Monday, 11 January 2010

Called into Singleness

I just wrote an 821 word article about Vocation for the Toronto Catholic Register so my daily thoughts on the Single Life have been mostly used up already. But you won't get to read it until next week, so I will squeeze out some more Single thoughts from my brain.

The most important one is that we are called into Single Life from birth. As Mae West replied to a query about her singleness, "I was born that way." Single is what we are and what we should be unless and until definitively called to something else.

Of course, there are some principles governing this. Singles are not supposed to be stealing the pleasures that belong to married life while, being Single, happily dispensing with its responsibilities and challenges. The big three are, of course, sex, parenting and playing House together*, none of which should be done with an escape hatch. Singles seem less inclined to steal the pleasures of priesthood and religious life--although I know one chap who lived for free in a vocations retreat house, enjoying the downtown location and the services of a maid and a cook, all while dating a girl and, quite blatantly, serving her tea in the parlour.

So Singles are called to live with integrity, and to the poverty, chastity and obedience proper to your state, until you get called to some other state, if you are. And even then it may be temporary. Married couples rarely die at the exact same time. The widowed half may spend decades Single. And there are nuns who find themselves living alone in an apartment, working at a secular job, physically separated from their proper communities, living quite as if they were Single women, with perhaps the Office thrown in. Most secular priests are, I argue, Single men. So one can live Single not just in the first twenty years of one's life, but in the last twenty, and sometimes in all the years in between. And therefore, Single life is pretty darn normal. We're going to be Single in the Kingdom, too.

Of course, the building block of society is still the family, so this is not a brief for rampant individualism. What gave meaning to my life when I was Single, and what will still bring meaning to my life if I become Single again, is that I belong to (1) a biological family and (2) to the Church family. Both families have very long histories and hopefully have quite long and bright futures. A Single, straight or gay, is a child and grandchild and very often a niece or nephew, great-niece or great-nephew, uncle or aunt, cousin, brother or sister. Singles belong, and they belong in history, to two things way bigger than yourselves: family and Church. So you're never "just a Single"--never, never, never. You owe us. We owe you. No man is an island. Etc.

There is no God-given reason to forsake your natural from-birth Single state in a blind panic or under family or social pressure. True vocation is a "falling in love with", not a "running away from" something else. I am very fond of three nuns in Toronto (and two of their order in Slovakia), but I didn't fall in love with them, so I didn't join up. I must say I was tempted. Ah, the temptation for my life to be settled for once and for all! But I stuck it out and finally got my true vocation, with all its joys and challenges, gifts and sacrifices.

Finally, there are people who love being Single and discern a call to the permanent Single Life. They should be supported in this by the rest of the Church. This call is considered unusual, so among the challenges and sacrifices of permanent Single Life may be the need to defend and explain it to other people.

The permanent Single also has the challenge of defending him or herself from being taken advantage of at work and in voluntary activities where married folk say "Well, you don't have a spouse/children, so you should work the worse shift, longest hours, for the worst pay" or where priests and nuns use their status as a form of spiritual coercion over other unmarried people. But, at the same time, of course, the permanent Singles have a boatload of personal freedom, for them to enjoy wisely and according to their call.

The photo is of my nephew "Peanut" and me. He's Single.

*I changed this from "setting up house together." There seems to me no reason for two friends or relations not to set up house together, like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, as long as neither person fondly thinks of the situation as "practically married," interfering each other's chances for real marriage, should that be either's calling, or creating a dangerous-to-them-not-just-to-their-neighbours'-fevered-imaginations situation of occasion for sin.

Update: This is the most beautiful thing I've seen all day: a religious order for women with Down Syndrome and those women called to live in sisterhood with them. Hat tip to Berenike at Laodicea


Dominic Mary said...

I think I have to disagree with you very slightly, Seraphic, about being 'called into the Single life from birth'.

Obviously we are, in one sense; but it seems to me that the Single life we enter at birth is a state, not a choice - and I would generally interpret something you are called to be as being a 'vocation', and thus involving a deliberate choice on the basis of considered conviction.

As you say, everyone is born single; but most probably (at least once they get old enough) make the conscious choice to be what you describe as 'Searching Singles' - in other words, they feel called to be NOT single; and they are then free to seek opportunities to exchange their state for another.

The 'Serious Single', however - for whom it is a choice, and so in effect a vocation - is in a different position. S/he should not, if true to his/her choice, be wanting something else - a priest, for instance, who craves marriage is ultimately being untrue to his vocation, even if he never actually DOES anything about realising that possibility.

I would therefore suggest that - if I might take the liberty of extending your useful terminology - those people who are in an involuntary state which they are pefectly entitled to seek to change, but about which they have not yet made up their minds, are 'Simply Singles' - a category wholly distinct from either of your others, as not being the result of a conscious choice.

Seraphic said...

Whatever helps Single people and gives them comfort in their loneliness and marginalisation (if they are indeed marginalised) is fine by me.

Priests, of course, if unmarried, have bound themselves to the Single life along with the priesthood. That goes without saying.

What I am getting at in my article is that being Single is perfectly normal, and that no-one should feel ashamed of being in a state to which we are all born and in which so many of us die.

I might just add that not all Searching Singles are, in fact, called to the married life. Some, like men with SSA who troll bars looking for True Love Forever, are stopping their ears to any alternative call from God.

I'm not comfortable even with such generalities. I was called at a certain time to marry a certain person. Until I was called at that certain time to marry a certain person, I was under a strong conviction that I was supposed to live single until told by God otherwise. This vocation was confirmed and sealed when I married B.A.

Likewise, my Jesuit friend was not called to "religious life" per se. He was called to join a particular group of Jesuits in a particular Province. This vocation was confirmed and sealed when he promised obedience to the Superior of that particular Province.

God calls us according to concrete particulars. It is dangerous for a young person to think that he or she is called to just any marriage or just any religious order.

Seraphic said...

For clarity's sake, I should probably add that I think God calls us more than once or twice and that He calls us to things other than our state in life. He calls us into life, and that early life is, of course, Single. He calls us to know Him. He calls us to pick up our crosses and follow Him. He calls us away from sin. He calls us to seek reconciliation and forgiveness for sins. He calls us to poverty, chastity and obedience acoording to our states in life. He calls us to accept the changes and losses in our life that we can do nothing about. He calls many of us to accept widowhood, and asks this of some of us much earlier than we could ever have imagined. He calls us to accept our aging and our dying, and asks this of some of us much earlier than we could have imagined.

Ideally, I would like it if young people stopped fixating on their call to whatever state in life--and indeed---stop worrying so much about if and when they're going to get married, and just see such calls as part of an ongoing series or as part of an ongoing relationship with Christ.

Alisha said...

Thanks ladies, for all your wisdom - it's very helpful and beautiful :)

Dominic Mary said...

Sorry !

I would agree with what you've said in the two comments above : particularly that we're called many times, in many ways; that even a state of life can be for a finite period; and that calls are concrete and particular. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to suggest, either, that all those who believe that they are called not to be single are called to be married.

I think my problem was trying to avoid writing a comment as long as the original article - I suppose what I was trying to say is that there seem to me to be some states which are unchosen, which for convenience it may be helpful to distinguish from those which are the result of a concrete particular choice.

I think, though, that your last paragraph in the second comment is the most important one : it should probably be engraved in letters of gold in every school !

theobromophile said...

Lovely post... and thank you for the reminder that many people (even today) choose to be Single and to live that life. (For those of us who don't spend much time around nuns and priests, it's not on our radar screen.)

That said, this part of your post seemed somewhat strange:

Of course, there are some principles governing this. Singles are not supposed to be stealing the pleasures that belong to married life while, being Single, happily dispensing with its responsibilities and challenges.

The problem, as you well know, is not that we are not "happily dispensing with its responsibilities and challenges," because, for many of us, we don't even have an opportunity to take on those responsibilities and challenges. We aren't like children who have both our dinners and desserts in front of us but are only opting to eat the latter; in fact, it's often more like being offered dessert but not dinner and having to tell oneself, constantly, that the dessert we are being offered isn't what we want it to be.

Seraphic said...

I was not thinking of Catholic-Singles- (and other Singles of Good Will-)Doing-Their-Best when I mentioned that, but of the chronically serially monogamous who move in (or semi-move in) with this person, get bored, move out, move in with someone else. That's traditionally more of a man thing, but now there women who prefer that too. Utterly mad.

I won't talk too much about the challenges of marriage! Maybe one day I will write about marriage, but I think I will wait until I have been married for 20 years and B.A. is too feeble to disagree with anything I say!

Great analogy about dinner and dessert. Life of dessert with no dinner would pall really quickly! And I could add the challenges of marriage to the analogy by saying they are the cooking and the washing up!

Dominic Mary said...

I do love your analogy, Theobromophile; beautifully put. However, I'm now very worried, because I often skip dinner AND dessert, and just have the cheese . . . I wonder what that says about me ?

theobromophile said...

However, I'm now very worried, because I often skip dinner AND dessert, and just have the cheese . . . I wonder what that says about me ?

Serious, chaste Single... obviously!

Seraphic: oh, that makes much more sense now! (Agree re: utterly mad.)