Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the single life can be a vocation . . . QUOTE]
Is the unconsecrated single life a vocation? By Emily Stimpson - OSV Newsweekly, 7/24/2011
That’s the question a good many unmarried Catholics have about their single state in life. And its answer is one upon which Catholics of good faith sometimes disagree.
Those who argue that it’s not a vocation point to the magisterial writings of the Church, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, noting that nowhere will you find any mention of a “single vocation.” Those who take the opposite point of view make reference to the large numbers of singles living in the world and say it must be a vocation, that people are living it right before our eyes.
What gives? Why the disconnect? And who’s right?
Meaning of vocationAnswering those questions first requires we get precise about our terms. When the Church talks about the word “vocation,” what does it mean?
Sometimes it means the journey or the path we’re on — the journey to holiness. To holiness, God calls each and every member of the human race. That’s why this path is commonly referred to as the “universal vocation.”
Then there is what we do on the path. That’s our “secondary vocation.” It encompasses 9-to-5 occupations (butchers, bakers and candlestick makers), as well as apostolic activities (volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, running parish youth groups, visiting shut-ins, etc.). It also can encompass the bearing of certain trials or living out of certain situations. Think, for example, of oft-used terms such as “the vocation to suffering” or “the feminine vocation.” Those, like the vocation to teaching or ministering to teenagers, fall into the category of secondary vocations.
The final meaning of “vocation” has to do with how, as adults, we travel down the path to God. That “how” is called our “primary vocation.” Traditionally, the Church has identified three of these: holy orders, marriage and consecrated life. Each of those primary vocations is defined by the gift of self. The priest gives himself to Christ’s Church. Married people give themselves to a husband or wife. And consecrated people give themselves directly to God: They start living now the relationship all are called to live in eternity.
In the case of each primary vocation, that 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. When the gift of self is made to God, enduring is a “for all eternity” kind of enduring. When the gift of self is made to another person, it’s just an “until death to us part” kind of enduring. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: You fully and freely give yourself to another, and through that giving you pursue your universal vocation, holiness.
You also could say that through one spousal relationship you prepare yourself for another spousal relationship, the spousal relationship God calls you to enter into with himself. When considered in that light, a primary vocation isn’t just “how” you journey to holiness. It’s with whom you make the journey.
So, where in all that does the much talked about “single vocation” fit?
Although it’s increasingly equated with the vocations of marriage, priesthood and consecrated life, unconsecrated singlehood doesn’t seem to quite jibe with the traditional definition of “primary vocation.”
Remember, primary vocations are exclusive and enduring. Once you give yourself to another — God, the Church, a husband or wife — you can’t give yourself to anyone else. Ever. At least not without the intervention of death or a tribunal.
Missing the callYet that’s not the case for unconsecrated singlehood. It’s a state in life that’s generally transitory and always, at least technically, easy to exit. In other words, you don’t have to get a tribunal’s permission to cease being single. You are supposed to cease being single. You are supposed to enter into a spousal relationship with someone — the Church, God or another person.
In theory, that all makes sense. In reality, however, it gets a bit sticky. After all, what about men and women who never marry? Or those who don’t feel called to marriage, the priesthood or a religious order?
First, it’s important to remember that a person doesn’t have to be a religious in order to live the consecrated vocation. It’s the norm, but it’s not a prerequisite. So, if people don’t feel called to marriage, holy orders or a religious order, it might just mean they’re called to live the consecrated vocation in the world as a consecrated single, having solemnly vowed the entirety of their life, exclusively and enduringly, to God.
It’s also important to remember that, unfortunately, there is such a thing as a missed vocation.