Catholic and Single
Katrina Fernandez and I have something in common in that she’s been blogging about as long as I have. Only she’s, you know, way more successful than I am. However, her and I get to share the experience of reading our younger selves and thus shaking our heads at our own youthful folly. Ms Fernandez recalls that she wrote, “As a single woman in the Catholic Church I am quite contented.” A few years later, she wonders how she could say that.
I never weighed in on “the single vocation” but I was still very optimistic about life would look like in my 30’s. You can read my posts of vocations, grad-school, and quitting and realize very quickly that few things happened as planned. I still think I’d be happy in a religious order, but the twin demons of debt and depression make most vocations directors flee. At the same time, I am still not sure I’m called to marriage but have dived into Catholic dating. You, my dear reader, can decide if that’s a bad idea or the worst idea, but I’ve learned that vocations are rarely realized in pure contemplation and so I’ll try it unless a talking donkey or a fiery bush tells me different. However, I used to be optimistic about the single vocation and spoke highly of it. That dummy 24-year-old Mikey needed to be slapped and reminded that he saw joys in being single because all his friends were single and his college dorm provided a temporarily stable environment.
Now, being single and away from family has a very special kind of loneliness. While I can say my young self was idiotic because of lack of experience, that’s not really an excuse that other members of the Church can use. A lot of single people feel plainly ignored in their parish, and as a single, childless man you may even be treated with suspicion. As David Mills noted in his recent article, “The neglect of single people is a problem that needs a more systematic answer directed by our pastors.” Some do try to tackle it and are given the great answer, “SHUT UP!” Case in point, my friend Kevin O’Brien who has written quite a bit on Catholic Dating and, though he struck a nerve, the comboxes and facebook congresses were full of that saccharine sentimentality that nothing was really wrong and people needed to stop complaining.
With Kevin’s blogs, I was targeted because I had a load of quotable moments with Kevin about the perils of trying to be faithfully Catholic while dating, including a few commentators assuming that I made it all up. Now, some of these folks I know IRL and they are normally good, charitable people but cannot bear to hear that the reality of the situation is different than what they have assumed. For them, there is no vocations crisis and no amount of empirical data or anecdotal information will change their minds. Or, for the strange anon combox warriors, any thinking or oferring a solution that isn’t straight from the 1950’s is immediately treated as evil or (worst) Protestant. Believe me, it’s bizarre.
So, what’s the answer?
I’m not sure. I’m an editor and amatuer theologian and would be a lousy matchmaker, so this is where I admit that I can only point out the problem. But our first step is to acknowledge the challenge. We have a record number of people in the US living alone than ever before and I don’t see that trend reversing. Instead of merely mentioning a single vocation, it’s probably time to define that and figure out how best to live it while we also combat the vocational crisis of marriage and religious life. If we want there to be ample numbers of priests and nuns serving the Church, as well as folks falling in love and having children, we need to start by realizing that there is an issue and then figure out what we can do.
In our own lives, you’ll find that my paucity of solutions is similar to what I offer on the mental health issues of those around us: learn to be a good friend and a good neighbour. I often wonder if the reason why Christ called us to love our neighbour is because this simple act can actually change the world. I’ve seen it in my own life.
For the better part of a decade, I have been away from my family for the holidays. However, I never spent them alone. One family here in New Hampshire has always made a point to invite me over and to make sure I feel welcome. Given my own sense of depression, this has probably kept me within the realm of the sane. Would it be difficult for us all to open our lives to one or two people so that they didn’t have to feel so alienated? Actually, scratch that, it is very, very hard, but love certainly demands a lot.
For my fellow single Catholics, as we enter this season of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas I hope you’ll keep going to Mass. Carry on as best you can and keep trying to be friends to others in your own life. Few things will fulfill you as much as being an answer to someone else’s prayers. Oh, and let’s grab a drink on these snowy nights and see how much we can complain and laugh.