Is Single-Life a Vocation?

By: Dawn Hausmann

The “single state” is an anticipatory state, awaiting a fulfillment, waiting to be given away totally and irrevocably to God in love either through a spouse, in the marriage vocation or directly to God, through a commitment to celibacy or virginity for the Kingdom.  One doesn’t permanently commit to the single state.  There’s always an option to enter marriage or consecrated life without it being sinful to do so. 

God doesn’t “call us” to be single as such, however, due to the reality of not living in a perfect world, some of us, even many of us, may remain single in this world.  Some may live as singles because of not encountering the spouse we have been waiting for, others because of family emergencies, life situations, a disability, etc. that may prevent us from entering and committing to a permanent vocation.  This doesn’t mean that we are called by God to be single permanently, as an actual calling.  It can be quite the cross that we are given to bear in this world.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1658, acknowledges the reality of the great number of single people who may be single not by their choosing but possibly by life circumstance and it reminds us to be mindful of them, inclusive and help them know that they are a part of the one family of God. 

Of course the question may come to mind, “Why would I be designed for a vocation that I was not able to live in this life?”  I know that many of us have lots of questions of “why this” or “why that” to ask God one day.  Although this is so, an important part to realize is that no matter what chapter of the journey of life we are in as sons and daughters of God, we are all called to live lives of love and holiness from the grace of our Baptism to the best of our ability.  However, it is important that we should seek to answer the question of why single life is not a permanent calling from God in light of His revelation of the truth that the vocation reveals.

What would it mean theologically if we were to say that single life is a vocation?  First off we must see what God reveals to us in the light of the callings to marriage and consecrated life in order to see where we are going with this.  What do these two vocations reveal to us about God, our calling, our destiny, and the meaning of life?  Wouldn’t the “Single State” lead us to believe that we can be self-fulfilled or self-sufficient somehow?  The truth is that fulfillment in ourselves is not possible.  Our destiny is union and communion with God and one another.  We see this by looking to God who is Trinity, Love itself, and community.    

Let’s begin with the beginning.  We are made in the image and likeness of God who is Love.  This God comes to earth and takes on flesh to show us the ultimate calling and fulfillment of man: to love, and what it requires of us.  We see this as we contemplate Christ on the Cross.  He gives a total and irrevocable gift of himself to us, his bride, the Church.  People begged him to get down from that cross, to save himself, but he went to the end for us, gave his life for us.  Therefore, we see in Christ that the greatest response to the calling of love begs for a total and irrevocable gift of ourselves.  Guadium et Spes states, “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear…” (#22) later it states, “…Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”(#24)  The way we as humans can totally and irrevocably give ourselves away in love is through a vocation that requires a vow or promise to another for life, a commitment that promises to remain faithful to the unknown future.  How else could we promise our future away besides in a permanent commitment?  What are we promising?  We promise to live a life of total, faithful commitment to love, to God directly in consecrated life or to God in and through loving another in marriage.

Even in light of the truth revealed in and through our bodies, we see the call to love, the form of our vocation as human beings.  The complementarity of a man and woman’s body reveals the vocation to be gift-of-self to one another in love.  Man and woman’s fulfillment is not found in themselves but by giving themselves away to “an other” who is different than them.  Then from their love, comes fruit, a child who is as John Paul II puts it “a living reflection of their love.”(Familiaris Consortio,14)  The calling of love is relational.  Salvation is about relationship.  Blessed John Paul II said this in Familiaris Consortio, “Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy.  Either one is, in its own proper form, an actualization of the most profound truth of man, of his being “created in the image of God.”(11)  This image of God is that of faithful and fruitful loving communion of the persons in the Trinity.

In the vocation to marriage, we see a living image or icon of God as faithful and fruitful love.  As stated in Ephesians 5:21-32 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ…This mystery has great significance but I am applying it to Christ and the Church.”  The love of spouses requires a total, faithful commitment to one another.  The commitment of the spouses to a total self-gift, ”…in good times and bad, sickness and health, till death do we part…” reveals God’s faithful love to us.  Marriage also reveals the fruitfulness of Love, of God, through the reality of the spouses’ continual openness to life.  This is made visible by the gift of children from the spousal union and by respecting the woman’s fertility and not rendering her womb sterile, living the truth of the language of the body.  The spouses reveal God’s love as an abundant self-gift that overflows in generosity, not in selfishness.

In the vocation to consecrated life, virginity or celibacy for the Kingdom of God, we see the person give a total and irrevocable gift-of-self to God and to His people, anticipating in a bodily way, the reality of the Kingdom to come, where we will all be united to Christ as His Body, His one Bride.  They live out a type of spousal relationship with God and for the priests, a spousal-like relationship with God and the Church.  This vocation reveals the true destiny and dignity of the vocation to marriage and what it is a sign of: the ultimate fulfillment of life, union with God in heaven.  Consecrated men or women live out their love for God in and through the gift of themselves to the Church.  This vocation reminds us of the responsibility to love and serve our greater family of God that includes all of God’s children, not only our immediate families.  They love and serve the people of God as “Spiritual” mothers and fathers, helping them get to heaven by growing in knowledge and love of God.  

Both of these permanent vocations reveal who God is as Love and who the human person is meant to be as love, as gift.  God reveals the call we have by being in His image, the call to love and life, the faithful and fruitful love of God.  We are gift and our greatest human fulfillment is found by being what we are, in and through making a “sincere gift of ourselves”(gs 24).  We are given this capacity to love like Him from the gift of our Baptism and it is our task to respond to this call.  This call invites those of us who are single to remain open and ready to make a committed gift-of-ourselves to God in  and through the marriage or consecrated vocations while continuing to live out our Baptismal call of a life of love and service to God and His people here and now.  We must keep in mind that fundamentally we are gift, all of creation is gift, and therefore we don’t deserve anything, per se.  So we can’t “make” or “demand” that our vocation happens.  We pray and wait in the hopeful expectation of a child for the gift.  This is the stance we should have as children before God in all things for which we ask and pray.