Helping Myself To Some Leftovers

aisle-altar-arches-226345Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, writes a short section on “Love and Support Unmarried People in the Community.”

Dreher correctly writes that the church can me a lonely place for singles.

While it’s correct and right for the Church to affirm marriage and family as the ideal forms of the Christian life, we singles sometimes get overlooked.

What about our witness? What about our lives? And what about those of us who haven’t discerned a call to marriage? It’s not wonder that our nickname is “the leftovers.”

Their status as singles that leaves clergy and parish staff scratching their heads a lot. Where can they “place” us besides babysitters and clean-up crew?

It’s normal to be confused by us because really, we confuse ourselves! We’re in our 20’s, 30’s and some of us are nearing our (gasp!) 40’s. More and more people are delaying marriage, more and more of our friends are co-habitating, and more and more of us are getting sucked into the online dating scene or possibly something worse out of desperation to be in a relationship.

We may be succumbing to the hook=-up culture. If you haven’t dated anyone in the past 5-10 years, the dating marketplace has dramatically changed. And if you haven’t dated in more than 20 years, I doubt you’ll recognize single-dom today. It’s messy. It’s strange. It’s sad. And it’s lonely.

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Of course, it’s not all bad news. There are still good men and women out there. I picture them all wandering…aimlessly searching for their equivalent. They want someone just to have a conversation with. It’s been a while since they’ve sat down and had an actual conversation face to face. They’re used to 1 dimensional screens. Some of them don’t know life without a smartphone, without the internet.

Most would love to meet someone organically. But lately, that seems to be harder and harder.

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As more and more people become secularized, and more and more people leave the Church, that whole, “Maybe you’ll meet someone at Church” seems to be falling away.

Where are the solid young people, the orthodox Christians and Catholics?

Besides the pews, because I promise you there are some of them there, many of them are hanging out at the Latin Masses, which is growing in popularity, at least in my diocese. A lot of the TLM’s take place in parishes that aren’t your typical Catholic parishes with Bingo and Daycare. It’s usually the larger cathedrals/older churches that still have a Low and a High mass and that’s attractive because it’s different. And for those young adults who desire authenticity, the traditional Latin mass is home to many young adults these days.

There’s also groups like your local Young Catholic Professionals chapter or simply those that attend a Theology on Tap event or Young Adult event. And they may not go just to meet a potential date; they go so they can meet other people, period. It’s an added bonus if they end up dating.

While it’s good to meet like-minded singles, it doesn’t always end up being the case. And it’s hard to meet people at mass when you’re in the pews trying to worship.

So gatherings of young adult singles doesn’t always have to revolve around religion, per se. Recreational/intramural sports leagues and going to the bars for trivia nights and just hanging out in casual social situations is usually enough to meet someone to engage in a conversation with.

But in the meantime, I appreciated Dreher’s advice for the parish community with regards to guiding and mentoring young singles:

All unmarried Christians are call to live celibately. And that can be incredibly difficult in today’s culture. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea, besides a Young Adult Ministry, to “consider establishing single-sex group houses for unmarried members to live in prayerful fellowship.” He goes on to point out that it’s difficult to live chastely in a culture “as eroticized as ours, especially when there is so little respect for chastity. One expects this from the world, but the church must be different.”

While setting up housing may not be an option for your local parish at the moment, there is something you can do, no matter what your state in life, to help with the “leftovers” – encouragement and mentorship.

I’m attempting to do something like this with a 4-week series with the Young Adult ministry at my parish called Dating and Discerning Marriage As A Catholic. We’ll be hearing testimonies from young married couples (some with kids, some without) about their dating experience, their marriage, how they pray as a couple, how they pray as a family, practicing chastity as they dated and now that they are married, the ups and downs of NFP, etc.

It’s going to be a very engaging series touching on subjects like interfaith dating, setting boundaries within friendships, how the heck to practice chastity in today’s world and how singleness bears fruit, despite it’s difficulties.

I’d love to report back on it after it’s over here so look for that in the fall.

In the meantime, pray for the young people who come to this series to have receptive hearts and minds as they hear from the couples as well as myself; that they learn something new and especially for those who have been single for a long time, who desire nothing more than to do God’s will and feel a painful ache to be married, but for whatever reason, haven’t met their future spouse.

Spend some time with your single friends when you get a chance. Ask them how life is going. Don’t pry into their dating life unless they begin that conversation. And don’t pity them. Pray for them and offer any insight you have with them on relationships and marriage. Don’t try to tell them that you know what it’s like, but DO try to share your own stories of struggle and success. Give them hope.

They are not leftovers. They are the future of the Church. And they need our support and our love.

 

The Single Dilemma

Ahhh, the single life. Ain’t it grand?

I was recently a bridesmaid at a wedding and it was probably the first time I was GLAD to be at a wedding without a date. Why? Because recently I discovered my calling, my vocation, my purpose in life.

I know what you’re thinking: Whoa. You discovered the purpose in your life? That’s kind of a big deal.

And I would say to you, yes, it’s a very big deal. Hence, my dilemma. (And Yes, that IS how you spell dilemma. I know, I thought it was with an “N” too! There’s even an entire website dedicated to this comical error!)

Getting back to this wedding I was in. Since it was across the country, it wasn’t ever expected for me to bring a date. So I managed to avoid any and all questions of “Who are you here with?” “You’re here alone? Oh…You know I have a cousin who is single…”

Isn’t that usually how the conversations go? Our attached/married friends so badly want to set us up with someone who they assume is single and looking. Or, you get a slew of some form of the following questions:

Are you dating anyone right now?

Are you seeing anyone?

Are you interested in anyone lately?

Have you met anyone?

But see, I’m not looking anymore. And that’s really difficult for people to comprehend. Especially since I’m a female of child-bearing age.

What’s even more difficult to understand is that I’m HAPPY to be single. And not because I think dating is difficult (which it is) or that marriage can be extremely hard (which it could be). No, I’m not saying YES to being single because I want to AVOID dating and marriage. I’m saying YES to being in communion with God, and in the communion of saints – that is, with Christ and the Church.

Again, a very difficult concept for even the most super of super Catholics to comprehend, not to mention non-believers.

How can anyone be single and celibate and be thrilled about it? I attempted to explain this in a post recently. And I also explained a little bit about the freedom of lust here.

But here’s more of how this single life looks:

Celibacy emphasizes that man is called to be a “Partner of the Absolute” – that his deepest yearning is not for the marriage of earth, but for the marriage of heaven. When viewed in light of “the kingdom,” the celibate person loses nothing and gains everything! The joyful celibate testifies that heaven is real. And it is worth sacrificing everything to possess. – Christopher West – Theology of the Body Explained

The joyful celibate. My gosh, how perfect is that?! I think that might need to be the name of my book, if I ever get finished with it.

If you know that being single is your vocation, how do you even begin to tell people and expect them to understand?

I never viewed being single as being a vocation. And technically, it’s not a vocation in the truest sense of the word according to the USCCB. It’s a state in life.

Being single is a state in life, not a vocation. Being single can be support for your vocation to follow God’s call to you to help others, to do good works, etc., but it is not a vocation in and of itself. — Dr. Theresa Notare, USCCB

BUT, technicalities aside, it doesn’t matter. If anything, this reassures me that I AM meant for something else, that my life is meant to be steered in a different direction.

According to Mary Beth Bonacci of CatholicMatch.com, being single means that God is asking you to follow a different path, one that is uniquely your own.

“God writes straight with crooked lines. He meets us where we are. When we turn our lives over to Him, he creates something beautiful — beyond our wildest expectations,” she says. “As singles, we’re more aware that real fulfillment comes from giving. The absence of built-in gifts in our lives motivates us to move outside of ourselves and to reach out in love to those around us.”

I’ve felt this inner voice also steering me to GIVE of my time more. Since, as someone who does not have children or a spouse, I DO have the time! I might not have the money that some singles might have that’s needed to make a huge difference in someone’s life, but donating my time is something that I CAN afford to give.

But how do you know singlehood is your lot in life?

Excellent question. I wish I had a solid answer to this.

All I know is the Holy Spirit is definitely speaking to me. After many months of asking and praying about it, the Holy Spirit has put me on the right path. And that path seems to be pointing towards “a voice for the single’s.”  We are commonly referred to as the “leftovers” because no one knows what to do with us. And because being single covers a wide variety of ages, there’s quite a few of us that need some direction and purpose in the church besides clean-up crew.

What does this ministry or group look like? No idea. I’m working on it though!

There’s hope for us in the singlehood. I found my hope and my enthusiasm for the single life through Theology of the Body. But it might happen for you or others thru a different avenue or a different ministry or an entirely different and unique experience. And that’s all good!

If there was one message to my single friends I would want relayed, it would be this:

Don’t become frustrated if you keep getting those questions about seeing someone and dating someone. If you feel it is your vocation to be married, I believe if it’s part of God’s plan for you, it will happen. But in the meantime, why not be a joyful celibate? Be happy to be in a season of waiting for that final union with God. Because in the end, you’re seeking Him, not him or her.

 

Bound by Lust, Liberated by the Ethos of Redemption

I just found this passage recently from  Theology of the Body Explained – A Commentary on John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them by Christopher West

The subject matter is Celibacy and Solitude:

Christopher West and Pope John Paull II talk about remaining in the “ache” of man’s original solitudethe “ache” to which the Lord himself refers when he said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). The conscious choice to refrain from marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” becomes a powerful testimony to the fact that God and God alone can ultimately fulfill that “ache” of solitude. Men and women who vow to a life of celibacy devote their yearning for communion directly toward God.

I look at the “ache” and I am deeply attracted to it. And I recently figured out why I am so attracted to it:

“For those whose hearts are bound by lust, the idea of choosing a life of total continence is absurd. But for those who are being liberated from lust by the ethos of redemption, the idea of sacrificing the genital expression of their sexuality “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” not only becomes a real possibility – it also becomes quite attractive, even desirable.

This was me – I was the one who was bound by lust. But I experienced that liberation from lust by the ethos of redemption and let me tell you, it was an amazing experience that I wish EVERYONE could encounter. Because I now recognize that my life has been dominated by lust, I am now extremely excited about living the rest of my life as a celibate. I am welcoming the “ache” with open arms.

I don’t expect anyone to really understand this except maybe for fellow…celibates? 🙂 But for those who are single by choice, those who know that being married and having children is not the path you have been put on, I would propose to you, fellow singles, this life of celibacy for the kingdom. This is NOT a person’s way of saying that “marriage is too hard” or “dating is so tiresome” so therefore, “I’m just going to be single and celibate forever.” No, this is not that at all. This is choosing to live for something greater. For me, I am choosing to go down this path because I feel God calling me to it. For others, they might feel God guiding them to marriage and children. For others they might feel the pull to religious life. I have never felt a desire or yearning to have a family of my own. This feeling has never faded over time and I have never changed my mind even as I enter my late 30’s. This is how I have always felt and now I can finally put a name to it. Now I finally know WHY I never felt the pull to the other vocations – My singleness IS my vocation.

There’s another nugget of wisdom from TOB:

“Celibacy is not only a matter of formation but of transformation.

The Holy Father recognizes that a proper examination of the way in which the celibate vocation is formed, or rather “transformed” in a person would require an extensive study beyond the scope of his analysis (see TOB 81:5)”

And this is why I cannot explain my feelings adequately. How someone becomes or chooses celibacy is so transformative, that a deeper explanation is needed.

I’m actually excited and thrilled to live out the rest of my life as a celibate. And I couldn’t possibly feel this way and this wouldn’t be happening at all if it weren’t for the grace I received after finally attending confession at the TOB retreat last month. After 15 years of living a lust-driven life, I finally have that weight lifted off my shoulders and now I can focus on living an authentic life. The life I was called to live, to be the person I was called to be.

Ahhh, the joy of freedom!

Bonus material: I came across this video from Jackie Francois about the Ache of Singlehood – Worth watching for those who are single AND married. Pretty sure she and I share the same brain. 🙂