few examples:
- Pope Francis recently speculated about the possibility of baptism for Martians. I kid you not, I saw comments asking how the Pope could be open to baptizing Martians and still deny holy orders to women. (Quick answer: Because baptism and holy orders are two different sacraments, with different purposes and with different qualifications!)
- Mother’s Day was this past Sunday. My newsfeed on Facebook filled with people offering greetings and homage not just to their own mothers, but also to anyone who has ever in some way mothered someone or something, or who wanted to be a mother and never got the chance. (Ironically enough, I had happily posted an homage to my own deceased mother and had not even given thought to my own lack of children—until I started seeing all the reminders about why I should not be happy on Mother’s Day.)
- On Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two of his predecessors, now St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. Catholics all over the world celebrated this historic event, but there were naysayers. One Traditionalist commentator offered a survival guide for the canonizations (no joke). Another complained about the fact that his favorite pope, Pius IX, still languishes among the beati.
Left unchecked, this focus on the self and what we believe is owed us can burrow into our theology and distort how Christians understand the relationship between God and man. Catholic apologist Frank Sheed, in his life of Christ titled To Know Christ Jesus observed:
Our salvation is not all that matters in religion, or even what matters most. That was the mistake of the old type of Bible Christian: He was saved, the rest was mere theology. His fellow Bible Christians might believe that God was three Persons or one only, that Christ was God and man or man only—these were secondary, the sole primary being to accept Christ as one’s personal Savior. It made the self unhealthily central, unchristianly central (p. 10).
Frankly, all such navel-gazing is unhealthy and un-Christian. In his essay First and Second Things, found in his book, God In the Dock, C. S. Lewis observed that putting lesser goods above greater goods ultimately meant losing both. That is much the same principle at work here. When we put self above God and neighbor, we not only lose God and neighbor but we also lose a healthy sense of self.
How do you overcome the temptation to throw pity parties at the drop of every bit of good news? Here are some tips:
Find confidantes. Everyone should have or find two or three confidantes whom they can talk to about anything. One confidante is not enough; you need more than one so that you do not overburden any one person. And the way you find confidantes is by being open to accepting your share of other people’s burdens. Even single people can have two or three close friends with whom they can unburden themselves. Rather than spilling your misery on the Internet, where it will be archived forever as a testament to your foibles and idiosyncrasies, share your sorrows with real people who have expressed deep interest in your well-being. In turn, you should do all that you can to help them through their own hard times.
Express joy. You are a single person who may never marry or have a child. Go to bridal and baby showers; bring meals to new mothers; smile when you are told of others’ good news. At such a time as this, no one wants to hear about your woes, however much they might sympathize with you at a more appropriate time and place. The same is true for those times when the Pope says Martians might be eligible for baptism or when he canonizes new saints. These are times to choose to be happy for others, even when your own pet agendas are not met or your own favorite holy people are still waiting to be universally recognized as saints. (Trust me, even if you are not happy about a new saint, your favorite blessed in heaven will be happy for that new saint!)
Rebuild where you are. Do you think there are not enough pastoral services to meet legitimate needs in the Church? Rather than complain, reform. And before you say, “I am just one person, what can I do?” remember the story of St. Francis of Assisi. In a ramshackle church, St. Francis heard the Lord say to him, “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” St. Francis took this to mean that he should repair the church in which he heard this directive from the Lord, and did just that. Over time it became clear that he was to repair the universal Church. But he had to start somewhere, and so should you. Start something where you are, and perhaps it will grow beyond your wildest hopes.
Live in the present for the future you hope to attain. Actress Gabourey Sidibe, who was nominated for an Academy Award a few years ago, is not your typical Hollywood starlet. She once said about beauty:
People always ask me, “You have so much confidence. Where did that come from?” It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl.
Anyone who has seen photos of Gabourey Sidibe would agree that she is indeed a very beautiful woman, and a lot of that beauty comes from how she chose to perceive herself and carry herself.
What does that have to do with the topic at hand? Well, I would still love to get married and have a family. So I do a lot of reading on marriage and family. If the time ever comes, I would certainly have an adjustment period to a different state in life, but perhaps it may not be as large an adjustment as it otherwise might be if I had not done all that personal study. Likewise, if there is an unfulfilled dream you have, prepare yourself for the day when you could be granted that dream.
Naturally, some dreams will not ever be fulfilled in the way we originally hope for, and we cannot pretend that they will. For example, women should not attempt to receive ordination in the hopes that the Church will one day ordain women priests. But women’s ordination advocates could study what the Church teaches about the sacrament of holy orders with a heart open to God’s will as it is expressed through his Church. Doing so may expand understanding of what the priesthood is and what it means within the Church. Then, like Sister Sara Butler, a one-time advocate for women’s ordination, now author of a defense of the male-only ministerial priesthood, a better understanding of holy orders may emerge.
Take up your cross. Finally, always remember that Christianity is all about death to self. Whenever we are tempted to say, “What about me?” that is the time to ask instead, “What can I give?” As Christians, we are constantly called to offer up our sufferings, in union with Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world. Not only can our sufferings be seed for growth of the Church, bringing others to Christ, but our sufferings also can perfect us and make us ready for union with Christ. In this we have Christ himself as our model:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:7–9).