I’ve written many times in the past about the burning question of Is Single Life a Vocation? (Short answer, “no.”) It crops up repeatedly, and to be quite honest I’ve never really understood why some people get so emotional about it.
I was talking to a friend, who told me that she recently attended a Catholic conference. And, at that conference, one of the sessions was led by a very young, starry-eyed little engaged couple who spoke about the urgency with which they pursued marriage because they didn’t want to somehow “miss” their vocations and hence “waste their lives.”
Look, I wasn’t there, so everything I’m hearing is second-hand. But if these two people indeed said anything close to what I’m hearing they said, their Catholic Speaker Union Membership Cards should be permanently revoked. And perhaps burned.
Is this why single Catholics get so revved up about the question of whether unconsecrated single life is a vocation? Have others of you been hearing that your vocation-less lives are wasted?
We need to clear this up once and for all.
The Church says that we were created to find fulfillment through giving ourselves in love, to “find ourselves through a sincere gift of ourselves” as Gaudium et Spes so beautifully puts it. And the Church teaches that there are two “vocations,” two ways to give the entirety of our lives. We can either give ourselves to a spouse in marriage, or to God in the religious life. Each of us is “called” to one of these two vocations, these two ways of permanently, irrevocably giving ourselves.
And, in a perfect world, each of us would understand exactly which vocation we have been called to, and would have all of the means at our disposal to respond to that call.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect—or even a near-perfect—world. We live in a world hampered by original sin. And hence, entering into those vocations can be easier said than done. Sometimes it’s our own brokenness that gets in the way. (Fear of commitment, sexual problems, circumstantial issues, etc.) Other times it’s the brokenness in others and in the world. (Decline in religious practice, difficulty in meeting others who share faith, spousal abuse or abandonment leading to separation, etc.) Most often it’s probably a little (or a lot) of both.
But here’s the point. (And I’m writing it in all caps because, yes, I’m yelling.) A LIFE LIVED OUTSIDE OF A VOCATION IS NOT A LIFE WASTED. Such a life, of course, can be wasted—as can a life lived within a marriage or the religious life. It’s not whether we’re married or single or religious that determines whether we’re “wasting” our lives. It’s more about how we live in whatever state we find ourselves. Do we love? Do we seek to give ourselves, or merely to pursue our own satisfaction? Do we seek God’s guidance? Do we listen to His voice?
If someone said “I have no interest in getting married because I’m inherently selfish and I’d rather just focus on myself,” I would say that person was on the way to a wasted life. But I’d say that same to the princess who marries the rich guy just for the perks, or the guy who treats his wife as a short order cook or a breeding machine. A selfish life is a wasted life. But, the thing is, the singles I know aren’t single because they’re selfish. The selfish ones exist, I’m sure, but I don’t know them. The singles I know would like to be married, would love to give themselves and their lives to someone who would treasure the gift and reciprocate the love.
But, in this day and age, that can be easier said than done.
As I’ve pointed out before, St. Paul tells us that “ALL things work together for good for those who love Him, who walk according to His ways.” (Rom 8:28) He knew from all eternity what would happen in your life. And He’s here now to meet you in the midst of it, and to make it into something beautiful for Him. All that is necessary for that to happen is for us to pursue what the Church has always said is our primary vocation, the vocation to holiness. We are called to pursue Him, to allow Him to transform us more fully into His image, and to “walk according to His ways.”
If you are doing that, I can absolutely assure you that you are not “wasting your life.”
Do you have a question for Mary Beth Bonacci? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.