Columnist calls for 'life-giving' community among single laity

Amid rising numbers of people living alone, the Church must help build relationships and community with those who are not called to the vocation of marriage or religious life, an author says in a new column.

“Being alone is the first thing God pronounces 'not good,' after so many proclamations of the goodness of His creation. And yet being alone is an increasingly common condition in American life,” writer Eve Tushnet said in her Sept. 23 column for CNA.

An author in Washington, D.C., Tushnet’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and Crisis Magazine. She has written on a number of topics, including her own Catholic faith and same-sex attraction, and she is working on a book about vocational discernment for gay Christians.

In her piece, “All the single laity,” Tushnet points out that “the early Church was anything but intently focused on pairing up lovebirds” and as a “quick flip through the dictionary of saints will show,” there are “plenty” of people who are not called to the vocation of marriage.

However, she noted, in many parishes, those who are unmarried are relegated to the “Young Adults Ministry” which often serves as “meet markets” to aid those called to marriage in finding their spouse.

While this approach can be helpful to those called to that vocation, she said, it often “leaves little space” for those who are “not married nor seeking marriage” – such as those who are separated, widowed and not interested in remarrying, civilly-divorced, same-sex attracted, or simply do not feel called to marriage or religious life.

As theology surrounding the “vocation of singleness” develops, she suggested, Christians should be encouraged to find community and form relationships that will lead them “into love, not loneliness.”

Singleness – in contrast to other vocations which are “typically defined by the type of relationship you have to others” – is often “defined by a lack of relationship to others,” Tushnet observed. Because of this, singleness can lead to isolation and loneliness even within the Church if not approached correctly.

In order to solve this issue facing single Catholics, the Church must become “more attuned to her history and mission” of serving as the “primary family for Christians,” she said.
This kind of community may look different for each person, but creating “subgroups within the Church for people whose life stages or paths appear similar” may not always be the best answer.

While it is comforting to be able to be able to relate to someone with similar struggles as yourself, it is important that these groups do not become the only places Christians seek community, the author said.

Rather than “envying one another” – as a single person may envy a married person's bond or a married person could envy a single person's freedom – Christians should “get to know one another” so that they can “help carry one another's crosses,” she added.

Being single offers “countless ways” to have a “fruitful and life-giving” presence in the Church, Tushnet said, such as being a godparent, hospice volunteer, teacher or shelter worker.

“These are callings which truly entwine our lives together, so that nobody has to be alone,” she explained.

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