A reminder of what is evident but forgotten – the single person is united to Christ from baptism
When a person is single without having chosen it as a way of life (after a period of discernment), they risk falling into the trap of comparing themselves to those who have a clearly defined chosen vocation (such as marriage or the priesthood) and to feel somehow “less than” or having a condition which is “inferior”, or that being single is an intermediary phase of Christian life, a sort of state of limbo that we should actively strive to get out of at all costs; as though single persons had no definitive connection to Christ and to his Church.
Yet this is not the case. Single people often forget that through our baptism – that mysterious event where we became Christians - Christ himself has already taken possession of our life in the deepest way possible. Since that day, JESUS invited them into an intimate sharing of their life with His. In Baptism, single persons no longer belong to themselves; from then on, their Master is Christ, this self-dispossession has its roots in a deep gift of self, to God and to others that the Church refers to as the call to sainthood.
Baptism is the foundation of the single life
Baptism offers a solid foundation for life as a single person, whether it be a stage we are passing through or a stable form of life through which the single person is invited to discover themselves.
Here are some of the characteristics of the solid foundation given in baptism to a single person:
The single person is precious in God’s eyes.
The single person is known and loved intimately by Jesus Christ. God has not forgotten them.
The single person has been brought into communion with the Trinity and with all the Christians in the Church- they are never truly alone.
Communion defines their whole existence even when they feel alone. Since they were made a member of Christ’s life in baptism, they are called to share their life and light with others. Their life exists to share in the riches of God’s Kingdom already mysteriously present on Earth.
Seeing your singlehood with fresh eyes
If we take a moment to think about it, baptism enables us to look at the single life through a new lens, quite different from the view of popular culture.
Being single is definitely not a state of existence or way of life that is murky or undefined. On the contrary, the Christian single is a person whose whole life – with its ups and downs, joys and sorrows – has been integrated into Christ’s life through baptism, making of it a great adventure; their whole life is defined by this perfect belonging.
Let us look back for a moment at the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who had a gift for reminding us of the great mystery of our Baptism:
“Our life now belongs to Christ, and no longer to ourselves….At His side, and indeed, drawn up in His love, we are freed from fear. He enfolds us and carries us wherever we may go- He who is Life itself!” (April 7, 2007)
Yes, the life of each baptized person who is single is immersed in God, in the love that frees us from fear and which wraps and holds us in Love.
Embracing the single life with this new self-awareness in God
How many single persons live their daily lives with such self-awareness in God? How many think of themselves as being enfolded by His love at each moment?
Baptism is not only a theological foundation of the single life, but it also holds and reveals the special mission of all single persons: a call to love, a response to God who loved us first. This is their call, this is their special and great mission!
What? A call to love? Isn’t that the problem with the single life...? That we feel a call to love, a deep desire for intimacy, without being able to satisfy either one? What is the deeper meaning of this call to love? Can it happen when the ties of married love are not there?
Is the call to love only for married and consecrated persons or priests? What is the true nature of the call to love of a single person?
When the Church speaks of love, it always reminds us that marriage (and the family, the fundamental nucleus of society and foundation of the Church) constitutes one of the more noble forms of love, in the image (obviously imperfect) of the relationships between the Persons of the Trinity. This can trouble and even frustrate the person who is single.
Also, when the Church insists on the beauty of the vocation of consecrated virginity, for men (priesthood) and women (religious vocations, cloistered or not); it is often held up as the highest form of spiritual love – whereas human love comes to fruition in marriage.
What good news does the Church have for single persons who also wish to live this higher form of love and intimate commitment when either of the other forms is not a possibility, and may not be for a long while, maybe even for life? Does the Church have something good to say to single people?
The single life and the Theology of the Body
There is good news: the late Saint Pope John Paul II spent a lot of time talking and writing about this universal call to love in a series of popular teachings called the “Theology of the Body”. At the heart of the Theology of the Body is the idea he put forth that the desire to love is rooted deeply in the human heart. In so doing, John Paul II helped the Church to see how the desire to love and to be loved is a profound dimension of how women and men have been created “in the image of God”, who revealed himself as Love.
A second key insight of the Theology of the Body is the idea of “gift”. Jesus Christ who is the revelation of the eternal Father, God of Love, taught that all life that is given by God is called to be a gift, as he was, that led him to the Cross, as proof of this ultimate unsurpassable love. Just as we have been loved into Christ’s life through baptism, each of us is called to make a gift of our life as Christ did with his own life; in reality, this is how all of the Christian vocations – or states of life – become complete and real.
Through our baptism, John Paul II reminds us, each Christian has been called to enter what we might call the “exchange of love” within the Trinity, an eternal exchange of love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Too good to be true? Yet, no human being, whether they are Christian or not, can deny that they feel this call to love in their heart, this desire to love and be loved. For their part, Christians feel called to enter into this movement of giving and receiving of love, which culminates in the gift of one oneself to others in the image of Jesus Christ.
The Christian “logic of love”
This is the Christian “logic of love”: each of us is called to receive our life as a gift and to offer it back in return. John Paul II anchored the logic of love to the mystery of the family of the Trinity, and invited Christians to look upon it and contemplate (discover) the mystery of their own vocation, or “call”. Yes, all Christians… including single persons.
So, the vocation or “call” of the single person in the Church has now been revealed!
According to this Christian logic of love, the Church traditionally puts forth two stable “forms” of this gift: consecrated life (chastity) and marriage.
Three dimensions of our existence
In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II developed the thesis of the three dimensions of the Christian life: hence, each person is called in life to “sonship” (to be a child), “spousehood” (to be a spouse) and “parenthood” (to motherhood and fatherhood). In other words, each person is called to receive their life from God the Father (childhood), to live their life in total availability to the call of God (spousehood) and to share their life and faith with others (parenthood).
What does this mean for a single person who is neither living the gift of self in marriage nor living it out in consecrated life?
In their book, Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, Carl Anderson and Fr. Jose Granados address this question in an interesting way:
“What we have said in this chapter also illuminates the journey of singles who, through no fault of their own, haven’t found a place in one of these two states of life. Like every man and woman, singles participate in the common vocation to love and embody the triple pattern of child, spouse, and parent.
They are called to find concrete ways to offer their lives- in their work in society and in their service to those in need- as a fruitful gift to others in such a way as to lead them to God. John Paul II wrote: “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and a family for everyone.”” (p. 224-225)
Through their call to love, given to them since baptism, single persons are an integral part of the Church and have a special mission in the world: to offer their life for the advancement of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
The Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family offers formation, events and resources about the Theology of the Body. Please contact us for more information and upcoming events.
The new sensitivity of the Church toward the mission of single people in the world
A few decades ago, there was a real revolution in the Catholic Church in the way of thinking on the vocation and mission of lay Christians (non-religious or consecrated, who live a normal life in the world). That revolution put considerable emphasis on their place and role (vocation and mission) in the Church. What is more, since the Church’s very beginning, lay people have always made up more than 90% (maybe more) of the baptized members of the Church; however, for reasons that would be too long to explain here, the Church had until then always presented religious and consecrated vocations as qualitatively superior to the simple vocation of the lay person. (This was the case even though, in the History of the Church, several mothers did not miss the opportunity to remind their son who had become Pope that he was first and foremost the fruit of a marriage between two … lay people!)
Since the Second Vatican Council (1961-1965), the vocation and the mission of lay Christians have been given more attention in several official documents of the Church: Lumen Gentium (“Light to the Nations”, in chapter IV) a fruit of the Council, as well as in Christefideles laici (the lay faithful), published by Pope John Paul II in 1988. We could also quote other important consecrated texts by recent popes and the Church on the theology of the new evangelization, that place an emphasis on the missionary role of each baptized lay person in the Church.
Single people in the “heart of the world”
The basic thrust of this new sensitivity is that ALL Catholics, no matter their state or vocation in the Church, have the same original dignity, received at baptism. In other words, priests, consecrated persons, men and women religious are not considered superior to lay people (although only priests who become bishops, and cardinals – and when one of them becomes pope – possess the ultimate decisional power). Also, ALL Catholics are equally responsible, through baptism, for the Church and its mission of evangelization.
This change in mentality, the Church’s new way of looking upon lay Christians, is more than just extraordinary Good News, it invites – especially single persons – to become aware of their responsibilities, of their roles and their particular mission since they live in the heart of the world (and not in convents, monasteries and churches).
Yes, the heart of the world is the place where people – each one loved by God with an infinite love – live and work, have fun, eat, are educated, receive healthcare, receive services, etc. There are various places where the ordinary heart of the world beats, where single lay persons (among others) can have the experience of a missionary encounter with the people loved by God (even though they might not be aware of it). A priest or a consecrated person, who must carry out their mission within a very different framework, could not gain easy access to these places.
Lay people must go to the “peripheries”
Since his election, Pope Francis has invited the Church – and its members – to go to the periphery to spread its missionary action; this analogy means that Christians need to leave their comforts to go forth to meet people in settings which are out of the regular circles of influence of the Church. Francis even added that the Church should not hesitate to get its hands dirty, to leave the comfort of certainty and what is habitual, and to go join the people in settings on the periphery.
Lay people, by virtue of their greater availability and freedom, and their varied talents and gifts, are the best people to reach those peripheries, whether they be physical (places where the Church is not present) or existential (in the hearts of people and relationships where the light of Christ is not present). Single people who feel this call are invited to go there to spread the love of God, by offering their life and their person, for the glory of Christ.
Single persons and the universal call to holiness
In the wake of this dramatic change in thinking, Pope Paul VI proclaimed “the universal call to holiness”, a theme which was often taken up by Pope John Paul II during his 26 years of pontificate. What is the meaning of this call? Let us read Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council:
“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; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”
This text caused a revolution because the Church affirms that the call to sainthood – the perfection of love and gift of self lived by a Christian in following Christ – is no longer reserved for consecrated persons only, priests and religious men and women. On the contrary, all the baptized must respond to this call, seek to live it fully and integrate it into their Christian life (“the fullness of Christian life”), by putting the whole person, their talents and gifts, to the service of Love, (“perfection of charity”), in the image of the greatest and most beautiful models of humanity which were the saints of the Church.
It is clear that this call is for single and married persons (not the consecrated). For the first group, it is Good News to learn that their life can be both beautiful and heroic (heroism is a fruit of perfection).
Single people are not a separate caste: We are one Church family
Gone are the days when, in Church, each vocational group did their own thing, separate from the others, as though they were in separate lots: married people, families and children on one side, priests and consecrated people on the other, and the single people among themselves, not really knowing what their place was. The Church now appreciates more than ever the complementarity and interdependence of these different vocations and is aware of how much Christians need each other in order to be faithful to their own vocations.
The breaking down of these barriers has made meeting and sharing easier, helping to create a great brotherhood among Christians, as well as a better mutual understanding of the challenges involved in each vocational group in the Church. This brotherhood – a form of love – between Christians is moreover a sign for the world of the presence of God living in his Church.
Let us take a moment to read what Pope Francis says on the specific gifts of single persons in families, the church and society.
“Many people who are unmarried are not only devoted to their own family but often render great service in their group of friends, in the Church community and in their professional lives. Sometimes their presence and contributions are overlooked, causing in them a sense of isolation. Many put their talents at the service of the Christian community through charity and volunteer work. Others remain unmarried because they consecrate their lives to the love of Christ and neighbour. Their dedication greatly enriches the family, the Church and society.” (n.158)
Learning from each other
Single persons must learn from people living in a family in order to avoid the traps inherent in their state. In fact, the single life can easily become a life of solitude that is comfortable and egocentric because of the great freedom that characterizes it: single people are autonomous and independent, they can move from one residence or job to another at any time, spend money as they see fit and spend time with others and leave when they feel like it, etc. Those singles who tend to be egocentric need the witness of married persons who will teach them the value of the gift of self and the great happiness that it provides.
In the same way, persons called to live chastity (single for the most part, except for rare exceptions) can be inspired by beautiful Christian marriages, where they will see a clear sign of the generous and unshakeable faithfulness of God to his covenant. The constant witness of the mutual gift of the spouses will lead them to a greater availability and generosity toward others. Also, the witness of unshakeable faithfulness of many married couples who experience every kind of difficulty and who refuse to give in to the siren song inviting them to not be faithful or to divorce will inspire many single persons (called to chastity or not) who are facing their own temptations.
We will conclude with the words of Pope Francis on this subject:
"A wife can care for her sick husband and thus, in drawing near to the Cross, renew her commitment to love unto death. In such love, the dignity of the true lover shines forth, inasmuch as it is more proper to charity to love than to be loved. We could also point to the presence in many families of a capacity for selfless and loving service when children prove troublesome and even ungrateful. This makes those parents a sign of the free and selfless love of Jesus. Cases like these encourage celibate persons to live their commitment to the Kingdom with greater generosity and openness. Today, secularization has obscured the value of a life-long union and the beauty of the vocation to marriage. For this reason, it is “necessary to deepen an understanding of the positive aspects of conjugal love.” (n. 162)
Single persons are called to create bonds of friendship and brotherhood not only with those who are like them, but also with families: it will be for them a chance to rediscover the deeper meaning of their vocation.
The witness of Christian life offered by single parents is often heroic. It is a delicate balance of caring for the needs of one’s children, one’s own family, ensuring good performance at work and commitment to the Church and, when possible, community. To add to the complexity of the burden, there can be the added challenge of a difficult relationship with one’s former spouse or partner, especially when it comes to overseeing the education of the children. It is certainly a very rewarding but so very exhausting undertaking, both psychologically and physically.
The Catholic Church of Montreal is well aware of the challenges inherent in single parenting and would like to support the mission of single parents.
If you are looking for resources within the diocese for you and your family, please do not hesitate to contact the Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family. We can try to help connect you with resources within the faith community, such as support groups or summer camps, geared to single parents.
To close this section, we would like to offer you some inspiring words of wisdom concerning single-parent families and their important place in the Church; words taken from recent writings of Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.
Pope Saint John Paul II in Familiaris consortio
Loneliness and other difficulties are often the lot of separated spouses, especially when they are the innocent parties. The ecclesial community must support such people more than ever. It must give them much respect, solidarity, understanding and practical help, so that they can preserve their fidelity even in their difficult situation; and it must help them to cultivate the need to forgive which is inherent in Christian love, and to be ready perhaps to return to their former married life.
The situation is similar for people who have undergone divorce, but, being well aware that the valid marriage bond is indissoluble, refrain from becoming involved in a new union and devote themselves solely to carrying out their family duties and the responsibilities of Christian life. In such cases their example of fidelity and Christian consistency takes on particular value as a witness before the world and the Church. Here it is even more necessary for the Church to offer continual love and assistance, without there being any obstacle to admission to the sacraments. (n. 83) (…)
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 solicitude 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." (n. 85)
Pope Francis in the Joy of Love
“Single parents must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community.” Single-parent families often result from “the unwillingness of biological mothers or fathers to be part of a family; situations of violence, where one parent is forced to flee with the children; the death of one of the parents; the abandonment of the family by one parent, and other situations. Whatever the cause, single parents must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community, and from the parish’s pastoral outreach. Often these families endure other hardships, such as economic difficulties, uncertain employment prospects, problems with child support and lack of housing”. (n. 252)
The death of a beloved spouse at any time of life is a profound loss. It is an event which marks a break in one’s life, and thereafter, one will always think in terms of a before and an after. Immediately afterwards, the memory of their partner is very vivid in their mind and heart, which causes great pain in the soul that can lead to despair and disgust for life, at least for a time. Learning to live life alone is a great challenge which may seem insurmountable.
This existential challenge is always very difficult to live through. For these reasons, even in the very first Christian communities, special care was always taken to accompany and care for widows; it was a duty of the community. In the New Testament, St. Paul’s letters show great empathy for the difficulties of a man or woman who has lost their loved one. Moreover the great apostle of the nations invited widows to remain close to others in the community, and to consecrate themselves to the service of the Church and to works of service to the poor and needy.
That being said, some widowed persons, once they have properly grieved, may choose to remarry in Church, if the widow or widower discerns that this new marriage is the call of God for their life.
We will end this section with a reflection from Pope Francis who addresses grieving and its many human and spiritual challenges.
When death makes us feel its sting (from the Joy of Love, paragraphs 253,256)
At times family life is challenged by the death of a loved one. We cannot fail to offer the light of faith as a support to families going through this experience. To turn our backs on a grieving family would show a lack of mercy, mean the loss of a pastoral opportunity, and close the door to other efforts at evangelization. I can understand the anguish felt by those who have lost a much-loved person, a spouse with whom they have shared so much. Jesus himself was deeply moved and began to weep at the death of a friend (cf. Jn 11:33, 35)…
“It is as if time stops altogether: a chasm opens to engulf both past and future”, and “at times we even go so far as to lay the blame on God. How many people – I can understand them – get angry with God”. “Losing one’s spouse is particularly difficult… From the moment of enduring a loss, some display an ability to concentrate their energies in a greater dedication to their children and grandchildren, finding in this experience of love a renewed sense of mission in raising their children…. Those who do not have relatives to spend time with and to receive affection from, should be aided by the Christian community with particular attention and availability, especially if they are poor”.
Ordinarily, the grieving process takes a fair amount of time, and when a pastor must accompany that process, he has to adapt to the demands of each of its stages. The entire process is filled with questions: about the reasons why the loved one had to die, about all the things that might have been done, about what a person experiences at the moment of death. With a sincere and patient process of prayer and interior liberation, peace returns. At particular times, we have to help the grieving person to realize that, after the loss of a loved one, we still have a mission to carry out, and that it does us no good to prolong the suffering, as if it were a form of tribute. Our loved ones have no need of our suffering, nor does it flatter them that we should ruin our lives. Nor is it the best expression of love to dwell on them and keep bringing up their name, because this is to be dependent on the past instead of continuing to love them now that they are elsewhere. They can no longer be physically present to us, yet for all death’s power, “love is strong as death” (Song 8:6).
Love involves an intuition that can enable us to hear without sounds and to see the unseen. This does not mean imagining our loved ones as they were, but being able to accept them changed as they now are. The risen Jesus, when his friend Mary tried to embrace him, told her not to hold on to him (cf. Jn 20:17), in order to lead her to a different kind of encounter. It consoles us to know that those who die do not completely pass away, and faith assures us that the risen Lord will never abandon us. Therefore, we can keep death from “poisoning our life or feeling that ties of affection were in vain, or leading us to fall into the darkest abyss”.
With the greater freedom that comes from being single, discerning what path to take in life can sometimes seem difficult to understand: Do I say yes to this job offer that will bring about a big change in my life? To I take on this commitment in service to the Church and to my community? Do I begin to date this person that seems interested in me? Should I accept this proposal of marriage?
How do we make a good decision that will be the best one in a precise moment in our lives? What criteria should enlighten our discernment? Are there people who have the capacity to give good advice? Can God help us in such circumstances?
As we can see, making good use of our freedom is not always as simple as it seems.
Happily, Christians know through faith that they can always count on God’s help: they need only pray and wait in trust for the signs sent by God.
In a recent address to young people in preparation for the 2018 Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis writes beautifully about the need we have to open up all of our questions and fears to God. He offers important guidelines for discovering the mysterious call of God in each of our lives and embracing it with joy and even peace, he adds, “through circumstances and vicissitudes which often bewilder us.” He added that God does not forget anyone, including single persons who turn to him with trust.
We invite you to spend some time with these words of Pope Francis and let your single life be lived in a joyful communion with God, the Church and those people God has placed on your path.
Ways to Live Your Faith - Guidelines for a Single Person
1. Make time for prayer:
Reflect on the blessings and challenges of being single and the gifts you have to offer.
Make prayer a part of your daily life.
Use personal prayer, the Scriptures, journaling, meditation, and the Liturgy of the Hours.
Schedule a personal or group retreat.
Plan a pilgrimage to a holy site. Visit area shrines and other historical religious sites.
2. Practice forgiveness:
Learn to forgive and be forgiven.
Examine your conscience and practice fasting and sacrifice.
Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
3. Celebrate the Eucharist:
Actively participate in the Mass each Sunday; daily if possible.
Become involved in your parish, and if you haven’t already done so, look for ways to get more involved in the liturgy as a lector, Eucharistic minister, usher, musician, or choir member.
4. Live a just life:
Work against abortion and attacks on life, the redefinition of marriage, discrimination, racism, and oppression.
Treat all people with the dignity they deserve as sons and daughters of God.
Participate in works of charity, justice, and peace.
Look for ways to simplify your life and share what you have with others.
5. Help people in need:
Look at the needs in your community and service opportunities or other ways your gifts can be used in service to others.
Gather others for group service projects. Practice charity by assisting those living in poverty and promote community-based solutions to fight injustice and poverty.
6. Establish a community culture in your church:
Establish traditions around holidays, special feast days, and other celebrations or memorials.
Offer your home as a place for friendship and hospitality.
7. Share your faith:
Talk about God's presence in your life with other people. Be an evangelizer.
Consider getting involved with your parish RCIA program for those who wish to learn more about the Catholic faith.
Look for opportunities to invite others to experience your faith community.
8. Join a small Christian community:
Join a small prayer or faith-sharing group to receive support in living your faith.
If one does not exist, form one of your own. Gather regularly for prayer, faith sharing, and community.
9. Deepen your faith:
Look for opportunities for adult faith development and education.
Visit a good bookstore or the internet for resources on faith and the Church.
Read the Scriptures (Bible).
Begin a study of saints who lived a single life and lived a life of service.
(Adapted from "Nine Ways to Live Jubilee and Be a Holy Person" in A Parishioner's Guide — Preparing for the Jubilee Year 2000. Content originally provided by USCCB.)