God’s directive to the mother and father of all humanity refers to physical fruitfulness. But Jesus in the Gospels speaks about a different kind of fruitfulness when he says: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (Jn 15:5).
Jesus obviously doesn’t mean “he who abides in me bears many babies.” Jesus is referring to fertility in a spiritual sense.
As Love Is Our Mission explains, “every life is meant to be fertile. Every life has the power and the need to nurture new life — if not through bearing and raising children, then through other vital forms of self-giving, building, and service.”
Married or not, every one of the baptized is called to spread the Good News by acting as God’s hands in the world, serving others.
Everyone has the capacity for spiritual fertility — parents, grandparents, godparents, couples struggling with infertility, priests, religious sisters and brothers, and single people. “Not everyone is called to marriage,” Love Is Our Mission reminds us. Even those who get married do it at later ages — the average age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men.
Most young people can expect at least ten to fifteen years of living the single life. What this means for parents is that we need to teach our children how to be single.
One young woman recently complained that single people “are caught between a hyper-sexualized culture and a marriage-obsessed Church community.” Single life is often reduced to a fruitless search for true love rather than a fruitful life of serving others. Living apart from their families, single people have the freedom to live life only for themselves, but that doesn’t necessarily make them feel fulfilled or happy.
So, how do we teach our children to lead fruitful lives while they are still single?:
1. “Raise our young people to see that a romantic partner is not essential for human happiness” (Love Is Our Mission). Some parents and siblings tease even kindergarteners about having a boyfriend or girlfriend. “Oh, how cute,” say the moms. “He likes you, he likes you,” chant the siblings. In our house, we shut that down immediately, explaining that little children are way too young for that. We don’t even allow that kind of teasing of our teenage children. We encourage same-sex friendships instead, and so far everyone’s been happy.
2. Cultivate a spirit of community service. At-home chores serve the nuclear family, and community service helps the broader human family. Confirmation programs wisely stress the importance of community service for seventh- and eighth-graders preparing to take the sacrament. The kids are old enough to learn to take responsibility not only for themselves but for the world around them. If they start a habit of volunteering during their tween and teen years, with grace and luck that habit will continue into their early twenties.
3. Teach them how to entertain themselves. An additional benefit of community service is it gives young people something good to do with their free time. Instead of spending their spring break partying in Miami or Cancun, they can go on mission trips to Haiti or Sierra Leone. While at home, instead of socializing in “clubs, pubs, and bars where promiscuity is normal” (Love Is Our Mission), they can join choirs, sports teams, art classes or chess clubs. This is the time when all those dollars spent on extracurriculars pay off, and you see that your kids have a wide range of interests that they can share with other people.
4. Leave their vocations up to God. Some parents badly want their children to get married, either because they’re longing for grandchildren or they view priesthood and religious life as a kind of “second-best” alternative. Some parents have bad memories of ill-tempered nuns who whacked their hands with rulers in grade school. Maybe they’ve missed the great pictures of young religious sisters in full habit playing basketball. But the celibate life is not “sterile” or “isolated” (Love is Our Mission). It’s a life lived in community, whether in convents or rectories. And it might be the most spiritually fruitful life of all, spreading the Good News, doing good works, and bringing souls to Christ.
Originally published at Can We Cana?