Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Single Life

An odd  vocation, and one surely misunderstood.

When we think of vocation we either think career, or priesthood. Those of us well trained will think Priesthood, Religious life and Marriage. A really clever bean might mention the Permanent Diaconate. But we must remember too the single life.

Now the single life as a vocation isn't simply the default state - the one you have until you do another. Now, we need to not be too complicated when thinking of vocation. It is helpful to simply envision that we have a calling from God as to how we are to concretely grow in holiness and mission through a permanent state of life - and each person is called for who they are.  Hence, since God sees not as men see but sees the heart (see the calling of David in 1 Sam), we can say that God calls us to a particular vocation. Of course, some people are called to multiple (e.g religious and priesthood, or married (widowed) and then enter into the religious life). But let us always remember that whatever state of life we happen to be in at the moment, we are called to holiness and to mission right now and thus there is a vocation of the present, and we should guard against being trapped in the pat or future discernment and failing to meet God now.

When I was writing this, I mentioned the single life to a young Catholic who was shocked as I understood it. The Church disagrees with you that it is a vocation he said. This caught me unexpectedly, and so stopped writing and posted a poll on this blog. 3 said it is a vocation, 2 said it is not! A small sample, but nevertheless shows my dear readership is divided (and bigger than I imagined!). It took me back for I have heard priests preach on this as a vocation many times. In Fr Stephen Wang's 'How to discover your vocation' booklet available from CTS he says "the word 'vocation' is rightly used also of marriage, permanent diaconate, consecrated life and some forms of single life [as well as in reference to religious life or priesthood], because we make a life-long commitment to living our Christian faith in a particular context'' {emphasis mine}. Fr Stephan Wang is a teacher at Allen Hall Seminary and has always appeared to be orthodox and well-formed in my experiences with him (I remember he was the first priest I heard explain the teaching that all salvation comes through the Catholic Church without any hint of watering it down) - my appeal to an authority (arguementum ab auctoritate). But another diocese talks about apostolic celibacy in reference to a deliberate single life in response to the difficulties in sufficiently identifying it. Its apostolic in the sense that it is purposeful and intended as the means to live out the universal callings mentioned above and grow in relationship to Jesus and to go out to others. But officially, the picture is blurry. Partly as there isn't an agreed upon expression. partly as the single life is expressed differently by those individuals living it - part of the reason they may be called to it is to live out a unique calling. Partly, I suspect, as the matter of celibacy is dealt with in other places extensively, and even where a document might intend to refer to a non-religious, non-priestly celibacy we tend to assume it means consecrated persons of some sort.

*Jargon buster! When i use the word 'religious' in this context, I don't mean simply a believer, I mean one attached to a religious community as a monk or brother, or nun or sister. *

Anyway, internet Catholic arguments ensue on this question. So let us rather propose what the single life is, and then perhaps at least see how it could be seen as a vocation by some. This is my limited understanding only.

The single life is a choice that one makes to continue to live single for the foreseeable future in order to better live out his calling as a missionary disciple. This single life means that he is free to work unsocial hours without disrupting a family, and is free to go where they feel called by the Holy Spirit without burdening others by their spirituality. The Second Vatican Council taught that the religious life was an eschatological sign, which means it points to the way of life in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I think this was in particular reference to the vow of celibacy undertaken. For we know there is no marriage in Heaven (Mt 22:30) so a celibate person points beyond this world into heaven. A common example I have heard would be a catholic headteacher, who is able to completely dedicate herself to her work and in doing so give glory to God, and help the children and adults she serves to find relationship with Jesus. They can life a humble life of prayer and service, but perhaps they are not suited to a community for whatever reason. Or maybe they don't like the the idea of relying on donations to sustain themselves and see that as a burden. Or perhaps they are highly skilled in a particular field, and it wouldn't be fitting to leave it. Perhaps, they are not called to another vocation. A mentally ill person is unlikely to be accepted into a religious order or the priesthood, and could even be unable to enter into a valid, binding marriage if they lack complete understanding of marriage entailments - so maybe they would live out the single life. Or a person with strong same-sex attraction, perhaps they will live out their calling as a beloved child of the King through committed abstinence and chastity while living in the world. The great advantage of the single life over the religious is that they are able to remain that much more in the world, but not of the world.

I guess the divorced person is living a quasi-single life. They are still married so I guess have obligations to live this out as best they can - might be simply praying for their spouse. If they have children they would obviously have to care for them, and other dependants in the family. But they would be unable to enter into any other state of life until either the spouse dies or an annulment is granted; so this person is in another slightly unique position.

I feel I could say a lot more, but this will do you! Some people say that the advantages of the single life aren't any different to those found in other vocations, and a married person is able to dedicate themselves to service and charity too. But for me, there remains a greater degree of freedom to be able to surrender more radically in the single life than found in marriage, and in a different manner to religious or priestly life.

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