Tag Archives: single life

More on Vocation, Discernment, and “Pastoral Response”

If you are wondering why I’ve been posting so much on vocation, it is because I have been, in the past few weeks, steeped in researching and writing a talk I will be giving at The Northwest Catholic Family Education Conference in less than two weeks.  The topic has, it seems, fostered a LOT of conversation among people.  I wish people would comment on the blog and not just my facebook page as I know the others who read these posts would appreciate their comments, since it creates for interesting discussion.

I want to begin by talking about the concept of pastoral response.  In my last post, I put forward that the concept of praying for vocations to the single life were probably due to the Church’s desire to offer some sort of pastoral comfort for those who have found themselves without a particular vocation.  I bring this up because I want to offer one suggestion of what would create an appropriate pastoral response on the part of the Church.

First off, a pastoral response should always be rooted in good theology, and theology should be based in good practice.  In other words, practice and truth always go hand in hand.  So, the Church’s response must always be rooted in her constant teaching.  I bring this up because I believe the Church has received a gift that is not used often enough: that gift is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.  I have been reading a few books lately that have all lead me to discovering in a deeper way his concepts of discernment.  What I find so refreshing in his thought is the constant clarity that he offers in the realm of discernment.  So often, when it comes to the spiritual life in general, and in particular discerning a vocation, so many factors get in the way of seeing clearly what it is God has for our life.  Discernment is not meant to be a complicated process.

Yet, we live in a world where complication seems to be the norm of life.  Emotions, circumstances, relations, finances, etc, all get in the way of our seeing clearly what it is God wants for us.  I say all this not as a pre-cursor to elucidating St Ignatius’ method of discernment: I have not read enough on the exercises to adequately comment on them yet.  Rather, what I have discovered in him is clarity, and I think the Church would do well to listen to the gift St Ignatius offers so as to better guide people in the realm of discernment.  I look around and see many people who are confused vocationally: they are legitimately frozen when it comes to making a vocational choice.  Yet the big reason many are “vocationally frozen” is because they have not received adequate education and direction in the realm of discernment.  If only every priest were given adequate training in the exercises, they would be able to help and guide those who come to them in confession and for spiritual guidance.  That is just one point: discernment would be a lot easier if people were given the adequate tools, provided by St Ignatius, to discern things in their lives.

Now, to comments people posted on Facebook.

One person commented asked about the person for whom both religious life and marriage turn out to be a practical impossibility.  This is true, it happens.  There is a difference between one being called either naturally or supernaturally – what we call the objective call because it is outside of the person called – and the ability to respond and discern – the subjective element of the call.  We must admit to the fact that what we live in is a fallen world.  It means that a variety of circumstances arise which are not in our control which thus affect our ability to respond to a call.  Perhaps there is sickness in our life, or perhaps the person we are called to marry doesn’t necessarily present themselves, or perhaps the bishop or religious order we appeal to for entrance into priesthood or religious life is not open to hearing God’s call and affirming it in us.  There are a variety of things which could thus get in the way.  I don’t want to make it seem that people are worse off if they are single and without fulfilling a vocation.  It does indeed happen.  What I am simply trying to say is that objectively, each person has a call to either priesthood/religious life or to marriage.  Subjectively, it may not be possible to sufficiently respond through no fault of the person called.  There are many nuances here that, unfortunately, a blog post can’t cover.

Someone made a comment that some people live as single persons by choice, out of a sense of vocation: teachers, activists, etc.  They went on to say that vowdness seems to imply only being part of a religious order.  I made a minor comment in that post which may have gone unknown to many readers, and that was the concept of the private vow.  Just because someone does not make formal vows does not mean they are not living vows in their lives.  In the end, every Christian is called to the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Some are called to live it more literally than others.  So many people who, to us, would be singles, would, in a way, be living a religious vocation.  Perhaps they’ve made a vow in their heart to God, through prayer, through a spiritual director.  In some cases, this vowdness may not even manifest itself in an entirely clear way even to them, but it will take form in their lives.

in Christ




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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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