Being Single in the Church

Pastoral Approaches to a Growing Demographic

O'Brien art 4-23-16

In the 2015 film, Brooklyn, there are a number of scenes in which young Eilis Lacey, a recent immigrant from Ireland, goes to several dances organized by her local church. There, she and her friends are courted by young gentlemen, one of whom asks her on a date, and later becomes her husband. What is remarkable to contemporary eyes is that the setting of this cinema romance was the parish hall, the original online dating service, the local meeting place for Catholic singles of “marriageable age.” For various reasons, no doubt complex, the parish no longer exercises this social function in North America, nor has it seen itself pastorally in the marriage-facilitating business. Available for marriage preparation and witnessing the exchange of solemn sacramental vows, yes; but helping singles meet and court has long been outsourced to other social forums.

While there has been a flourishing of youth ministry, attention to young adults, especially singles between the ages of 20 and 40, has likewise played a distant second in Catholic pastoral praxis. It might be nostalgic to consider a return to the idea of the neighborhood parish or the old Catholic Youth Organization dances, but as marriage rates between healthy young adults drop precipitously,1 perhaps the Church should reconsider her role with regard to that function. This raises a number of important pastoral questions: Why are young people delaying or even giving up on marriage altogether? In what consists a vocation, and is the single life a possible “vocation” in the Catholic sense? What are the particular needs of single people in the Church? The object of this article is to examine these questions, drawing from the teaching of the Church, and engaging some theological and pastoral interlocutors on the issue, and concluding with some modest proposals.

We will pass over a thorough diagnosis of why young people are skeptical about marriage today, which is beyond our scope. Suffice it to mention several factors that loom large in any pastoral consideration: first, increasing secularization means the natural and religious “goods” of marriage are being replaced by the philosophies of fulfillment and personal well-being—goals that may appear to be achieved outside the institution of marriage. Second, a cynicism regarding the possibility of faithful and permanent love, the fallout of the sexual revolution and several generations of divorce. Third, life spans and advances in health care have increased significantly, leading some to consider lifelong marriage as an impossible scenario, leading to “starter marriages”2 and temporary marriage agreements. Despite these conditions, many singles still desire to be married,3 and, we may assume, Catholic young adults even more so. Many priests and educators note the increasing appearance of unmarried, single people in their parishes and chaplaincies, young professionals who want to be married, but who, in their late 30s and 40s, have still not found a spouse. Clearly, this has become an inter-generational issue for both Millennials and Gen-Xers. What then, are the needs of this constituency of Catholics?

The primary cause of the restlessness of this demographic, I believe, is the lack of “settledness” in an ecclesial state of life, a vocation, be it marriage, priesthood, or consecration. The Church supports, prays for, and promotes these vocations, but frequently includes “the single life” in the roster of possible vocations. But for most singles, this designation does not have the same quality as the others, with their clearly delineated character, definition, social, and ecclesial roles. There are differing theologies of vocation that compete on this question. Many dioceses, for instance, appear to promote the “vocation to single life,”4 some going as far to hold it forth as a special vocation of prayer and service in the Church, as, for example, the Archdiocese of Melbourne, which writes:

All of these people can have rich, fruitful and fulfilling lives, witnessing to their faith and serving others as followers of Jesus. Many of them would tell you that they are free to do this because they are single, even when it was not their first choice to live alone. A married person must always consider their spouse and children. A priest must consider his parishioners. A consecrated sister or brother must consider their community. But a single person can give all their allegiance to God and his will for their life (emphasis added).5

Here the single life is being given a status normally accorded religious who are “free” to work “for the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12). Even the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops promotes a Lifeteen resource called “Now Hiring: God’s Unique Call to Each of Us,” which, after mentioning the requisite callings to marriage and holy orders, dedicates twice as much space to describing the “committed single life.”6 It becomes immediately clear that it is not referring to the consecrated single life, nor to a transitional state of singlehood, but treating “singleness” as a bona fide vocation: “God may call people to the committed single life. The single life is not a vocation for those who never found the right person to marry, and didn’t want to enter the religious life. It’s a very real calling to remain single for the sake of the kingdom.”7 Like the Archdiocese of Melbourne, the USCCB/Lifeteen text highlights the unique ability of single people to dedicate their time, finances, and energy in ways that married laity cannot: “A parent is called to provide for their children first.  A committed single person is called to provide for the needs of those who have no one to provide for them. This is a very noble calling and one that satisfies them for their entire life.”8 While this sounds like a genuinely Christian theology of vocation and, indeed, it may describe the lives of many admirable single men and women we know in life, there is something that doesn’t quite ring true from ecclesial experience.

First of all, to support the claim of a vocation to “committed single life,” the document cites as an authority or resource, paragraphs 898-200 and 2442 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But the teachings found in these sections do not present the basis for any such vocation. They speak, rather, of the  “lay vocation” in general, as distinct from the life of consecration or holy orders, and the “special vocation” it has to “seek the kingdom of God” in “temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will” as well as “the right and duty” to spread the Gospel. Moreover, CCC 202, which immediately follows, says “In a very special way, parents share in the office of sanctifying ‘by leading a conjugal life in the Christian spirit, and by seeing to the Christian education of their children,’” which seems to provide contextual meaning for the previous paragraphs: a privileging of marriage as the particular state of the lay person in the world. The Catechism, reflecting years of theological reflection, is making a primary distinction between lay and ordained/consecrated roles in the Church. The other passage cited by USCCB/Lifeteen as a resource on the “single vocation,” CCC 2442, says: “It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens.” Again, it is difficult to say where the basis of a “committed single life” can be found in this text, which is again referring to the role of the laity in general.

That all vocations in the Church require commitment is not in question. Nor is the universal call to holiness, our baptismal vocation, which was so clearly laid out by The Second Vatican Council.9 But it raises, precisely, the question of what, in fact, is an ecclesial vocation. Does the Church give any teaching about a vocation to single life? Here, it is worth quoting the only statement in the entire Catechism on the single life, which serves to acknowledge their presence in the Church:

We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live—often not of their choosing—are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the “domestic churches,” and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. “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.’ (CCC 1658)

Needless to say, the passage is not establishing a “vocation” out of singleness. This paragraph also, not surprisingly, is in a section of the catechism dedicated to marriage. As Emily Stimpson, author of The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years, wryly writes, it “basically tells pastors and married couples to remember us, and take pity on us. It doesn’t equate the unconsecrated single state in life with a vocation akin to marriage. And that’s for good reason.”10 What are the reasons, then, that the “unconsecrated single life” in the Church should probably be seen as transitional or, if more or less permanent, due to factors beyond the individual’s control, then not as an ecclesial vocation as such, but rather as a state that participates in the general and universal call to holiness?

The question can be reduced to the word “vocation.” The Church has traditionally identified three vocations as “primary vocations” that delineate a form of life that leads to God. Literally meaning a “calling,” its scriptural basis can be found in the passages in the New Testament in which Jesus literally “calls” certain people to follow him in a particular way. This usually involves leaving behind the past and familiar environs, leaving of secular jobs, such as fishing (Mt 4:19) or tax collecting (Mt 9:9), of family—even the natural filial duties (Mt 8:22, Luke 9:59), and, as in the case of the rich young man, an actual selling of all that you own, giving the money to poor, and following Jesus (Mt 19:21, Mk 10:21, Lk 18:22). His words of calling are always brief, direct, and clear, expressed in the simple command, “Follow me,” which is how he addresses Peter (Jn 21:19), Philip (Jn 1:43), and Matthew (in all the synoptics). It separates these disciples from the crowd, and, in doing so, “consecrates” them to his service in a way that is markedly distinct from the way of life of most people. Marriage, also, is a calling—perhaps not in the same, direct way, but no less dignified by the actions of Christ. Exegetes note that the very plan of salvation includes a life in a family: Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding, and his teaching on divorce in Matthew 19 is notable for providing the basis of a theology of marriage: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?” (19:4) …“therefore what God has joined let no man put asunder” (19:6b).11

Priesthood/consecration and marriage as vocations, thus, have ample scriptural foundation. Single people know this intuitively, and long for the fulfillment that finding their vocation brings. As Stimpson writes, “In the case of each primary vocation, the gift of self is not a transitory or temporary thing. It’s not given one day and taken back the next. Rather, the central relationship of each is spousal. It’s exclusive, total and enduring.”12 She is representing here the teaching more fully articulated in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,13 which identified the fleshiness of sacrificial love, and its incarnation in forms of life that involve total self-gift to another. John Paul locates the Trinity as a communion of persons, as the origin and destination of this vocation to love. As Christopher West summarizes the purpose behind these callings: “Here is why we exist: Love, by its nature, desires to expand its own communion.”14 The Trinitarian God invites all people to participate in Divine Life through a process of filiation or divinization, brought about through entry into the mystery of love revealed by Christ. This process is Eucharistic, in the sense that all followers of Jesus lay down their lives, either in marriage, one spouse for the other, or in consecrated life, for the world through Jesus directly. Marriage unites the spouses to God in a way that is complementary to religious life, in a manner that is beautifully described by Joseph Ratzinger in the book-length interview with Peter Seewald:

Wherever two people give themselves to each other and, between them, give life to children, this touches the holiness, the mystery of human existence, which goes beyond the realm of what I can control and dispose of. I simply do not belong to myself alone. There is a divine mystery within each and every person. That is why the association of husband and wife is regarded within the religious realm, within the sphere of the sacred, of being answerable before God.15

Here we can clearly see that the sacrament of marriage shares in common the Eucharistic laying down of one’s life that the more “radical” vocation of consecration involves. In this sense, all Christian vocations are “radical,” for they require a fundamental de-centering of the self, and re-focusing on the love of the other in God. We can see from these theological statements, then, that while the single person can participate in a life of the Church through prayer, sacrifice, and service, there is something more defined in the ecclesial vocation.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his magisterial treatment of a theology of vocations, The Christian State of Life, writes about “love in the abstract,”16 a catalogue of the qualities of love as it is in itself. He goes on to show how the states in life are rooted in God’s original call for humanity to be in relationship with him through loving obedience, generous poverty, and fecund purity, which was the state of our first parents. Christ’s own “state of life,” and that of Mary, illustrate a relational “stand” before the Father’s will, which ultimately illustrates the fundamental obedience of all authentic vocation. Vocation, properly understood, is something that has its origin in God, and requires a response. Here, Balthasar builds upon the insights of his collaborator and colleague, the Swiss mystic Adrienne von Speyr, who, in her own book (of the same title), emphasizes the necessity of “choice”—the decision, like Mary’s fiat, to respond to the invitation of God to follow in a particular path of discipleship. According to von Speyr, this begins early in life: “Children who live in Christian surroundings usually adapt themselves imperceptibly, and without much ado, to the forms of Christian life. Not until later in life do they discover the inner content of these forms.”17 Through the first, halting prayers that a child learns, to the dawning awareness through religious instruction, the child becomes aware of how he or she shall please the Lord. The child will see quite simply that everything Jesus does, in word and deed, reflects an attitude of obedience, of filial devotion to the Father. “The Son’s whole life,” she writes, “can be summarized in one word: choice. He chose to serve the Father.”18

The fundamental necessity of making a choice has perhaps been obscured in modern life. In part, this is because of the exaggerated emphasis on choice—a radical autonomy before a dizzying array of possible life choices. Even in the area of religious vocations, there are vocation fairs, vocation catalogues, limitless internet searches, and—at least for the Western world—the possibility of travel and communication to almost any diocese, religious community, or potential spouse. What has become difficult is the hic et nunc quality through which the soul almost always appropriate a call: in past, marriage was a more simple dilemma, with one or two likely candidates in the village or neighborhood. Likewise, one stirred to follow consecrated life usually did so through the inspiration and auspices of whichever order taught or ministered locally. To an extent, this limited dynamic still remains, but the smorgasbord of possibility today remains as much a curse as a blessing. There are simply too many options to the young person today, and “the choice” can become a traumatic process. Both von Balthasar and von Speyr are sternly insistent, however, that a choice is the one irrevocable and unavoidable moment in the person’s life. They follow St. Ignatius of Loyola, in whose Spiritual Exercises, the spiritual trajectory is almost entirely ordered to a point where a call can be heard, and a personal “election” made. Conversion necessarily leads to a concrete “form” of living the Christian life. It is here, then, that pastors may gently find their meeting point with single people in the parish. Ignatian retreats are a time-honored method of bringing people to the point of making a “choice.”

There is an important distinction that here emerges. First, there are single people who are single because they have not yet had the opportunity to discern God’s call to a “state of life.” Typically, they are young adults, who for reasons that we can sympathetically ascribe to social and cultural factors such as delayed maturity, or an ecclesial landscape in which healthy models of consecrated life are conspicuously absent, are still waiting to make the discernment of a “call” or of finding the right spouse. Second, are those, typically older, who, again possibly through no fault of their own, are still single in middle age or later, and may have resigned themselves to remaining single for life. This may be due to physical or psychological reasons, pressing family care needs that arose in inauspicious times, or they may be subjects of the “missed vocation.” As stark as this sounds, it is better for Catholics to realize this reality, than to massage the “committed single life” into the role of a primary vocation. For each of these groups, the pastoral approach may need to be different. But for both, there is ample evidence to suggest that single Catholics do not want their state to be turned into a “vocation” per se. Some of the most searing commentary on this point comes from singles themselves. In a fascinating conversation that took place under a published online article by Msgr. Charles Pope, many expressed this clearly. One man said he was writing as a single person who dislikes being single:

But I reject the single vocation for another reason that is not specified. It is a cop-out. For many singles who think they have a calling to be single but no specific mission in life, it can easily be a cover for vocational drift—perhaps even failure by sloth to seek a true vocation, or a permanent state of missed vocation possibly due to bad choices as much as circumstances.19

Emily Stimpson also commented, saying:

I think for most singles who long to be married, it’s actually very freeing, and even healing, to be told that there is no such thing as a single vocation. Recognizing that is living in truth, and the truth is always freeing, even if it makes us uncomfortable at first. Plus, this particular truth helps makes sense of all the unfulfilled longings and desires to give ourselves away in love, whether to another person, Christ, or his Church.20

Thus, the weight of my argument falls upon the importance of: 1) pastors providing more opportunities for vocational discernment, such as spiritual guidance and retreats, leading to a concrete choice; and 2) for older singles, of compassionately helping them discover ways to live a life of holiness and service. For the latter, there is perhaps more work to be done in promoting the idea of third orders and secular institutes. For far too long, the choice has been limited between marriage and priesthood. But there are other ecclesial forms of being a layperson in the world, with a character that is both unapologetically “lay,” and yet receiving the “form” of poverty, chastity, and obedience appropriate to their state.21 Gently guiding singles who may have decided upon a perpetual singlehood to a way of life that has greater “ecclesial form” can be another pastoral approach.

The first reaction to the stated need to pastorally care for singles may be to form support groups or social groups with the parish. I argue, however, that this may not be the best course. For one thing, the Church does not have to “do” anything for people, who compose, in the final analysis, the body of Christ themselves. Young adults may need guidance and the availability of solid teaching and retreats, but otherwise, groups such as these risk becoming “lonely hearts clubs,” as singles intuit all too well. In the film, Brooklyn, while the dances offered in the parish hall are sympathetically portrayed, there is also a mildly humorous ring that they may be a little lackluster, as if a provisional set-up for immigrants adjusting to life in the new world. The Church herself believes that her pastoral action is not primarily about helping people reach their natural human ends.22 But it is evident that in the growing crisis of commitment to primary vocations, especially marriage, there may yet be an important pastoral role in nudging young adults towards their natural ends. The balance of argument in this article has been that this may best be served by providing a more precise vocational theology. As always, the pathways to peace and joy in Christ still stand: singles must rediscover, as does every generation, the riches of the Church’s treasury of prayer, spirituality, service, and sacrament. Through these means, the individual—not as a class or “group”—will find his or her identity and mission in the Church.


Annotated Bibliography

Cummings, Dorothy. Seraphic Singles. Toronto: Novalis, 2010. Although she is now married,  Cummings wrote this book as a single woman striving to live the unmarried life well. Humorous, and mostly aimed at Catholic women, it quotes St. Augustine, Camille Paglia, and everyone in between. Loaded with practical wisdom, it’s an alternative to the Cosmopolitan stream of singles’ “wisdom,” a lighter, yet substantive guidebook for Christian singles.

Delbrel, Madeleine. We, the Ordinary People of the Streets. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000. A series of reflections from poet, author, and Catholic laywoman Delbrel (1904-1964), who passionately writes about her experiences living in an atheistic Communist town in France. She witnesses to the possibilities of a life rooted in the Church and yet fully engaged in the world. She went on to found a community of lay women dedicated to serving the poor.

Goulding, Gill. A Church of Passion and Hope: The Formation of an Ecclesial Disposition from Ignatius Loyola to Pope Francis and the New Evangelization. London: T&T Clark, 2016. Sr. Goulding has authored this recent book that brings Ignatian spirituality, or, more importantly, the Ignatian “ecclesial disposition” into the era of Pope Francis. Drawing from the riches of tradition, Goulding’s book may help those who struggle to identify with the Church today, calling them to a more filial existence. Eminently readable to both lay and theologically-trained alike.

Pope, Charles. “Is There a Vocation to Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why,” Community in Mission, May 26, 2015. The online magazine Community in Mission has many rich articles on sundry subjects,but Msgr. Pope’s article is a rare treatment that bluntly makes the case for the “transitional” nature of the single state, as the title suggests. It provoked a rare avalanche of response from readers, including singles who seemed stung, but also others who took consolation from his clear articulation. Several lay specialists also weighed in. The entire article and the discussion that follows is worth recommending to young adults grappling with the question of their vocation and life in the parish.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002. The ways in which this 460-page interview can be considered a pastoral resource are manifold. Unlike theological treatises, this conversation with then Cardinal Ratzinger is a casual, yet exact and illuminative articulation of the basics of Catholic belief. Seewald, not yet a Catholic, described how, in these interviews “one of the Church’s great wise men … patiently recounted the Gospel to me, the belief of Christendom from the beginning of the world to its end, then, day by day, something of the mystery that holds the world together.”

Richards, Larry. Be a Man! Becoming the Man God Created You to Be. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. Frankly, there is very little written on being a Catholic single man, but this book by Fr. Larry Richards gives at least the outline of a masculine spirituality that traces the course single men might follow into marriage or consecrated life. It is not a manual of discernment, but it is a school of discipline in the virtues. It may be of use to young adult groups in church or chaplaincy.

Stimpson, Emily. The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012. Stimpson’s book is a roadmap for single Catholic women, based upon the Theology of the Body and the practical advice of someone who is living the single life. She does acknowledge the well-intentioned efforts of some in the Church to include “single life” among the states of life, but maintains that it can’t be considered a primary vocation, unless there is some “form” or consecration involved. The book covers many other areas of single living as well, and is highly rated by its readers.

Von Balthasar, Hans Urs. The Christian State of Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983. Balthasar’s theology of vocation describes the calling to love, which is the great commandment of Christ, in terms of two separate divisions. The first is between marriage and consecrated life—the choice between two kinds of vowed life. The second is between priestly, religious, or lay state, all of which have a form of consecration. Thus, he is giving a somewhat counterintuitive presentation on the typical marriage/priesthood dichotomy (for men), and placing life of the vows in prime of place. This text would be helpful for students who have had some theology already.

Von Speyr, Adrienne. The Christian State of Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986. This text, sharing the same title as Balthasar’s book, and an influence behind it, is nonetheless the more accessible text, being shorter, less academic (no footnotes), and more existential. It is a powerful explication of the spiritual process of discerning a call from God, and the necessity of making a choice. Von Speyr’s book is a good tonic to the general aversion to decision and commitment with regard to vocational appropriation.

Zeno, Katrina. “Single Living in a Couple’s World. Catholicity, April 27, 2010. Zeno tells her own story about becoming single after a failed marriage, and her search for romantic love, which God turned into spiritual motherhood. Spiritual priesthood is also a vocation for single men. In the end, all humans are called to self gift, for “it is Christ who completes us.” (Gaudium et Spes 22). This article is an accessible summary of her larger retreat series known as “The Single Life: Mistake or Mission.” Zeno, Katrina. “The Single Life: Mistake or Mission?”.5 CDs. Our Father’s Will Communications, 2000. To create this retreat, Katrina Zeno combined the Theology of the Body with reflections on the nature of men and women, virginity, Vatican II’s call to the laity, and Pope John Paul II’s writings on mission. A powerful and new way for single people to look at themselves and their purpose and mission in the world and the Church. The goal of this retreat is for singles to see themselves as indispensable to society and the Church, instead of as a “nonentity” during this seemingly invisible “waiting” period.

  1. According to a Pew Center study, only 26 percent of Millennials are married, compared to 36 percent of Gen-Xers when they were the age Millennials are now; 48 percent of Baby Boomers and 65 percent of the members of the Silent Generation were married. See “Six New Findings About Millennials,” Pew Research Center, March 7, 2014.
  2. David Kaufman, “Millennials’ Latest Mistake: Embracing ‘Starter Marriage’,” New York Post, March 29, 2016.
  3. According to Pew Center Study, “most unmarried Millennials (69 percent) say they would like to marry, but many, especially those with lower levels of income and education, lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite—a solid economic foundation.”
  4. A brief survey reveals many similar statements in many dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of St. Louis: “The dedicated single life is a real vocation. It is a calling to be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ in the particular circumstances of daily life.” See:
  5. “Catholic Vocations,” Archdiocese of Melbourne.
  6. “Now Hiring: God’s Unique Call to Each of Us.” Lifeteen Curriculum Guide, 27.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Lumen Gentium, 40.
  10. Emily Stimpson, The Catholic Girl’s Survivial Guide for the Single Life (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012), 6-7.
  11. This pericope forms the basis of the Theology of the Body that Pope John Paul II and expositors, such as Christopher West, cite for the original plan of God for man and woman.
  12. Stimpson, Guide for the Single Life, 8.
  13. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books, 2006).
  14. Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2009), 8.
  15. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 425.
  16. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Christian State of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983).
  17. Adrienne von Speyr, The Christian State of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 7.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Charles Pope, “Is There a Vocation to Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why,” Community in Mission, May 26, 2015.
  20. Ibid.
  21. From the U.S. Society of Consecrated Virgins, see: And the Canadian Conference of Secular Institutes:
  22. “It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens” (CCC 2442).
John O'Brien, S.J. About John O'Brien, S.J.

John O'Brien, S.J., is a member of the English Canada Province of the Society of Jesus. He has a Master's degree in theology from University of St. Michael's College (Toronto), and has been a college instructor in communications, film, and spirituality. He studies at Regis College, Toronto.


  1. Avatar Catherine Cash says:

    “The Church herself believes that her pastoral action is not primarily about helping people reach their natural human ends.”

    True, but assisting people with their natural human ends often helps facilitate their spiritual ends. If this were not so, then why would the Church be so interested in helping married couples stay married, investing time and energy in programs such as Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille?

    Helping single Catholics fulfill their vocation to marriage is an essential part of preserving marriage- what’s left of it, that is- and of combating the moral demise of our society. We need more Catholic families, not fewer, to witness to the Church’s teachings on family life.

    Pointing out that the single life, strictly speaking, is not a vocation like the priesthood, religious life, or marriage is merely a starting point. Most singles I know are already convinced that they have a vocation to marriage. The insurmountable challenge seems to be how to fulfill that vocation, as a faithful Catholic, in a society in which the majority of eligible singles, including many of our fellow Catholics, no longer practice what the Church teaches. I suspect that as pastors begin nudging singles towards marriage, more singles will be coming to their pastors with this particular problem- something which I believe would be good for pastors to become more aware of.

    In addition to clarification on the definition of vocation, I would strongly urge parishes to begin praying for an increase in vocations to marriage, just as we now do for more priests and religious. A little encouragement for those of us still walking the narrow road on the way to marriage, would really be appreciated as well. This is especially true for those of us who have been declared too old for the “young” adult group, as most of those groups cap off at 40. It might also help pastors in their ministry to the unmarried to be aware of the fact that many of these singles feel that Mother Church has completely forgotten about them.

    Blessings to you Father!

  2. I am in complete agreement with your premise that “the parish no longer exercises this social function” with regard to helping single Catholics find each other.

    But why is it merely “nostalgic to consider a return to the idea of the neighborhood parish or the old Catholic Youth Organization dances”? Is it really impossible to imagine parishes having social events that are open to all members – young and old, married and single? Why does every parish have to segregate the Pro-Lifers from the Young Adults from the Seniors?

    Adult singles are treated like lepers. You know it and I know it. These are adults who spent their twenties on their educations and getting their careers started, who didn’t shack up nor sleep around, who followed the Church’s moral rules to the letter and who are finally ready to meet and date other single Catholics. Please, please tell me: WHAT ARE THEY SUPPOSED TO DO?

    Parishes offer NOTHING for single adults to participate in. Believe me; I’ve tried. K-of-C recruiters have told me “we like for our Knights to be good family men”. Local parish bulletins offer endless social events for couples, but nothing for a single adult to attend. Requests for singles events (and yes, I volunteer to help) are met with a sad non-response. It’s as if singles don’t exist, or simply cannot be helped.

    Here’s the honest truth: in thirty years as an adult Catholic man in the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, I can honestly say that I have never met a woman that I knew to be a single and available Catholic. (And obviously, it’s only by hiding behind an alias, that I can say that. To say it out loud, in person, would label me as incompetent and pathetic.) Should I have been chasing women into the parking lot after Mass? Again, WHAT was I supposed to have done? I’m now almost fifty years old. And, I believe, far from alone in saying this.

    The suggestion that “helping singles meet and court has long been outsourced to other social forums” is laughable. There was no outsourcing. Parishes simply abdicated their role of fostering “community”. Why? Lack of volunteers? High event insurance costs? Whatever the actual reason, a terrible side effect is that the singles who relied on parish networking to find their spouse (as had been done for generations if not centuries) are now abandoned.

  3. May I also submit that the “is the single life a vocation?” issue, is a big NON-issue. IF it actually exists, and if so it only exists online in articles like Msgr. Pope’s, it’s only because some singles insist that they deserve a vocation too. But that’s only because the online world also uses the needless term “vocation of marriage”. In the real world, people don’t say that. Ask 100 people at your next Sunday mass, what is meant by “praying for vocations”. All 100 will say “we want more priests and nuns”. Stop calling marriage a vocation, and the “single vocation” debate will vanish.

    And Catherine will have no reason to say “Most singles I know are already convinced that they have a vocation to marriage.” If the singles she knows are as isolated in the Church as I am, that cannot possibly be true. How can anyone know that they want to be married, if they can’t find any single Catholics to meet and to date? Her logic is cart-before-the-horse.