Vocations and the role of single people within the Church

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

| Vocations Guide 2016 |

It is a rare thing for a government budget to favour singles. Instead, the benefits tend to go all the family’s way, and that is how things should be; the family ought to come first in the consideration of matters of the state.

Something similar can be said of the Church, for things tend to be run for those with clear and specific vocations. Indeed, the few programs run for singles tend to be ones which are oriented towards marriage or religious vocations.

In short they are not for singles as singles, but for singles on their way to another state of life altogether. The sense conveyed is that to be single necessarily means one is in abeyance, and if there is a direction to follow then that is to somewhere else altogether different.

It is no wonder, then, that those who find themselves single (perhaps against their own conscious wishes) can think of their state if not as being accursed then as being inferior to those who are married or are religious. Thus creeps in a feeling of dejection, even shame. One craves to move on and yet finds oneself constantly frustrated, and one cannot help but suspect this is down to God.

It is this mixture of frustration and suspicion that can make a single person feel all the more alone, as if there really is no proper place for them in the Church; as if they do not really belong here at home. As if Jesus were a long way off, leading other people, the religious and the married.

To feel that we belong is what we all desire. Even when we are young and cannot wait to leave home and travel the world we can soon succumb to homesickness.

Although we might be on the other side of the world the mere thought of home can dispel sadness for we are reminded that we do belong; we do have a place and thus a purpose. It is true that by dint of our baptism all of us belong to Christ and the Church, only there is belonging and there is belonging – a truth that single people know all too well.

But it is exactly here that the mystery of the role of the single person in the Church might be said to be revealed, because it is here that something of the mysterious depth and character of faith is revealed.

“The foxes have their dens and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Luke 9:58).

Here, in something of an aside, Jesus expresses the mysterious character of the path of faith.

Although without sin, Jesus nevertheless takes upon himself the condition of what it is to be human in a fallen world, a condition that for us is one of being profoundly lost because although ‘of the world’ we are not at home in the world — a condition marked by loneliness and a sense of abandonment.

So it is that on the Cross Jesus experiences the very summit of this anguish when he cries out ‘My God, my God why have you abandoned me?”

Here in the depths of aloneness, as single as one could ever be, Jesus fulfils all, redeems all, and reveals the very glory of God. In short, here is the summit of faith.

In the Letter to the Hebrews faith is to count oneself a stranger and sojourner upon the earth, to look for a city not of this world (Hebrews 11:13; 13:14). In Genesis, Abraham the father of faith was called to wander in hope of a country yet to come. It is this faith that Jesus lived and perfected, and neither was he married and nor was he in his earthly journey a priest or a religious.

Of course, all Christians are called to share in Jesus’ walk but some more so than others; some without the benefit of a recognised and definite vocation to carry them.

Some, by reason of being single are called to share in Jesus’ path in a way others cannot, a path in which there is only a far off sense of home and belonging, where Jesus does seem so far ahead that it seems impossible to follow him. Only, we ought to know that we cannot see him ahead as he is beside us.

On this our dark path we do not so much as follow Jesus as walk side by side with him, two comrades bound together in an intimacy that only two people alone on the road can experience.