Sunday, August 09, 2020

No Vocation to the Single Life

Mary Cuff has a very good article at Crisis, noting that there is no vocation to the single life, despite the increasing tendency of people to talk as if there were. The usual suspects have risen in protest across social media, but Cuff is entirely right; and as it is a point I have made myself, I think it needs reiteration. A vocation is not something to which you are entitled; it is, quite literally, something to which you are specifically called by God and the Church, for the common good. Ordination is a vocation; it is not merely something people fall into, but it is something to which they are called by God and the Church, and specifically for the common good of the Church. Marriage is a vocation; it is not merely something that happens to people, nor even a choice that they make, but something to which they are called by God and the Church, and specifically for the common good of the Church and the human race. Consecrated religious life is a vocation; it involves a calling by God and the Church, and the whole purpose of it is to benefit the whole Church. Ordination, matrimony, consecration, these are things whose whole purpose, properly pursued, is to benefit all of us. They involve our choices, but the principal agent of them as vocations is God.

Singleness itself is nothing like this. It is the default state of the entire human race. Do you know what you have to do to be single? Nothing. It's just what you are unless you change it. And, except in jokes, nobody is permanently single, if that's all that's on the table, for the common good. Being single may be an incidental aspect of another vocation, one that requires celibacy, for instance, and it may help you to do many things helpful for the whole community, but it is not a vocation in itself.

I have had this argument, vehemently, with my fellow Catholics over many years; married Catholics in particular tend to be the worst in trying to insist that I have this completely fictional vocation, although you get priests who are very stubborn about it, too. No! I don't have your made-up vocation. There's actually something kind of nice about that. A vocation is a terrible, weighty responsibility to God and the whole community. In every matter to which you are called by God and the Church, you have to answer to God and the Church for that very thing. Singleness is not a vocation, and thus has no responsibility like this. I have no special responsibility to answer to anyone for my being single. I think also people insist on the fictional vocation because they regard it as some sort of affirmation. It isn't. It is patronizing, condescending, and absurd. I don't need a participation trophy.

And I think it has become a common thing because people do not have a vivid sense of one very important thing: that in a real sense you already have a vocation from your baptism and confirmation, vocations to the Christian life. Forgetting that they are already called to something sacred and glorious, they make up new callings, despite the fact that the callings they have are vocations that are on their own weighty enough to bow the heads of emperors, and responsibilities enough for a lifetime. For these we will certainly answer to God and the Church. Singleness adds nothing at all to these. It does not add an extra dimension of priestliness nor does it bind the Church together more fully. As Cuff rightly notes, "The only rules that govern Catholic singles are the same rules that govern all Catholics."

And because of that, you are not bound to it. There's a very big problem if you betray any vocations you might have tomorrow: you will answer to God and the whole Church in the Final Judgment for that. Perhaps there will be exculpating conditions, but be assured, it will be under review by the highest of high tribunals. There is no disgrace, no shame, no elaborate process, nothing to answer for, if you give up being single; you have betrayed nothing, you have lost nothing, you have not even discovered that by a terrible error you thought you had a calling for which you were in fact unfit, for which you must throw yourself on the mercy of the heavenly court. It is simply a change. And it is simply a change because singleness is not a vocation.