The Single Vocation — Does It Exist?

It has become increasingly more prevalent today that a lot of young adults are under the impression that, other than the religious and the marriage/family vocations, there is a third vocation, the "single" vocation. By that, they believe that, even if they are not called for a religious vocation and they can accept the marriage/family vocation, they can still choose to remain "single" for the rest of their lives or for a time. Well, as I pondered about this myself, I looked into scripture for clarification, and I looked into current social issues to see how plausible this vocation would be in our current social context.

First, in scripture, Our Father and Creator told Adam and Eve "And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it'" (Gen 1:28). So, my understanding here is that, at first, this calling was for Adam, Eve, and all of their descendants (although some Old Testament people who were called for religious vocations were praised for remaining "single", such as Jeremiah and others). Then Our Lord Jesus Christ added some exceptions to this precept. When He gave his teaching on divorce in Matthew 19, his disciples stated, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." I looked into the dictionary for a definition of the word "expedient." In this context, it means, that it is not in our best interest, it is not advantageous or beneficial to us, or it is not worth it (for us to marry). To this statement, Our Lord replied

"Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 19:11-12).

Looking into the dictionary, the word "eunuch" literally means someone who was castrated, but figuratively, in this context, means someone who is chaste. And so my understanding of this passage is that, whereas all men and women were called for the vocation of marriage and family in the beginning, here Our Lord introduces three categories of people who may not accept this calling and/or may have a different calling, and therefore remain chaste. First, those who were born eunuchs, I'm thinking, probably means for example people who are mentally, physically, and/or emotionally disabled in such a way that they are not able to consent to marriage and family and/or perform their marital duties. I'm also thinking that homosexuals fall into this category. Second, those who were made eunuchs by society probably refer to people who have the same issues as in the first category, with the exception that they were not born with whatever condition that they have that precludes them from being able to accept the marriage/family vocation, but that society or specific individuals made them that way. And third, those who choose to be eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven undoubtedly refer to those who accepted religious vocations.

Now, Our Lord ended his response to the disciples with this statement, "He who is able to receive this, let him receive this" (Matt 19:12). Therefore, my understanding of this precept is that, if one is physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally able to accept the marriage/family vocation and is not precluded from doing so by any condition either acquired by birth or caused by the actions of others, then that person ought to accept the marriage/family vocation. Our Lord could not have been any clearer.

Is there a third vocation? Yes, there is a "single" vocation, but it is not for people who simply chose to remain single even though they are able to accept the marriage/family vocation and they are not called for religious vocations. It is for those who are unable to accept the marriage/family vocation. Furthermore, back in the 1st and 2nd centuries, there was a group of Christian ascetics who, in their attempt to remain pure and consecrate themselves to Christ, abstained from accepting the marriage/family vocation, abstained even from engaging in sexual unions with their spouses if they were already married, and abstained from eating meat, among other things. St. Paul, who heard of this group when it began to spread, condemned them in his first letter to Timothy, saying,

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (1Tim 4:1-5).

 Then, in the 2nd century, the Church officially declared this type of asceticism "heresy."

So, it is clear that the weight of scripture falls heavily against the notion that one can chose to remain "single" and reject the marriage/family vocation even if able to accept the vocation, and that this is the will of God. Moreover, looking at current social trends, we see that we are in the midst of an unprecedented social crisis which includes the following:

1. For the first time in our nation's history, there are more households with unmarried people then there are with married people;

2. Many people put off marriage and family until they are well into their thirties or later and, subsequently, experience myriads of fertility issues for which many couples spend tens of thousands of dollars on artificial means of getting pregnant with few positive results;

3. Scientists tell us that the IDEAL age for a woman to have a child is 18 years old;

4. Statistically, today in Europe we have the LOWEST birth rate ever, in the HISTORY of the HUMAN RACE;

5. The Muslim population is growing so much that, if current trends hold up, it is estimated that by the year 2050, the Muslims in Europe will be in the majority, and the Christians will be the minority faith. God help us.

So, given this enormous crisis of historical proportion, it is inconceivable, unfathomable, that it would be Our Lord's will that a young adult, who is dedicated to getting closer to Him and is perfectly able to accept the marriage/family vocation, rejects this vocation and chooses to remain "single."

Let us, once and for all recognize this erroneous notion for the fallacy that it is. It may be God's will that a person spends their whole lives looking for a partner but does not find one, and thus remains single. But those of us who are called for the marriage/family vocation must keep looking, pray, and discern a potential partner (not the vocation itself). It is my hope and prayers, in writing these reflections, that Christian young adults properly discern their vocation and, if they are called for marriage and family, accept it, as Our Lord said, "He who is able to receive this, let him receive this."

Richard-122237 is a Marriage and Family Therapist who is licensed in Florida and who practices in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area. He has a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and is currently working on his dissertation for a PhD degree in Counseling. He is very involved in single young adult ministry in the area and volunteers in his parish's youth ministry.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Ann

    Thank you! I’ve had a difficult time trying to explain this to others who are single. They claim to be “called” to a single vocation – I see it more as fear of accepting the marriage vocation. I pray for all of us who are seeking our marriage partners and for all singles to grow in acceptance of their true and Godly vocation.

  • Leslie

    I found this really interesting, but I’m curious:  How to explain the millions (?) of singles (both never marrieds and annulled) who are open to sacramental marriage, but may never find the right person?  How can there NOT be an unmarried vocation in those cases?  Any insight would be welcome.  :)

  • Mike

    Your question actually provides the answer. The singles you are referring to are open to marriage. They are not making the conscious decision to reject the married life. Their inability to find the right person may be due to several reasons. Maybe they are not looking hard enough or in the right places. Maybe, through no fault of their own, they do not find the right person. What matters is honoring what is God’s will for you. If you accept that you are meant to be married, you can rightly consider yourself not destined for a “single vocation” even though you have not yet actually found the right person yet.

  • Gentillylace

    How does one know if one is “physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally able to accept the marriage/family vocation”? I am fairly sure that I was physically, mentally (intellectually) and spiritually able to accept it in my 20s and 30s, but mentally (psychologically) and emotionally I was — and to some extent still am — unable to do so. Since I am now 45, the question now seems to be a moot point for me, but how does one know whether one can accept the marriage/family vocation? Articles like these make me wonder whether I am sinning in deciding to remain a celibate and chaste laywoman.

MENU