Right after the death of Pope John Paul II, I saw a lot of interviews, and for that matter, I gave a lot of interviews. People spoke about the Holy Father’s impact on youth, on women, on the geopolitical balance of power in the world. But no one talked about his impact on single adults.
A Compelling Message
I am the perfect person to do that, because it’s partly Pope John Paul II’s fault that I’m single in the first place.
How could my unmarried state possibly be his fault? Well, twenty years ago I was a senior in college. I was planning on a brief career in corporate communications, followed by marriage, children and a white picket fence. Then my school, the University of San Francisco, sponsored a four-part speaker series on chastity. Most of the talks weren’t just about chastity they were about John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
Something very powerful happened to me when I heard the Holy Father’s message. He spoke about love, about respect, about how respecting ourselves and respecting our sexuality leads to the love we often seek in sex and don’t find.
Suddenly I wanted more than anything to spread that message. More than I wanted a corporate career, more than I wanted marriage and a family.
A year later, I received a call from a local pregnancy center. They were forming a speaker’s bureau to go into the local schools, and asked me if I would be one of the speakers. I was scared out of my brain, but I did it. I gave one talk, which led to five talks, which led to 25 talks, which led to today. Nineteen years after my first talk, and I still do no advertising. (Well, except for my little web site that’s rarely up to date!)
I didn’t give up the idea of marriage through all of this, but I didn’t really put it on the front burner, either. Face it the life of a Catholic speaker is hardly conducive to building a love life. I spent a lot of time on airplanes. I met a lot of teens, parents and priests.
Christ Has Chosen You
What it boils down to is this: this work didn’t happen because I made it happen. This work happened to me, as did all the consequences which flow from that work. God made it happen, I didn’t. I honestly believe it happened because of the pontificate of John Paul II. Not just in the sense that I was inspired by his work. It was the grace of his pontificate the grace that his personal sanctity brought into the world, which has initiated and fueled this work
In reading a collection of John Paul II’s talks to youth, I notice that in one talk he points out that the Apostles were not “volunteers.” Christ chose them. In the same way He chose me to do this work during the single phase of my life. And, in the same way, I suspect He has chosen you to do something, or impact the world in some way, while you are single.
John Paul II is in many ways a patron for the unmarried. This was a man who knew the experience of living without a family. His mother died when he was nine. He lost his only brother while he was still a teenager, and his father when he was in his early 20s. And so he was alone. He maintained strong relationships with his childhood friends, building up a strong “communion of persons” which lasted throughout his life. He participated in their families’ lives marrying them, baptizing their children, celebrating their milestones with them.
Close to Christ, Embraced by the Church
And even though he lived his life as a religious celibate, he never forgot the experience of being unmarried and without a family. In his apostolic letter to families, he wrote:
I wish to add a further word for a category of people whom, as a result of the actual circumstances in which they are living, and this often not through their own deliberate wish, I consider particularly close to the Heart of Christ and deserving of the affection and active solicitation of the Church and of pastors.
There exist in the world countless people who unfortunately cannot in any sense claim membership of what could be called in the proper sense a family…. There are others who, for various reasons, have been left alone in the world. And yet for all of these people there exists a “good news of the family.”
For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labor and are heavy laden” (Familiaris Consortio 85).
Did you catch that? He’s saying that he considers us “particularly close to the heart of Christ.” And he’s telling the Church, as in “the diocesan and the parish family” to acknowledge and embrace us!
I honestly believe that John Paul II understood us in a way very few others do. On earth, he was in a position to write a very important letter encouraging Church leaders to recognize us. In heaven, he’s in a position to hear our prayers, and to intercede for us with the God he served so faithfully.
I’ve decided he’s the patron of my work with single adults. I would highly recommend him as your patron, too.
Ask him to pray for you.
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. You may visit her website at www.reallove.net.