The (single? continent? celibate?) layman: uncharted territory


Or perhaps it’s not uncharted. No doubt we have plenty of meditations from celibate men, but these are priests and religious. Indeed we also have some meditations from celibate laity, but these are almost universally women.

As I’m coming into my mid-30s, little inclined to the diocesan priesthood (at least in my home diocese) or for marriage with the options at hand, and perhaps past my prime for religious life, it’s starting to look like I might have to settle in here. There are some interesting stories regarding all of these, but I digress. Something else also becomes evident: I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

At the same time, though, a desire to take my role in the world more seriously has become stronger lately. I’m a little tapped out in my work now, so I’m thinking about going out more into the world, maybe finishing my doctorate. My state allows this, and also allows me to set my own schedule and routine. This is a benefit, as it is for young people who all pass through this state of life if only transitionally, and generally use such for education, training, and vocational discernment. My real hope is to find a good order, diocese, or woman in my travels, of course, but God’s will be done.

It’s a funny state that nobody thinks about as a state of life because we’re all so willing to leave it when it seems appropriate. I scarcely even think of it as a particular calling, because I don’t really think I’ve ever necessarily been called here. However, I have been called as a teacher and academic, and that I’ve answered joyfully. In fact, I have even the opportunity to study to progress even further in my field. The celibacy just seems to make the secular vocation somewhat easier.

So keep on devoted to the work? That seems likely. A great way to pour myself out, spend myself. Devise a rule of my own design? I’ll be talking to my director about that, but if I fail to keep it, what is lost? Work contracts are dissoluble; if I’m downsized, what then? Should I simply be taking this almost invisible state with almost no certitude on me as a source of humility and a penance for my pride in the past? I know that, even if I am to move on elsewhere, I won’t be able to get there until I’m comfortable here.

As I said, it seems like uncharted territory, that involves a lot of suffering in ways that not a lot of married people or even priests or religious can understand well. As my title indicates, we don’t even quite have a name for this. And as I also said, the experience might be different for men than for women. There have always been more women than men in the world, and I’m sure we can all think of a spinster aunt or neighbour. But who can think of an old bachelor (who isn’t homosexual or disabled)? We can think of consecrated virgins or widows, but nothing specifically masculine (except perhaps secular priests, who are still something different).

So, what can we say about this in particular? Am I wise for throwing myself further into my work and studies, or should I be doing otherwise?


I’m curious why you think you may be “past your prime for religious life”.

I’m a professional in my late 30’s and I am discerning religious life, and my spiritual director was in his mid-40’s when he joined the Dominicans.


Hi Havard. I’m willing to be corrected on this, but my past research tells me that most orders have tended to lose interest after 30 or 35. Is this no longer the case?


Hello to you, and welcome!

It depends on the province as well as the order. For example. the Dominicans of the Eastern Province of the U.S. have an age limit of 35, whereas the Western Province accepts older men, as I mentioned. However there are other orders on the East Coast (e.g. Franciscans, etc.) who have older age limits. I’ve seen 40, 42, and some that don’t even specify a limit. Hope this helps!


I know lots of single men who are not homosexual. Most of them are widowers who just didn’t want to marry again. I myself have never been married, I just sort of " fell " into the single life through the circumstances of my life. It isn’t easy but I don’t imagine it is any easier for single women, I know a number of those as well. The main thing is to maintain a strong spiritual life and be of service to humanity and the church. There are also a number of 3rd orders you can look into, Opus Dei for one, and most of the religious Orders have lay Apostolates and some of these, like the Maryknolls, are very active, both in the States and overseas. And I know of one American who is teaching philosophy in a Ukranian ( I think ) Seminary. So there are endless ways you can be of service to the Church and Society and be single too - without being a priest. However, until you reach age 50 don’t give up on the Priesthood. Even after 50 you can find a Bishop somewhere who would be glad to have you. I believe there is even a special seminary for very late vocations somewhere in the N.E.

I know someone who is 34, single, and due to a felony, got a late start in life. He is now in his final year of college and is working part time in " dependency rehibilitation. " He had a conversion experience about four years ago. Since then he has been attending Mass every day, confession each week, has become heavily involved in Cursillo, wants very much to be a Priest ( but no one will take him until he gets a degree and I think it may be doubtful even then because he will be in debt), but is willing to just serve the Church in the single life. He is doing lots of good now and has been invaluable in assisting at several parishs near by. So God will always open a door for you some where.

Good Luck



There is a Seminary for “Late Vocations” in Massachusetts. I think it is in Brighton. The Seminary for young men is St. John. Sorry that I cannot remember the name of the other one! I will see if I can find it for you.

You are in my prayers.


Blessed John XXIII is the seminary you are thinking of. I’m in Massachusetts myself, and so I know some of their alumni.

And I know God is going to open other doors, but my big fear is that my disordered sense of my own unworthiness will prevent me from walking through them, and then go on to ruminate about it for a long time, leaving me feeling more like a failed half-man. My director has given me some meditations to assist with this.


Can you please tell me what you mean by this? What “options at hand” are there for marriage?

I call B.S. There are PUHLENTY of Catholic women out there…practicing. With no men to pursue them.

Are you expecting the options to just present themselves to you and pop up for you? or have you actually pursued anything?


I mean to say in the area in which I live. My social opportunities are tapped out as are my professional opportunities. That’s why, as I think I mentioned earlier, I think going to a larger city to finish my doctorate and grow my network a little might be beneficial. Pardon my lack of clarity.


Perhaps you are torn between a PhD and the priesthood? If you are seriously thiniking about the priesthood, you should not allow professional ambitions to interfer. That may only be a temptation to distract you. Of course no one is " worthy. " It is a call from God and there is such a thing as a call to the Seminary. Time in the Seminary is never lost time, it is time given to God. So, even if you do not persever, God will not hold that against you, he will regard it as an act of charity and you will be rewarded for that. Just trust your spiritual director.



Thanks. I feel I’m torn in many different directions here. Scruples can do that to one, making one seek only the safe way, never risking, and thus never gaining. They leave one with plenty of ideas, but a weak and damaged will to see them through, and a general sense of overwhelmedness and passivity when it seems that anything that one might even think beneficial might be at hand.

Thanks for your comments. I know how important it is for one in my situation to give complete and unremitting trust and obedience to a confessor or director.


I can speak to your situation.

I’m a 47 year old single man who has never been married. At 23 I joined the Franciscans after feeling called there. After five years I left. The main factor was the daily realities of ministry. Though I was praised for my work, it exhausted me. I wasn’t raised in an outgoing setting so the social aspects of the life did me in. Before leaving I was given permission to spend 3 months with the Trappists. Though amazing, I didn’t stay.

After leaving I started a computer business. After several years I moved to the south and tried to do a bit of a reset in my life. I felt guilty for leaving religious life. I’d never felt a pull to marriage but thought I better get my life going in some direction. I met a woman I was attracted to, and who was attracted to me. We became engaged after about a year and a half. At a marriage prep course we discovered how incompatible we were. I know that many life-long marriages also fail those tests, but we really were very incompatible and immature. We ended it.

I thought, “neither religious life nor marriage is for me.” I rededicated myself to the single life, and my career. Once a year I would spend a few weeks on Catholic dating websites (around the holidays, when I got lonely!), but I was never able to sustain online communications with the women I met. I took that as God’s will, and always recommitted myself to the single life.

Several years ago, through church friends, I met a younger woman who had also been into, and out of, religious life. We would often meet at a religious house and have dinner with others. She was on the quieter side while at dinner, while I spoke more often. I didn’t know it but she was strongly attracted to me. I was also very interested in her. Whenever I would arrive for dinner, if I saw her car at the house there was always a great excitement for me. I was especially attracted to her devout nature, and the fact that she had also been in religious life. (She was also physically attractive to me - a very big bonus!) A key thing for me was my soul felt very peaceful in her presence. Just being near her calmed me down, though we barely spoke to each other.

Last October circumstances allowed me to meet her on our own where we could talk. We talked a lot about our backgrounds. The following weekend we agreed to meet again at a park and talk. Our talks kept getting very deep. We started dating. Well, we fell very much in love. Living in my worrisome mind as I do I thought “is this infatuation?” . It’s just the nature of my mind that I live inside of far too much. :slight_smile:

Our compatibility is striking. I was given many insights, many graces. Recently, all the lights turned off on me, and I’ve been in the dark. I started panicking. I started becoming very frightened about what marriage might mean. The first time I became engaged I involved God very little, and did little reading and meditating about what the sacrifice might involve, about the idea of children and so forth. Now, the opposite has happened. I’m sometimes obsessively worried about the total sacrifice and commitment. She is quite a bit younger than me - a fact that bothers absolutely nobody in our families, friends, church, and so on. She is young enough to have several children, and I feel like at 47 I’m too old and set in my ways, without enough energy to have children. I talk to my friends often about these things.

I watch the “On the Road to Cana” clips on YouTube, about men’s need to have it all figured out, which excludes faith. I feel like God has totally called me out. I’ve considered marriage over the years, but the way I wanted, to some imaginary woman I had concocted in my mind (and beyond childbearing age - thank you). But nobody ever appeared, according to this mental image (which I now see how wrong it was). It feels like God has placed this remarkable woman in my life, who loves me dearly, and said, “your vocation.” I’ve been dying to myself and my own ideas, and fretting over how much of my life I may lose (as in - all of it). I am gripped by fear and anxiety. I almost feel like I’ve never actually had to make an act of faith in my life before - into the abyss, without any thunderclap certainty from God.

To conclude, it’s easy for everyone to judge the single life. But the single life can be profoundly meaningful. Who else but the single person can sit beside a stranger at a bar and be the presence of Christ to some lonely soul on the edge of suicide? The single man can be out there, being blown about in the world by the Holy Spirit, free to discern the Spirit’s mysterious call to “go here, do this,” without understanding the Why. Only in the next life will we see just how richly Christ has used us in the darkness and mystery of our single life.

Do not judge your life so easily. And most certainly don’t take the judgments of others to heart. Catholics mean well enough when they try to give meaning to your single life only if it matches some internal mental model they have, as in “your life is more disposable, therefore you should be doing X, Y and Z in the local parish or else your life isn’t a good one.” Maybe. But if you are praying deeply each day I believe Christ is already making your life a rich one, for coworkers, family members, etc.

I haven’t had a spiritual director since leaving religious life. I have opinions on that, too. :slight_smile: If you are led to one, great. But seeking one out can be a sign that you’re just looking for a way out of making your own life decision, too. A spiritual director can also impose their own view on us, as in “do something with your life, you need to go be a priest, or get married.”

The single life for the devout Catholic can be a great mystery, and incredibly important to other people in the world.

May God bless yours richly!


Hello, ApexMark, and welcome to the forum.

This post seems revived after a month, so by means of response I might as well relate what transpired since. My SD and I had a good little chat about the fears that have prevented me from taking important steps in the past–perhaps the very fear that you might be talking about in facing a marriage. They obviously have their origins in my childhood and youth, and my closeness to the area in which I grew up and to many of the people with whom I grew up has likely kept me from getting too far past them. They tend to come back to vex me, particularly at otherwise promising times, and I always tend to give in to my cold feet. Father has advised that a change of environment is in order. That’s good, as my savour for my present employment has been waning.

As an aside, I wouldn’t knock spiritual direction so easily. Many do have affective difficulties in which they become fearful, anxious, or scrupulous quite easily. This can seriously blunt the will, even when the mind knows the best direction. I know this because I am one of these types. I have known the priest with whom I work for many years, and he knows me, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I’m not the type who would seek out a stranger as a director, but would rather work with someone I’ve learned to trust. I count it, indeed, a great grace, as my past experience leads me not to trust myself in the grave matters. It might not be the Holy Spirit blowing me about, but any spirit.

I meet him this week to speak of ideas, and some people at my parish want to put me in touch with a man at a boarding school who is seeking resident faculty and staff. That seems by far the most desirable of my options, and shall with hope lead to the connections I need to get off of this rut that leads me continually back into the self-absorption that leads back into nocturnal postings like my original one, particularly when my work is scarce or troubling–work being, of course, of supreme importance to a celibate man.

I’d rather be working or on call at all hours, to be frank. My career has a mission to it; my life outside, not so much. My career is chosen; my private life just the negative space around it. It might allow my devotion to my career–a married man works to support his family, but I work for the love of the game–but when one has as difficult a semester as I just did, it almost seems to strike at the quick of one’s being, make one rue bad decisions again, and begin contemplating a change of situation.

So if this situation at the school is not open, and nothing else seems evident, I will under Father’s direction look for religious orders that might be able to use me or seek references to bishops. This dead space is just too frustrating, so I might as well give it to God, and at the very least pursue the better formation into the Christian life that was so lacking in my youth.


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