February 20, 2008

Vocation to the Single Life, Follow-Up

By Anthony Buono *

This morning on my “Ask Anthony” segment on Sacred Heart Radio, I was asked if there is a vocation to the single life. It is not an easy question to answer in the five minutes that those segments go for. Unfortunately, the segment had to come to an end before I could make my last point.

In the segment, I acknowledge that there is a vocation to the single life, but that the actual “calling” to remain single as a vocation is very rare, and that it must include a formal consecration to God and a lifelong commitment to celibacy while remaining a single lay person. Occupations that make sense for a person to consider this are a doctor, lawyer, soldier, teacher, or lay missionary of some kind.

Unfortunately, the segment ended before I could finish my thought, so I am going to do that here.

What I wanted to speak of next is the reality of remaining single when you either (1) believe you are called to marriage but no one came into your life who was open to making the commitment with you (whether by your own doing or through no fault of your own), or (2) when you are not capable of making the commitment to marriage (whether by your own doing or through no fault of your own).

There are always going to be people who just “are” single, and they end up living their whole lives as a single person. I have heard of people who gave up opportunities to marry because they dedicated their lives to taking care of a sick or aging parent. This is a beautiful act of love. Is it a vocation to single life? That’s not the right question to ask. The right question is, “Should that person be giving up marriage in order to take care of the parents?” Some might say yes and some might say no.

But it’s not about “vocation” in the strictest sense of the word. I doubt people who make this kind of decision say, “Okay, Lord, I am ready to consecrate myself to you and pledge celibacy in order to answer my call to remaining single and taking care of my parents.” No, they probably love Jesus so much that they saw the need their parents had and decided that out of love for them, they would do this. And, as a result, they are single for the period of taking care of those parents. Then the parents finally die, and the person can then be open to marriage, but might still end up never marrying because they started the process too late. Nevertheless, this was not a vocation for the remainder of natural life, which is what a vocation is.

Those who are single and not formally consecrated to God with a pledge of celibacy are not in the vocation to the single life. But it is an aspect of the vocation to single life if a person living the single life with dedication to God, with faithful chastity, with openness to marriage, but also with a commitment to play an active role in helping have an impact on children. As Fr. Groeschel mentioned, maybe that is by being a good aunt or uncle who is active in assisting with the raising of the nieces and nephews. Or maybe you are a good friend of a family with children. Or maybe it is having an active role in the parish with anything that helps the children of the parish. Whatever it is, it has to be something that has an impact on children.

Single people need to keep busy in service to the Church, says Fr. G. If they are “called” by God to remain single and be freed up to focus on service, they need to work toward making a formal consecration to God to remain celibate for the rest of their lives while serving him as a lay person to the community affected by his work. If they choose to do something for a time that is a good work for God and postpone marriage, then that is an act of love based on the universal call to holiness by Jesus.

So I guess that is basically the completion of my thought on this subject as it was begun on today’s radio program. Obviously, there is nothing black and white about this subject. But everyone should safely conclude that the vocation to the single life as a “calling” by God is extremely rare, and should not be assumed as an “ordinary” option when you are single and considering what your vocation is.

My strong opinion is that by default you are meant to married and have children, and should naturally pursue that until or unless you are given a strong indication that God might be asking you to give up your natural right to marriage to serve God in a more focused way while living consecrated celibacy. I really doubt that those who speak so vehemently about the vocation to the single life also talk as vehemently (if at all) about the requirement to live a celibate life for the rest of their lives and via formal consecration to God.

Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice.  Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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