Saturday, 30 January 2010

St. Andrews Cath Soc Lecture Update

As February arrives Monday, I will be putting in some long hours in the National Library of Scotland to prepare for my upcoming lecture (to the Catholic Society) at the University of St Andrews about the vocations to the Single and the Married Life. You see, I don't have a vocation to the permanent Single Life, and I only got my vocation to the Married Life in October 2008, so I will have to do some research about what theologians think these vocations mean.

Having studied Dogmatics (Systematics), I only went into vocational stuff as a sideline. My particular specialty is waiting for your vocation, and I got so excited thinking about that, I wrote an article about it and sold it to the Toronto Catholic Register instead of saving it for St A's. Whoops.

It would be a lot of fun just to show up at St Andrews and tell hilarious stories about seminarians who date and the drawbacks of Catholic dating websites, but it's a respectable university and so I must roll up my sleeves and come up with the brainy stuff.

If you are at or near St Andrews, you might enjoy hearing what I have to say! The lecture is on Wednesday, February 10 in The Canmore House, The Scores, St. Andrews, and it is sponsored by the Catholic Society.

The schedule is as follows:

7:00-7:30 PM : Mass
7:30-8 PM : Biscuits
8:00-9 PM : "Seraphic Singles, Seraphic Spouses"
9:00-9:30 PM : Questions, Group Discussion, Seminarians Who Date Anecdotes, Etc.
9:30-10 PM : Compline
10 PM-onward: PUB!

As a special bonus, B.A. will be there, too. Maybe I'll get him to read a haiku or something.

It would be nice if anyone of university age (fresher to post-doc) asked me some questions in the com box right now, so I can get some kind of idea what people are likely to ask. If you want to know if I think the right way to go about telling someone you fancy them is to stay up late at a boozy party and then confess all drunkenly at 4 AM, the answer is No. Not even in the U.K.


Claire Christina said...

Since you specifically asked for questions from my age group, some tips on the following are always helpful:

Building friendships in spite of attraction (usually because of unrequited attraction).

Boundaries in male-female friendships. These are especially tricky for those of us who build strong friendships via one-on-one conversations.

That's all that springs to mind right now. Hope it helps!

berenike said...

Are you speaking at the university, or at university CathSoc?

invocante said...

Please don't fall into trap of visiting preachers at university chapels in presuming your audience wants weighty theology. I respectfully suggest that your talk be heavy on anecdote and humour and light on dogmatic theology. University students get plenty of difficult stuff at their lectures they mostly don't want it in their free time!

MargoB said...

Ohhhhhh, Seraphic! Vocations are my speciality!

One of the things I would say about vocation is that no one seems to think seriously about the lay vocation (let alone the temporarily or permanently single vocation). The laity are the ones to be on the front lines of the Church's mission, evangelization, but that's rare to hear in most (American) parishes. However, the "Intentional Disciples" 'blog is all about the laity's call to their apostolic vocation of evangelization (

Another element of vocation is that you need to look for it, discern it. i.e., it requires a healthy prayer life. After all, it's Him calling you, and calling you to deeper union with Him. It's much more a relationship with the Lord than it is a state of life.

Another resource: the 2nd Vatican council says a lot about vocation in Apostolicam Actuositatem (the Vatican II decree on the laity.)

Also: have you considered consulting the Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation? (

They were involved with an award my school (University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota)received: a Lily Grant, which was put to good use because the Catholic Studies program got to administer it. WARNING: you have to be careful with PTEV: they're not Catholic, as far as I know; I'm not sure if they're even Christian. However, they have some good things, and have fostered some good things, but they've also allowed some things that aren't upbuilding or theologically accurate. I gave you the website listing that shows the text resources (it's easy to hop to other parts of their website from there), and figure you can separate the good (useful) from the not-so-good. were looking for questions, and I've given you a lot of 'answers.' Well, they've come out of my own HUGE interest and questions. I hope they're helpful.

If anyone else were giving the presentation you seem to have been asked to give, I would tell them to go talk to you, as you have a vision for, and articulated well, the Church's vision for being single: it's meant to be a time filled with grace, and it IS possible to live that out.

I hope it goes well!

Anna said...

I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now, and I find it very inspiring! I thought I'd add some questions to your list for your talk.

How should one as a single deal with the very strong desire to be loved? What sort of things should singles do to distract themselves from the fact that they are not with someone?

I personally have a very hard time dealing with the fact that I'm single, and also have a hard time waiting. I am surrounded by happy Catholic couples here at my dorm, and it's very difficult seeing them praying together in chapel knowing that I have no one to share that sort of special time with me. I'm also having a hard time with the desire for the simple pure physical contact that comes with a relationship(hand-holding, hugging, sitting close together, kissing, etc). I'm starting to go to Mass more than once a week, so hopefully that will help. I could definitely use more suggestions.

Jessica said...

Hi Seraphic!
I second Claire's question about "unrequited love."
I also find myself wondering how (if?) the "kissing frogs" part of dating is part of God's plan. I see some of friends who only seriously dated one person and then married that person, and it sure seems like a nice path to marriage. So what does that mean for people who don't marry their first sweetheart?

Or in other words, if you pray and discern that you should enter in a relationship with someone, and then later you discern out of that do you deal with that cognitive dissonance and your ability to discern God's will?

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seraphic said...

Anna--this has been bugging me all day. Why are there Catholic couples in your dorm? Did you get stuck in married housing?

DowntownDude said...

Let me offer a bit of constructive criticism in a spirit of friendship and charity.

There is absolutely nothing you can say more sure to alienate the University-level men in your audience (and make older single men ballistically angry) than to tell them singleness is principally and primarily a vocation to wait.

Men aren’t about waiting. Unless they are addicted, alienated, or spiritually stunted in some way, mature adult men are about doing. We are about searching, finding, looking, seeking, overcoming obstacles, finding new strategies and getting things done.

Women don’t want to marry men who wait. They want to marry men who have waited just enough for them.

If a woman can’t get married, it’s because men are jerks. If a man can’t get married, find a date, it’s because he is a complete failure as a man and a totally worthless human being.

I think men would much rather be told that the single life sucks, so man up and deal with it, rather than the usual happy talk we get about “the single life is God’s special gift for you.”

Perhaps it is only among the old-fashioned, but single Catholic men who believe they have a vocation to marry (or definitely have no call to vowed celibacy) are deeply invested in the idea they will marry long before they meet the right woman. They get a job, buy a house, gather savings, and think about what it means to stand in the place of St. Joseph for their future wives and families.

To pretend that one doesn’t know what one’s vocation is until one actually finds a bride will strike most serious men as annoying and ridiculous.

Today’s culture sends young men the message that it is perfectly okay to play video games, drop out of school, and generally lead a slacker’s life since you can easily find a girlfriend who will have sex with you until you get tired of her and find another.

On top of that, the Catholic man over 30 lives in a world where there is basically nothing you can do, nowhere you can go, and no one who will help you find Catholic women live in person.

Online dating might work for some definitely not for all. Opus Dei, very quietly, seems to to do a good job of helping some members marry. However, Opus Dei is even more not for everyone than online dating is. More attractive alternatives to some might be Focolare and C&L, though marriage is peripheral at best to the their core charisms as Catholic communities.

In any case, “wait some more” is not the right message to men who have already been waiting a long time. Find something to do is better. Don’t pretend your vocation is “just waiting.”

University-age men may need to be told that that the pickings will never be better than the lovely young women they have access to now. That’s not a reason to be precipitate or to rush into a bad marriage. But outside of Catholic student associations, Catholic social life for singles literally disappears with blinding speed by one’s mid twenties.

Men don’t feel pressure to marry early for the same reasons women do, but single men probably need a more realistic view of the future. Once you are out of college, you are living in a culture that is 99% “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” The Catholic women are all hiding under rocks somewhere or automatically assuming every man they meet is Kramer and thus treating you as one of them. One can't wear a button that says "I am not Kramer," and there is no Catholic community in which women can see you are not Kramer.

Single life over 30 is tiresome and frustrating to an extreme you can’t imagine when you are 20. So young single men had better find a plan, quit procrastinating, and get to work. University-age men should realize they may have to wait for a long, long time--but they absolutely, positively should not wait by accident.

In sum, your message should be: Wait if you must, but do not wait by accident.

Seraphic said...


Seraphic said...

Although I think you are a bit harsh on long-term Single men. Some long-term Single men are long-term Singles because of circumstances beyond someone else's imaginings. It is not necessarily because they are lazy or just want to get laid by lots of chicks "no strings".

Some long-term Single men are struggling with their sexuality, or know that they are not suited to being married, at least, not with out help, therapy, etc.

Some men are on a spiritual journey. I met my husband in person when he was 36, two days before he became a Catholic. And he is a prize.

I agree that some men are lazy, and that some are spoiled, but some men just want to meet the right girl.

Some men are traumatized by their parents' divorces and by the threat of losing their own kids (and their income and hopes for romantic love) in a bitter divorce.

NOT all the great girls are taken by 30. And that's not always because "men are jerks".

But I will say something harsh about being Single just for the sake of fun and laziness--don't you worry!

Seraphic said...

One last thing, Downtown--although I think we are getting into private email territory ( given the vigor of your sentiments--the "waiting" vocations people talk about is waiting to hear one's call and that call is not just general (get ordained a priest), it is specific (having been accepted by St. Peter's Seminary, London). Many women feel a call to the priesthood; I know at least one sane, kindly woman like this. But...

A call includes both A) "I hear God calling me towards this way of life" and B) "A human person or community has accepted me into it."

I can read that you're cheesed off, and I hadn't thought about guys being cheesed off, so thank you. I will definitely take that into consideration when I give my lecture.

Seraphic said...

Okay, that wasn't the one last thing because even after washing all the dishes, I am still haunted by your statement that men who don't marry or can't find a date are failures as men and worthless human beings.

That's harsh.

That's so harsh, I only posted it because you include some valuable what-its-like-to-be-a-Single-man information. If you weren't a Single man, I wouldn't have posted it.

And as you are a Single man, I am concerned about your idea about what a "successful" man looks like, e.g. not like a never-married, thirty-something, broke guy from some backwater with a small preaching career who got executed on a high treason charge and, not leaving any cash for his mom, his dying wish was for her to be taken care of by his friend John.

Single men are not failures for being Single and they are not worthless human beings for being Single.

What would manhood look like if you took away a man's internalized pressure to get married?

I mean, I would really love to have a baby. My body was designed to have a baby. My inner clock wants me to have a baby. My husband would like to have a baby. I love babies. Being a mother is the greatest thing a human being can be. And I've never done anything to mess up my fertility. Never taken the Pill. None of that crap.

But I'm 39. I found the love of my life at 37. So I might never have a baby. But that would not make me a failure as a woman or a waste of a human being. That would make me a woman called to be a mother in a different way, including being an Auntie to the Single people who read my blogs to get some perspective on the Single life.

As a Single guy in your 30s, a professional, a faithful Catholic, you're in a position to be a leader, to even be a father figure to other Single guys. But how can you do that if you label them all (and yourself) failures, just because they aren't married?

Alisha said...

"I think men would much rather be told that the single life sucks, so man up and deal with it, rather than the usual happy talk we get about “the single life is God’s special gift for you.”"

Except that it is not the full truth to say it. Yes, it does suck to live it. It is also God's gift: that's what the Cross is, a terrible lived thing, which is transformed. And single life is not as bad as being crucified by any stretch of the imagination and it CAN be lived well.
I think the important thing here is to know your audience. When speaking to a largely diverse audience there's a chance some people will be ticked off no matter what you say but you can make the chance smaller by being sensitive. Knowing that some people are hurting so much as single women or men it would not be pastoral to deliver the message in an overly "chirpy" fashion or come to general conclusions based on your own story - though it is awesome to use them as inspiration.
I also think it is a great thing to clarify what the vocation of waiting entails - it should include searching, finding, looking, seeking, overcoming obstacles, finding new strategies and GTD - but not all those things should necessarily be aimed at "finding a spouse", because that is not the end goal of life, but a means to sanctification.

Anna said...

Sorry, when I said "couples" I meant people who are dating. I automatically refer to people who are steadily dating as a couple. That's how my mother refers to them too, only she says "an item."

And I happened to be blessed enough to live in the only Catholic dorm in the US that is located on a public university campus. :)

Downtown Dude, your post was intriguing! Do all men think like you do, or are you an exception?

DowntownDude said...

I meant to say “general perception of society.” I had it in earlier but took it out because I didn’t think there would be space in the blogpost.

It’s the general perception of society that if a single woman can’t get a date, it’s because there are no good men, whereas if a single man can’t get a date it’s because he is a total loser.

It’s also a single woman’s prerogative to say she isn’t married because her true love hasn’t found her. For men, it’s very difficult to say anything. One looks like a whiner or a loser. That’s why there are no serious Catholic single guy blogs.

The concept of a “vocation to wait” is utterly alien to the male psyche. It may be appropriate for a blog that addresses single women, with the occasional courtesy to a gentleman visitor, but it is not something I would recommend for a general audience. It will confuse younger gentlemen, and it will positively drive disappointed older gentlemen. up. the. wall.

I see your distinction between a general vocation and a specific call, but I don’t get the point of it. I have a vocation to be married now. For some reason unknown to me, God is allowing me to suffer seemingly endless frustration and pain because the opportunities to meet Catholic women are so few. Perhaps I am being saved from a horrible bad marriage. Or perhaps there is another reason. It is simply not knowable. Lately I have had reasons to think something will change soon, but there have been many bleak years getting to this point.

You observe there may be valid reasons why people remain single. There may be lack of interest in marriage, same-sex attraction, mental or physical problems, livelihood challenges, or unconventional late-adult vocations to the priesthood. But if you read your own polls, the percentage of your readers who have these problems (or bother with the polls) is vanishingly small.

DowntownDude said...

As a practical matter, both sexes in today’s society may have to spend inordinate amounts of time waiting and doing their best to cooperate with Providence. I reiterate that one deals with waiting, but one is never called it. Waiting is an end to something else, whether it be holiness in the present life or the ultimate Terminal Vocation.

The vast majority of your readers appear to be nice, ordinary people with varying economic circumstances but perfectly adequate material prospects to be married. Fifty years ago, they probably would have been married easily, but a lot has changed for better and worse. College-educated women get married later in life these days, but generally do get married.

There is one important exception. The reason many single Catholics who want to get married can’t get married has nothing to do with SSA, unemployment (interesting thought: isn’t the protracted involuntary single life a lot like protracted unemployment?), physical defects or mental illness. It’s because we’re Catholic. Our Catholic faith is a sign of contradiction to the world in which we live. Because of our faith, we must often choose to be single for a very long time when we could easily get dates or get married by doing things that compromise our integrity. We watch our friends do it all the time. One friend of mine made a spectacularly bad marriage out of desperation, but other friends seem to be doing just fine--except they are doing just fine outside the Church.

The institutional Church does practically nothing to help singles over 25. It’s unclear to me that any marriages even come from Theology on Tap. It’s also clear that marriage is a sacrament baptized Catholics administer to one another, so the institutional Church may have limited options in any case.

The proper solution may involve warning people that waiting is part of the process, and telling people who have been waiting a long time that they may have wait some more, but I feel strongly that for men who have a vocation to marry, there is no proper vocation to wait. A young man not sure of his vocation should look at the percentages and assume he has a vocation to marry until God tells him or he discerns otherwise. There is no vocation to wait for him either.

DowntownDude said...

Alisha is correct in saying the Single Life is a gift the way the Cross is a gift.

The Catholic speaker Michele Fleming--the single best Catholic speaker on singleness there is in my view--says the protracted involuntary single life is "the distinctive cross the of the 21st Century."

That's a little heavy for a college audience, but it deserves at least a mention in a talk for older folks.

Unfortunately, Michele doesn't do a blog. She has some YouTube videos and CDs she sells. A friendly nudge from Seraphic to start bloging might be a useful missionary activity.

Seraphic said...

DowntownDude, many women used to marry the first man who was nice to them because social pressure for women to marry was intense. And the divorce rate may have been so low, once upon a time, because divorces were so hard to get. Now we women are almost entirely free to be with only the man we really, really want. No more settling and keeping our trap shut only for fear of a smack in the kisser.

As Christians, we have to block out social expectations when they interfere with our primary obligation to the will of God.

Meanwhile, one of the Christian revolutions was to declare that the Single life, such as lived by Jesus Christ and countless men and women afterwards in imitation of Him, was SUPERIOR to Married life. Saint Paul is very, very clear on this. And it was the Protestant Reformation that raised matrimony, a worldly matter, above virginity, the sign of the Kingdom.

I have no idea why God hasn't put your future wife in your path yet. The only person He's likely to tell is you. So ask Him and then listen, really listen. Me, I asked a good buddy what my problem was, and she told me. She was right, and I survived the revelation.

Single professional men in their 30s are usually considered matrimonial prizes, especially by single professional women in their 30s and 40s. So--I'm guessing here, and I don't know you at all, except through your comments, and this IS in charity, it seemingly beng my call to help Single people--it could be how you're presenting yourself in public.

I will tell you this: women are afraid of angry men. If you are angry at at Catholic event, like a chastity or vocations lecture, you will send out angry vibes, and women will scatter.

What drew me to my now-husband was that he was friendly, funny and laid-back. If he were any more laid-back, he's be prone. And what drew him to me, through my blog, was my friendly tone and cheerful optimism. When I was frustrated and disappointed and even (alas) humiliated, I tried to make the story funny.

Now, about 90 women, probably mostly single and the majority of them American and Catholic, read this blog. I don't expect people to find spouses through my blogs--even though I did--but just consider the impact your words will have on them. And keep your eyes open: Anna--a Single young Catholic woman--was not scared of your anger. She was INTRIGUED by what you said; maybe you should respond to her question. She was speaking to you.

I got a lot of stick from readers for my harsh portrait of men at a Theology on Tap, but I suggest men readers read it to get an inside scoop on what is going through a woman's head at a Theology on Tap. Click on the "Catholic Register" and then on "The Spring Roll Guy and Mr. Bargle." A bunch of nuns are really, really mad at me for that piece, but it's worth it, if it helps guys out.

leonine said...


Thanks for your comments; I found them very interesting. And I'm sorry for your frustration.

You say you "have a vocation to be married now." It does seem to me, though, that one is never called to marriage, full stop. Surely one is instead called to marry Ms. X or Mr. Y. I don't see how one can be called to marriage in the abstract. I don't want to be trite -- it's obvious that your pain and frustration are real -- but unless you have a vocation to marry a specific and particular woman at this precise moment, how can you have a vocation to be married now?

It may be true that some people think "if a single woman can’t get a date, it’s because there are no good men," but I've been on the receiving end of lots of other explanations. I've been told I won't be able to find a husband because I have an advanced degree from [elite university]. I'm "too picky." I'm "not that good looking." I'm "not making enough of an effort." Every single time I've been on the receiving end of a comment like that, the point wasn't that there weren't good men, but that there must be something wrong with me since I couldn't manage to obtain one! So I take your point, but don't think single women get a free pass from inane comments by ignorant bystanders...

(By the way, I don't know what to do about those kinds of remarks. They sting, and they stay with one, no matter how much one tries to laugh them off, or dismiss them as either well-intentioned or malicious. And I put them in a very different category than the loving and honest feedback from a dear friend of the kind Seraphic recommends.)

Anyway, thanks again for your thoughtful comments. I don't find it hard to imagine that Michele Fleming is correct on this...

DowntownDude said...

There has been a death in my family. I will be back in a couple of days.

Seraphic said...

My condolences, DowntownDude. I've sent up a prayer for your family. See you later.

Lizzie said...

Seraphic, as a student at St Andrews, can I request perhaps that you talk about what to do while you wait? I think a lot of the students know about the waiting bit, but less so what to do while we're at maybe things along the lines of many of your posts - how to meet men/women who are Catholic, advice once you have, discerning if the person you are currently dating is the person you should marry, etc. Also perhaps you could mention something about what kinds of things one should talk about with a boy/girlfriend prior to getting engaged, and even a smidge of what the vocation of marriage is actually like? I think quite a few students here have parents whose marriages are a. not Catholic (like mine), b. have ended in divorce, c. are Catholic but don't pratice, and thus have little or no idea about what the vocation of marriage is all about.

Hope that helps. We're looking forward to it!

Seraphic said...

Dear Lizzie,

These are very good questions and a great help to me as I put my talk together. Thank you!

Lizzie said...

No problem, I'm glad it was a help!