I just got back from the dentist with the left side of my face totally frozen. So I figured I would use the opportunity to do a quick post. Yesterday, I spoke about St Ignatius’ concept of discernment between religious life/priesthood and marriage. You can check it out here.
A friend of mine read the post and asstutely pointed out how I seemed to leave out the vocation to the single life. He said (and I am paraphrasing) that “we pray for vocations to the single life all the time. So why aren’t you mentioning single life?” I responded by stating that I don’t believe there is a vocation to the single life. He responded by noting that we pray for them and that we are advised that it may very well be advised by Church leadership as a possible vocation.
Again, my reasons are based first and foremost on my reading of Balthasar’s Christian State of Life. But it is not the sole basis, I simply came to the conclusion after reading what Balthasar, after analyzing the nature of commited love and the tradition of the Church, has to say on the matter. But my stance also comes from talking to single people themselves. I have met many single people who admit that they have a sense of where they are to go in life vocationally (either through the natural call to marriage or the supernatural call to a life dedicated to Christ and His Church), yet for one reason or another are unable to fulfill their vocational call. They experience a sense of a lack of fulfillment, of complete dedication.
Furthermore, if we look to Familiaris Consortio, par. 22, we find the following quote:
Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being “created in the image of God.”
As we can see, the late Bl. John Paul II states that it is a matter of revelation as to where we get our concept of the states of life. Why is it, then, that the Church does not recognize the single state as a vocation from God? Furthermore, why is it, at least in North America, we pray constantly for those vocations in and for the single state? Let me address the latter question first.
I am simply speculating, but I think that the reason we pray for vocations to/in the single life is because of the reality that, in fact, there are many people who are single in life! It is a response to a pastoral situation that, I believe, is due to a lack of theological understanding. Theology and pastoral response are not two separate things as if to say “well, that is a nice theological idea, but pastorally…”. No, pastoral response flows from theological truths because thelogical truths have a deep impact and meaning on our lives as Christians. There is no basis in tradition for a vocation to single life. Rather, we must admit the fact that some people end up single, many through no fault of their own. While it is unfortunate they are unable to fulfill the natural or supernatural vocation God is calling them to, it does not mean they are unable to achieve Heaven, nor does it mean that God is no longer interested in giving them some specific mission for their lives. It is the unfortunate case in a sinful world that sometimes vocations go unfulfilled. But God is faithful always and He will guide and help those who have wound up as single persons. I do believe the Church in North America needs to cease its promotion of a vocation to the single life, but I do think she needs to increase her response to aiding and supporting those in the single life.
On a sidenote, I do believe that another reason that there is a large contingent of single persons in North America is the result of the crisis of commitment. They are unable to make a choice that will fundamentally change and influence the rest of their lives. It is a cultural phenomenon that goes deeper than an ecclesial problem, and thus one the Church’s members have been sucked into. I believe that yesterdays post, however, can give a clearer means in the realm of discernment when we distinguish between the natural and supernatural call (which, in the end, is all a call from God, though the natural is from God through His creative means, while the latter is more direct).
On the reason why the single life is not a vocation, I can simply say this (for the sake of brevity): to love is be commited, to be avowed to someone. A vow is a binding to someone, a giving of yourself completely to an other. It is, in a way, the greatest act of love. Marriage involves a vow to another, as does priesthood and religious life. Single life is not a life lived for others. That is my simple reason for now (there is much more that can be said).
However, it does mean that there are vows those who are single can take. They can take personal vows without attachment to a religious community, for example. It was a common practice that has fallen out of ecclesial life as of late. I think the concept of personal vows, however, would be very beneficial to the life of the Church if they experienced a resurgence.
In the end, we must remember that love involves the total gift of self to an other. If we don’t have an other to give ourselves to completely (which means an exclusion of others), then our life is not yet fulfilled, and we experience that through and through. Life demands commitment and community, and a life of one is a life that, to an extent, denies both realities.
So, instead of prayer for people in the vocation to single life, we ought to pray that they receive the vocation they are called to, whether to religious life/priesthood or to marriage. That is the best support we can give them, and it is the best advice spiritual directors can give.