Singleness: Is It a Vocation

Lay-led Ecclesial communities: a solution to the singleness vocation

Introduction

The term vocation calls to mind either sacramental marriage or religious life. As I get older, I find myself wondering, is God calling me to marriage or religious life. I’ve briefly considered consecrated virginity. However, more often I wonder if there room in Catholic theology for singleness as a vocation. In order to address this question, I first have to explore the Catholic notion of vocation. Second, I will explore a common argument against singleness as a vocation. Third, I will explore how lay-led ecclesial communities to help address singleness.

What is Vocation

Catholicculture.org defines vocation as a call from God to a distinctive state of life, in which the person can reach holiness. Note that the definition never defines a particular state in life. Hence, one can be single and still reach holiness. A quote from Lumen Gentium supports this viewpoint.

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity;(4*) by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.

Regardless of our station in life, we are all striving for holiness. Thus, holiness is my ultimate vocation. The church services everyone, but has a special compassion for those with no family. In Famillaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II writes,

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.”

Yet, there seem to be distinct differences between the sacramental vocations and singleness. These differences have led many to believe that singleness cannot be a vocation.

Differences Between Singleness and The Sacramental Vocations

Msgr. Charles Pope in his article, “Is There a Vocation to the Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why,” describes his objections to singleness as a vocation. He begins by highlighting the basic differences between tradition vocations and singleness.

Basic Differences

1. Make Vows and Promises

Msgr. Charles Pope states that in marriage and in religious life, the party or parties make promises to themselves and the church. He argues that the state of being single does not require the person to make any vows or promises. They can choose to make vows and promises. Yet the vocation is found in the vows and promises they make, not in their singleness.

2. Commit to the Life They Enter Stably

Singleness is open to change. A person remains single until something better comes along. Thus they find the right person and become married or they make a commitment to the church.

3. Exclusivity

Traditional vocations offer exclusivity. When you are married, you promise to be with your partner forever. If you take religious vows, you promise not to date anybody. Yet when you are single, you are not required to be exclusive. You can form relationships with multiple people.

4. Communal Relationship

When one enters into religious life, one makes a lasting bond. Similarly, in marriage, a couple pledges to be in communion with each other until death. Singles are not bound to form lifelong communal relationships with others.

5. Live Under Rules

Priest and those in religious life have a structure to their day. They cannot merely do what they please. For example, a priest must pray the liturgy of the hours. Similarly, married couples have rules that govern their family. For example, they cannot wake up and decide to go on vacation. They need to consult the needs and desires of their spouse and children. A single person does have rules they live by. Yet these rules were arbitrarily picked by themselves or given to them.

6. Under Authority

When a priest enters into religious life, he subjects himself to the authority of the bishop. Similarly, a married person subjects themselves to the authority of their spouse. A person, who is single, does not subject himself to anyone’s authority. A person, who is single, does not need to report to anybody.

Theological Reason

According to Msgr. Charles Pope, all these basic differences point to a theological principle. This principle is called Nuptial Meaning of the Body. This states that God made the body for others. In marriage, this happens during the sexual union. In religious life, those individuals give their bodies to the church in a symbolic way.

So can one reconcile both viewpoints? Is it a matter of interrupting vocation to broadly or narrowly? What can singles do?

Vocations verses vocation: Where Does Singleness Fit in Catholic Teaching.

I think the confusion comes when we conflate vocations. In reality, every good Catholic has a vocation to holiness. However, we also have gifts and talents that can affect our vocations. Last we have a vocation as a committed life. Msgr. Charles Pope is right to suggest that singleness cannot be considered a committed way of life. Yet he is wrong to imply that singleness has no vocation. Although I believe people are reading that into the article. Singleness is a state of being, where a person is called to be holy. Religious life or marriage are options and are not guaranteed to the individual. Single life has a vocation but is not a vocation by itself.

Singleness and Lay Led Ecclesial Communities:

So how can a person, who is single, find a vocation in the Church. Lay lead ecclesial communities such as the ones founded in the renewal can help those, who are single. In my community, we have a commitment to one another. One cannot break this commitment without discernment from the whole community. Furthermore, we, as a community, have a pattern of life and community rhythm that governs our life. I am required to respect and obey the leadership in the community. Thus these communities offer commitment and stability. Singleness by itself fails to offer.

Protestant churches: Six Things I Miss

Introduction

As a convert, you bring with you an appreciation for your faith upbringing. You accept that the Catholic has the fullness of truth. You still recognize the good in other faith traditions and Christian denominations. I have bittersweet feelings about leaving Vineyard church. Most Catholics often treat my feelings with haughtiness. They usually tell me that I need to study more or pray more. I do wish Catholics had more of an open mind to the beauty of other Christian denominations. I admit that I miss certain things about the Protestant services. Yet I do not want these aspects present in Catholic liturgy. Here I describe six things I miss from Protestant worship service. Just a reminder, I was inspired by What I still hate about Catholcism.

1. Community groups

In most large Protestant churches, you have smaller groups of people that meet weekly. These groups went over what the pastor talked about on Sunday. Yet, the relationships were more important. This small group of women holds each other accountable. Catholic parishes are now starting to implement small groups. I lead a small group of Young Adults. However, it seems that the intentionality is not as present. In the Catholic world, small groups are one of the many ways one can get involved in parish life. I have never heard a priest emphasize it in a homily and I’ve only seen it mentioned briefly in a bulletin. Protestant churches devote whole Sundays to help plug people into small groups. It feels intentional and not an afterthought. Second, Catholic small groups always revolve around an agenda or program. Most Catholic adults experience small groups through the Alpha or Discovering Christ program. These programs offer a good introduction to the gospel message. However, small groups serve a different purpose. One enters into a small group to waste time with each other, to pray and support one another. In Catholic circles, once the program or Bible study ends, the group ends. If we want to build community, we need to see beyond programs and see relationships.

2. Hospitality

Lizzieanswers touched on this a lot in her video. A lot of Catholics don’t want to admit a lack of hospitality in today’s parishes. I think it stems from a genuine fear that Mass will become nothing more than a social club. They see the feel-good services of Protestant megachurches and want nothing to do with that mentality. However, as a newcomer and convert, one can experience a sense of isolation or lack of caring. Especially if one does not have time to get involved. I never felt like an outsider. I always volunteered in youth ministry or adult ministry in some capacity. Through volunteering, I got to know other people in the parish. Most people my age do not have this type of patience. In the world of instant streaming, they want to be connected and feel welcomed. I think the Catholic Church could do more in this area.

3. Intentionality

When something is an obligation it ceases to be intentional. Most Protestants do not see the church as an obligation. In fact, for them, the church is an invisible institution. Thus for them, a gathering of three or more people is the church. Catholics think differently. The church is a hospital for the sick. It is necessary in order to get well. Thus, a lot of Catholics go to church because they need to and not because they want to. Hence, you have lukewarm Catholics not caring for the liturgy. The come late, leave early, and etcetera. I have heard the churches, who celebrate The Latin Mass, have less of a problem with this. People mistakenly credit the liturgical form for this. Rather it may be that the Latin mass attracts a more intentional type of Catholic. I am not sure how to fix this problem except by helping people fall in love with the Mass. Ironically, if a parish offered such a program, it would

4. Energetic

I am on the fence about this one. Some mornings I love the fact that the Mass is meditative and peaceful. I find that I can pray easier in a Mass setting. Yet on certain occasions when the homily is dry, I find myself wishing the service was more lively. When I attend Protestant services I know I’m going to leave energetic and inspired. When I attend Mass, I know that I’m going to leave with a sense of peace and intimacy with God. I do not think that one is better than the other. I do not want the Mass to become more energetic. Rather, I want opportunities to have those experiences in a Catholic context. Sadly I have only experienced the same energy during Catholic retreats and conferences. I have never seen anything offered on the parish level.

5. Music

I am not sure when or why it happened, but the Catholic Church no longer has a reputation for good music. I feel like most Catholic hymnals are filled with bland, boring, and safe songs. After the explosion of new music in the 60s and 70s, there hasn’t been anything new from Catholic composers. Parishes stopped valuing music. Meanwhile, groups such as Hillsong, Bethel, and Elevation produce music that influences millions. I believe the Catholic Church needs to start valuing the arts again. We need to produce good quality music. We need to produce both contemporary pieces of music and return to supporting chant. For me personally, I don’t need a hymn book for Mass anymore because the parish choir recycles the same hymns.

6. Bible Appreciation

A lot of Catholics don’t know the Bible, as well as, Protestants do. One reason has to do with catechesis in the Catholic Church. Most young Catholics learn bible stories that we hear on Sunday. They learn what the Catholic Church teaches. They fall to learn the biblical bases for Catholic teaching. Rather than learning from the Bible itself, they learn from a textbook. I am trying to change that. I requested and got permission to use bibles in my CCD classroom. Every lesson has a scripture associated with it. We talk about said scripture and how it relates to the lesson. Then they are given an opportunity to memorize it. Second, Catholics through history have not needed to defend themselves. They didn’t need to have an answer memorized because everyone believed the same thing.

Conclusion

When I express my feelings, Catholics accuse me of not loving the Catholic Church. They are mistaken. I deeply love the Catholic Church and I understand why she does what she does. I would rather have a meditative peaceful service than an energetic worship concert every Sunday. I do recognize that certain people need community and find these things attractive. As I grow, I long for more silence, contemplation, and beautiful chant. Yet I still look back in fondness for what brought me to Christ in the first place. If Catholics desire unity, then we must be open to learning from and appreciating the other.