I want to
order print copies
of this Everyday Catholic.
Bulk discounts available!
I want to order a
12-month bulk subscription
to hand out in my parish or classroom.
Unmarried and Unashamed—Grace and the Single Life
By: Christopher Heffron
It’s coming. I can feel it.
It’s the same scenario every holiday. Aunt Karen finishes assembling her plate of food and makes a beeline for the chair next to mine. My spine stiffens. I shut my eyes for a moment. I know it’s coming.
In between bites, she asks about work, home, my social life and, of course, the question dreaded by singles everywhere: “So, think you’ll ever get married?” Karen follows this with pity for my parents: “They’d love more grandchildren.” All I can do is sit and weather this storm yet again. I love my aunt, but the guilt she’s pouring on is thicker than the gravy.
I want to interject and say, “I’m content with my life. If marriage is in my future, that would be great. If I’m destined to remain single, I’m fine with it. Now eat your peas.”
Thankfully, I’m not the only single in my circle of friends, though each person’s outlook on the subject varies. Some are content with their single status. Others are frustrated by it and deeply desire marriage and family life. Regardless, we’ve all answered or dodged that question over the years. And we take great pains to lessen the confusion and suspicion of married friends and family because of our, well, lack of spouses. But it’s never easy.
We walk among you
I’m not a unique phenomenon. According to a 2008 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 104 million unmarried Americans over age 18, representing over 45 percent of the adult population. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that unmarried Americans annually contribute more than $2 trillion to the economy. The U.S. Department of State reported in 2005 that there were more than 56 million unmarried American workers, representing roughly 40 percent of the workforce.
We singles aren’t lazy. Yet there’s a stigma with being unmarried, particularly in the Catholic world where marriage is an institution very dear to the Church—and rightly so. But singlehood is an institution as well, one with an army of faith-filled, passionate soldiers. After all, aren’t we all called by God to live holy lives? Our potential as God’s followers isn’t governed by our marital status, but by the purity of our hearts.
St. Paul writes, “[E]ach has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind....To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). Paul and I would have gotten along.
And though I’m not troubled by my single status, I do admire strong marriages. For example, Susan, a friend of mine, has been married to Mark for 15 years. They have four children and a home in a quiet suburb. I’ve always admired how the family interacts: They banter and exchange one-liners with appealing wit. They may tease and jibe, but love is evident.
Aside from their humor, however, it’s their teamwork that I marvel at. From family functions to soccer practices to guitar lessons, from school plays to Boy Scouts to dance recitals, they are a busy, functioning, marvelously imperfect unit that anybody would admire. In that particular family they are many, but they work as one.
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster
. Include ad link.
I am one, but I work as many. Case in point: Laundry is my least favorite household chore. But without a partner to pitch in, either I perform this task or I’m stuck wearing dirty clothes. Either I clean my dishes regularly or I eat soup out of my shoe.
Undoubtedly, there is a sense of pride singles feel in being the sole breadwinner, cook, gardener, housekeeper, bookkeeper and maintenance crew.
Love is singularly important
The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults reads: “Whoever in the Sacrament of the Eucharist drinks this blood and abides in Jesus is drawn into the dynamism of his love and gift of life, in order to bring to its fullness the original vocation to love which belongs to everyone” (pp. 401-402). Pope John Paul II wrote: “God created man in His own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love.... Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio, #11).
In that respect, single life is every bit the vocation that married, religious and ordained life are. They are radically different paths—one no better than the other. As I am not anchored by the demands of parenthood or marriage, I have perhaps greater mobility and more free time to focus my energies on bettering my community, my parish, my world, myself.
To receive love and give it back: That is the beating heart of every vocation. As two new parents bathe their baby for the first time, swaddling him in a plush towel, they’re creating an environment of love. As a dedicated religious sister pushes through tired feet and an aching back to serve in the soup kitchen of a poor neighborhood, she is creating an environment of love. Singles can do the same. And we do.
Beth M. Knobbe, in her book Finding My Voice: A Young Woman’s Perspective (St. Anthony Messenger Press), speaks of her own choice to be single: “Whether by choice or by circumstance, single people find themselves freed up for something else. This freedom may be directed toward friendship, to service, to hospitality or to other pursuits. In my own journey as a single person, I discovered that life was fuller and more complete once I made a conscious decision to stop dating. I was able to give myself wholeheartedly to my friendships and volunteer activities, and I was free from the anxiety heaped upon me by the expectation that I should be married” (pp. 47-48).
Being unmarried doesn’t mean I withhold myself from others. I share my talents during the workday with colleagues, my humor and guidance with my beloved nieces, my laughter with family and friends. It’s a full life I lead—a happy one.
I am unattached. And unembarrassed.
Permission to Publish received for this article,“Unmarried and Unashamed—Grace and the Single Life,” by Christopher Heffron, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 12-17-2010.
Christopher Heffron is the assistant editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine and social media editor at St. Anthony Messenger Press. A seeker at heart, this Cincinnati, Ohio, native loves film, family and fellowship with friends and colleagues.
By: Frank Frost
Early in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Miss Brodie (Maggie Smith) tells her class, “You girls are my vocation. If I were to receive a proposal of marriage tomorrow...I would decline it. I am dedicated to you in my prime.” She claims a lofty ideal of her single state. The reality of her life turns out to be a bit more complex and even off-the-mark of her desired outcome.
■ Think of a single person you know whose life is one of love. To what do you attribute his or her happiness?
■ How well does your parish communicate to singles their value within the community?
■ What one thing will you do this week to focus your life more clearly on love?
In a school where the visual palette ranges from gray to brown, Miss Brodie dresses in bright colors and takes her students on outings to a green park with white clouds scudding across a blue sky. In contrast stands another single woman, Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson), the unsympathetic headmistress of the girls’ school, who opposes Miss Brodie’s unorthodox teaching style.
On one hand, we choose Miss Brodie over the severe Miss Mackay when she tells her girls, “Safety does not come first. Goodness, truth and beauty come first.” On the other hand, Miss Brodie sings the praises of Fascism to her students. Her apparent desire to see one of “her girls” become the mistress of a married art teacher with whom she herself has had an affair causes us to question her moral integrity. Her advocacy of Fascism and sexual freedom becomes the moral defect that creates her downfall.
Whatever her failings, it’s fair to say, without her acceptance of the single state, she wouldn’t have been so dedicated to her students or passionate about making them “aware of all the possibilities of life—of beauty, honor, courage,” nor to do so joyously in her prime.
Next time you watch The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, ASK YOURSELF:
By: Joan McKamey
“Vocation is how you love and are loved. I have great love for a lot of people. I don’t need to have a special exclusive relationship to share and receive love. That’s our gospel call—to love—and there are many ways to fulfill that call,” says Dee Bernhardt about her choice to be single.
■ In what ways does Miss Brodie’s teaching benefit from her remaining single? To what do you attribute the negative effects she has on “her girls”?
■ Review the mixed motivations revealed by Miss Brodie in her final meeting with Sandy. Is she as selfless as she claims? Rate her as a model of a single person.
Dee has worked as a campus minister at a variety of colleges and universities over the last 30 years. She currently serves as the pastoral associate and director of campus ministry at St. Augustine University Parish in Platteville, Wisconsin. This parish is made up of local residents, as well as students, faculty, staff members and administrators of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
“When I started in ministry, every role model I had at the time was a sister or priest. That had a bearing on my single choice because I benefited from them being available to me and others.
“I’m single because I really believe that it helps me to be spiritually available, emotionally available and physically available to others—my friends, my family and those to whom I minister,” Dee tells Every Day Catholic. She continues, “Being single is a choice for me. I really don’t think that much about it anymore. I was born to live this way; I’m sure of it.”
Dee experiences many graces as a single. She says, “The detachment of being single allows me to develop a deeper faith life. I have time to pray an hour a day. I control my own schedule. Parents don’t have that grace. This detachment allows me to be open to the moment. There is no need to consult with someone else before making plans. When the Spirit calls me, I can be there.
“Students and friends send me frequent notes of thanks and appreciation. How many wives and mothers receive notes of appreciation from their children or spouses? I get a great deal of affirmation,” says Dee.
There are challenges in every vocation, but Dee downplays these since it’s clear the positives far outweigh the negatives in her life. She does admit, “It can be challenging financially. The Church isn’t known for its generous salaries. Being single means having a single income, too.”
As the ninth of 11 children, Dee has an abundance of family and children in her life. She has eight godchildren and many nieces and nephews. Her full life also includes friends and the parish community. “People are very generous,” she says. “When I had surgery, I had more food than I could use.
“There is a great amount of social pressure to be married. Couples are the norm. But I’m fine with being single. I have fabulous friends who are married and fabulous friends who are single.
“My vocation is to follow Christ. The way I follow Christ, after much discernment, is as a single. I try to live a holistically good single life. I try to live joyfully. It all comes back to love.”
By: Jeanne Hunt
Brenda always presumed she’d marry. Now 55, she has lost hope and is resigned to a routine of work and lonely evenings.
She believes that God hasn’t heard her prayers. She thinks, I would have been a great wife and mother. What’s wrong with me? Why does every other woman have what I want?
St. Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11). That learning curve is steep because we struggle to let God teach us what the people, events and circumstances of our lives reveal. When it comes to embracing our vocations, it can be even more difficult.
The single vocation is a real and graced state of life, not a second choice for those who haven’t found a partner. When we learn about the contentment St. Paul writes about, the grace of our life circumstances begins to bear fruit. In practical terms, this means that, when we surrender to God’s will, we start a journey to peace, contentment and holiness. But first, we must surrender.
Each person’s vocation is unique. Some people will be single, vowed religious and married within their lifetime. Some men (single or married) become permanent deacons, and others who are widowed respond to a call to priesthood. Many men and women are suddenly stripped of their married vocation through divorce or death and find themselves “single again.”
We cannot control or predict what God has ready for us. It’s far better to enjoy each chapter of our lives than to look back on past happiness or long for an unlikely future. Savoring the present and seeing our life state as a gift allow us to put the emphasis on what is good about being single.
Brenda knew that being miserable couldn’t be what God wanted for her. She contacted a woman she saw at church each Sunday and asked if they could meet for lunch. Brenda knew that Carol was single, yet she seemed energetic, happy and involved in life. What was her secret?
The lunch was an epiphany for Brenda, which led to an attitude change. The two women talked about the blessings and gifts that being over 50 and single brings. With Carol’s help, Brenda met that moment of surrender and now wonders why she wasted time waiting for happiness when it was always within her grasp.
By: Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Place a small dish containing fragrant oil, a Bible, a multicolored woven cloth and a lighted candle on a prayer table.
“Christ, Be Our Light” (or similar hymn)
We are each a prism of God’s light; each soul brings color and dimension that no other soul can create.
Divine Light, magnify our little lights so that we may honor what is unique and beautiful in each soul. Help us to honor and not diminish our call to live our vocations as expressions of your light. Amen.
Think for a moment of an adjective that describes you in your best light—sincere, funny, thoughtful....This word reveals a little of the light that you are for all of us. Come forward now, dip your finger in the oil and make a Sign of the Cross on your palm. As you rub the fragrant oil into your hands, simply say your word. Then return to your seat.
CLOSING PRAYER AND SENDING
Lord, send us forth now as your anointed ones to live our vocations as beacons of light. May our lives light the way for all those we meet. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.