Forgotten Children: Singles in the Church

woman-prayingA question that occasionally comes up when the topic of single Catholics is raised has to do with priorities. Some would say that the Church is too busy addressing the many moral evils in today’s society to be concerned with single people. This line of thinking, however, prevents the Church from seizing a great opportunity. Assisting singles who are called to marriage is actually a practical way of addressing some of the moral issues that the Church is dealing with.

The Forgotten Children

Ultimately, I’d like to see Mother Church spend the same amount of time on her single children as she does on her married ones. I’ve seen the Church put great effort into helping married couples stay married, something which is quite admirable on the Church’s part. These days, however, just getting to the altar has become a herculean feat. A very wonderful and faithful priest once told a friend of mine that she needed “to find her husband at the altar” meaning she needed to find a man who lived his faith fully. While I think this is sensible spiritual advice, it’s hard to accomplish this when so few singles practice their faith regularly in the first place.

And it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of single Catholics out there, somewhere, in society. According to Michael O’Loughlin, in his analysis of a Pew Research Center study, married people only make up 52% of the Catholic Church in the U.S. Although unmarried Catholics now make up almost half of the Church’s membership, few of them show up for Mass on Sundays and holy days, and there seems to be no concern on the Church’s part that they aren’t there.

I think singles ministry can be a very practical idea for drawing singles back to the Church and, for many people, catechizing them in the faith for the first time. For those dioceses which feel that this, or any other kind of outreach, is not feasible in the near future, prayers, encouragement, and spiritual advice could still be given from the pulpit for those of us who do practice our faith. Cardinal Dolan’s suggestion on prayers for more marriage vocations is an easy way to help singles who are called to marriage.

I’ve heard many a homily on the topic of marriage including encouragement for married couples to continue living their vocation, reminders on the importance of bringing children to Mass, etc. How hard would it be to encourage singles to continue the pursuit of their vocation as well as to follow the Church’s moral teachings and get there the right way? While reminding married couples with children to come to Mass, why not remind all Catholics, married and single, that they are obligated to get themselves to Mass on certain days?

It would also help for the Church to consider that many single Catholics can no longer be categorized as “young” adults. It may be tempting to continue to push the age limit of the young adult ministry further and further back, thus using the young adult model as a kind of catch-all. In the end, though, this really is not fair to those Catholics who actually are young as well as to those who are shut out as a result of no longer meeting the age requirement.

Finding a Moral Witness Among Single Catholics

Because there is much moral demise within our society, we need a multitude of the lay members of the Church to testify to the sanctity of marriage by being living examples. We need men and women who get married, stay married, and remain open to life. It’s hard to do this, however, when people remain single on into their 40’s, 50’s and beyond, a problem which afflicts more and more Catholics each year. Sometimes it seems as if many of the people marrying young in the Church are the folks who are living together, using contraception, marrying outside the Church, etc., while those who follow the Church’s teachings are unable to establish a family.

Secular society looks at this phenomenon and sees further “evidence” that the Church’s teachings are outdated. It gives the appearance that in order to be part of a family, an individual first needs to disregard the Church’s teachings. I obviously don’t believe that conclusion myself, but I know it must look that way to many outside observers. At a time in which we are supposed to be evangelizing the culture around us, the New Evangelization is being undermined by the fact that more and more Catholics are not living out their vocations.

Why should the Church take an interest in single Catholics? Ultimately, helping singles who are called to marriage, whether they are young, old, or in between, is an important aspect of counteracting the culture of death. It is a practical and concrete way of showing the world that marriage and family, when lived out in accord with the Gospel, are essential and beneficial to society. In the end, it’s a matter of practicing what we’re preaching.

Catherine Cash is an elementary school teacher, having taught nearly every grade from kindergarten through eighth. In her free time she enjoys reading, blogging, playing the flute, and working on her house. The above article is a reprint from her blog, “the hidden faithful.”
  • Kim Sisk

    But what about those of us single Catholics who aren’t called to marriage or a religious vocation? I’m 40, and I’m tired of hearing that marriage is the be-all and end-all if you’re Catholic. I briefly considered a vocation, but I’m too old for many many…like the Daughters of St. Paul. I feel like the CC doesn’t know what to do with people like me.

    • Pax

      what would you wan’t them to do? There is a good tradition of people who are single for the Christ. In fact that tradition pre-dates monasticism as nearly as I can tell. Do you think we need some kind of exclusive society for those with your specific vocation? Perhaps you are called to start one? I can’t say as I would know what that should look like.

    • ElizD

      This is far more the unmet need. There is various help for those who feel called to marriage, but practically no support for those of us called to celibate chastity in the lay state. I was told once by a diocesan official “they don’t want to encourage it” apparently due to the precipitous drop in Catholic marriages, and not making a distinction between people who avoid marriage and people with a positive celibate calling. One local priest insisted to me “the Church doesn’t want lay forms of consecrated life” till I showed him otherwise from major Church documents that acknowledge the value of even the vocations of those lay people who are privately consecrated to God. But the attitudes that exist prevent Church leaders giving appropriate or adequate pastoral help to these individuals to live this path as a response to the call to holiness. Some are virgins but not infrequently today these are people who got caught up in all the contemporary errors when they were younger and were wounded by sexual sins (and sometimes abortion) before choosing to give themselves completely to Jesus as chaste celibates, finally finding the only love that truly fulfills. These penitents are not throw away people nor are they incapable of chastity and it is absolutely false to insist they are all called to marriage. The Gospel invitation to remain unmarried for the sake of the Gospel is not addressed specifically to virgins but to all the unmarried.

      • Religious vows don’t produce chastity. Temperance or self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
        All real consecration to God is private. A religious vocation is ancillary.
        The single life, as a vocation, was not encourage even before marriage started to drop off. The attitude, even back in the 1950’s was that if you are not going to get married, you may as well enter into the religious life. In the list of 3 major vocations, the single life was third on the list.

    • No need to complain. Single Catholics, whether called to marriage or not, need the same teaching and encouragement as anyone else. Saint Paul preferred that people stay single if they can (see 1Corinthins 7:8-40). Being single is actually a higher calling, even when you are not in a religious vocation. I prefer not to be a religious. There are too many restrictions. It is not what defines you as a Christian.

  • retiredconservative

    Thank you for this article. I converted, as a single woman, in 1995. I was 38. I’m now coming up on 60, still single. And I am invisible in today’s church. I was never called to a religious order. I realized a long while back that I was not called to marriage. I love the church. I love my faith. I love God. But in my parish, I’m not even welcome in the pews. And that last statement is not an exaggeration. I have been chided by the deacon, FROM THE PULPIT, for not singing the insipid lyrics of the insipid contemporary hymns (before YOU chastise me for not singing, please know that my singing voice is something not even howling dogs should hear) and for not taking communion in the hand.

    • Pax

      well, the not taking communion in the hand is in direct violation of Vatican orders and you should consider reporting it to your bishop if it is a remotely recent issue. Honestly I would encourage you to sign though, or at least talk the words in monotone, even if it annoys other people around you. They may well need a reminder that all the ‘hymns’ sung in the church are a prayer and musical ability is not a prerequisite to pray.

  • MissTrixieB

    I have felt for a long, long time that I am marginally welcome in the Catholic Church. Don’t get me wrong, I love my faith, attend Mass regularly, and volunteer as a catechist. Since leaving “big business” behind, I now work in my parish office. I have many friends and consider my church family as my family. However, recognition and attention to those of us over 40 and unmarried is lacking. I was never called to a religious vocation nor am I called to the vocation of consecrated single. I’ve always wanted to be married but trying to find a good Catholic man with values is difficult. I pray that God will lead me to that man but it sure would be nice if the Church recognized how the large numbers of us — men and women — and ministered to us as they do families and young adults. Here in my diocese on the west coast, I’ve even heard some of the higher-ups in the diocese say the focus has to be on the ethnic communities. The message came across very strongly that if you’re not in one of the ethnic communities, your needs aren’t as valued. That was a very sad day for me.