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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 [1], 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 [2] 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.