I am both disappointed and happy that most of my recent ramblings have been theological in flavor. I promise that at some point I’ll branch out a bit more. But, that day is not today.
I was in Bowman, ND over the New Years weekend. Brian, a cousin on my mother’s side, was getting married. Now, my mother’s side of the family is rather large. She’s one of 10 kids, each with their own decently sized families. And as we “cousins” continue to get married, the family has started to turn into a tribe. At gatherings like a family wedding, it’s not unusual for me to have roughly 50 people to catch up with. The usual conversation ensues: how I don’t work for the Air Guard full-time, what RealTruck is, whether I’m enjoying it, if there’s anything else going on in my life.
I’m the fourth oldest of the “cousins”–the second generation of this tribe. Of the “cousins”, I’m also the oldest single person. To clarify, my family is–for the most part–a devout Catholic family; one must be married, ordained, or consecrated in order to no longer be “single”. The gap between me and the next oldest single cousins is roughly five years. All this is to say that I am a bit of an anomaly in my family. So it should come as no surprise that someone will bring up the inevitable as part of the discussion. This time, it was my uncle Galen: “So, when are you gettin’ married?”
Even though I am in a long-term discerning relationship, I recently read an article over at Jezebel that I found insightful (which is rare, as I’m not a fan of modern feminism or celebrity gossip). Ms. Lutkin expressed discontent over her friends incidentally diminishing the value of her life without a relationship. This struck a chord with me as, very often in Catholic circles, the same is true but with repercussions on eternal salvation. I’ve been told by Catholic friends whom I love and respect that there is no single vocation and that singleness is a transitional state of life. They feel that singles are somehow “incomplete” because they have not found a permanent role in life. But, if that’s the case, where do our gay Catholic brothers and sisters (who are striving to live a chaste life) fit in? Are the merits of a pious single life a mere nothingness compared to the priesthood, religious life, or marriage?
A few months back, Fr. John and Fr. Nathan discussed the importance of celibacy and its elevated state. One of the points they were careful to make a distinction on is that marriage is not a lesser state subservient in piety to the priesthood, but that the consecration of the priesthood (and the resulting celibacy) are elevated because of their direct connection to Christ. In a similar way, a husband and wife are consecrated to each other. In fact, the marital consecration is a reflection of the relationship of Christ (and joined to Him, the presbyterate) to his Church. The marital consecration, by its very nature, sets aside the couple in a special way. And whether they realize it or not, this is the buried truth that Catholics are recognizing when they unwittingly diminish the importance of singleness.
With this in mind, I have a call to action. We as lay Catholics need to recognize the necessary distinction: namely, that Catholic singles are not living a less fulfilled life by not being married, but a pious life simply without the same consecration found in other vocations. We should rejoice in our priests, delight in our religious, marvel at our married, and respect our singles. We should pray that those who are called to a higher level of consecration, but remember to support and uplift those who are not. We all have different tasks that the Lord calls us to. And for the sake of all that is good, do not pressure those who are discerning. It’s a process that requires patience and prayer on the part of the individual discerner. So, the next time you meet a nice single Catholic, instead of asking “Are you seeing anyone?” or “Have you considered the priesthood?”, how about starting off the conversation with a simple “How’s your prayer life?” I bet you’ll be amazed at the results.