Tag Archives: ignatius of loyola

Vocation to the Single Life?

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.

in Christ



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On Discernment According to St Ignatius

My friend, Fr. Brian Graebe, hugging his father just after his ordination.

One of the books I have on the go right now is the basis of the name for this blog, The Christian State of Life by Hans Urs Von Balthasar.  I have almost finished the book and currently on the section on the discernment of a call in one’s life.  The section of this book (the section which ends the book, in fact) is based on St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.  The entire book is, in fact, a meditation on the exercises, but this section emphasizes its dependence upon the exercises even more so.

As I was sitting with the book this morning, I came across a concept that I had never heard before and, to be frank, was like an intellectual light which broke open darkness and doubt that had been reigning in my discernment for years.

Balthasar, reflecting on some very strong words by St Ignatius, speaks about the inequality of vocations.  He says that the discernment of vocations is not an either-or (referring to either marriage or the priesthood/religious life).  He says, rather, discernment is about hearing a specific call, an election from God, which calls you to a special service in greater union with the Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words, discernment is more about whether or not there is a divine election in your heart, a way of discovery the specific call of God.

Balthasar goes on to give a humbling example.  He says that those called to married don’t hear a divine call, a special election from God.  He wondered if it is fair to say that God would give the same priority in the call to marriage life as He would to priesthood and religious life.  He also goes through many scriptural quotations to demonstrate his point.

What is meant out of all this?  Balthasar, first and foremost, is not arguing that priesthood and religious life makes you a qualitatively better person, that such a call is only for the really special people.  God does not play favourites.  Rather, the office or way of life one may be called to is of such importance that it requires a special call from God to move the heart because this call brings the one called to lose themselves in the call, to put their selves to the side for the sake of the call.

The argument in favour of this is not necessarily that those who become married are not called by God, they are called, but according to the natural means He has established in the created order.  Those called to a life of intimate union with Christ require that special call precisely because it is supernatural, it is out of the norm established in creation.  Those called are not better, nor are they higher in God’s plan.  It is simply that God needs priests and religious to aid the life of the Church, and thus it requires a special call so as to serve the rest of the Church to achieve holiness.  The ultimate measure of greatness is holiness, and that is achieved regardless of a natural or supernatural vocation.

I find this helpful in the realm of discernment because it is no longer between a bunch of possible vocations.  Discernment is about seeing if God is working a special call in our hearts.  If he is, then we have to follow that for God will bring us a great fulfillment if we do.  If he is not, then we are called to marriage, which is good and holy and part of God’s plan for holiness in our lives.

Discernment is not meant to be an overly complicated process.  I have noticed in my life that with all vocations being equal, it makes it to be a tormenting process to “figure out what God is calling you to.”  If there is a nudge in the heart that God is calling you to something special, that is probably God calling you to imitate His Son in a more intimate way.  If there is nothing, if things seem as “normal”, then there is a good chance God is allowing you to follow the natural call to marriage.

St Ignatius is a great help in the realm of discernment because he gives clarity to the soul when it is potentially in the greatest confusion.  He uses as the basis for his exercises the Gospels, which are a sure guide in aiding the soul in its path towards God.  St Ignatius is a great gift to the Church in the realm of discernment because of the clarity he gives.  Discernment is not meant to be a groping in a dark, but a walking in the light.  If we are groping, we are probably not listening accordingly.  With this way of approaching discernment, we can have a greater peace in our heart as well since it is about looking in our heart, through prayer, to see if God has a special call for us.  If we believe He is calling us in a special way, we must seek out a spiritual director to aid us in deepening our sense of the call.

in Christ



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