This is the third in a series (Part 1, Part 2) of columns on Catholic vocations and what parents can do to help their children discern their vocation. Previously I introduced the idea that as Catholics we are all members of the Body of Christ, the Catholic Vocational Village, and discussed the lay vocation of marriage and family life.
In our Village there are three other vocational states: remaining single and celibate, and entering the priesthood, and entering a religious community. In these categories there is some overlap, but here I will consider members who are neither ordained, nor have professed vows of a religious order. Members of this vocation can be as different as night and day. Some members have official names like consecrated virgins and hermits (yes, these still exist!). Some have official duties like those with personal prelatures and the permanent diaconate for those who are not yet married. Members without official names include missionaries who remain single in order to serve God in ways or locations where they could not also care for a family, men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction, but who choose to live a chaste life, and adult children who remain unmarried in order to care for their parents or other relatives.
Because this is not my particular vocation, I asked Jean Revil, a friend who has been called to this vocation, to share what it is like. Ms. Revil is a lay missionary who ministers at the Dartmouth House of Corrections, gives retreats and talks around the diocese of Fall River, MA, is the campus minister at Bishop Stang High School, and is an Oblate of St. Benedict. She shares these insights, "I do consider my single lifestyle to be my vocation. I've always had a great need for quiet and time apart… maybe that comes from growing up with 8 people in a house with one bathroom! I think when I was a child, I just assumed that I would one day grow up, fall in love, marry, and have children. As I became more mature, I began to realize that I just didn't feel called to marriage and parenting. By the time I was 30 or so, I was very sure that being a single woman gave me the things I needed plus a great deal of freedom to serve others in ways I might not have been able or willing to if I were married or had children. The vocation of the single life is definitely not for everyone! A lot of people think that loneliness would be the biggest drawback…but that's not it at all! Being alone does not equal being lonely. Loneliness is a human condition regardless of your state in life. Probably the biggest drawback is finances. Rent or mortgage expenses are the same if one person or three people are in the house. But being single means one income. The greatest benefit for me is the freedom… not freedom to do whatever I want for me, but the freedom to be more available to others."
The apostle Paul lived a single, celibate life. He enjoyed his vocation so much that he strongly recommended that everyone consider such a life! Holy Scripture and Catholic Tradition both support singleness as a calling and a gift from God, offered to some people in order to build up the Body of Christ.
So, how can we parents encourage our children to consider a vocation to the single and celibate life? The first thing we can do is to teach them to live chaste lives as teens and young adults. Teaching our children self-discipline in the face of sexual temptation when they are young gives them the freedom to consider the vocation of a single celibate; it also prepares them to live all other Catholic vocations, where there is never a place for self-centered sexuality. We can demystify this vocation for our children by including single and celibate members of the Catholic Village in our family life. We can let adult children know that both God and we value them and their work in their current state of singleness, instead of pressuring them about getting married or becoming a professed religious.