When Speaking to the Clergy

Recently a friend informed me that she was contemplating talking to a priest at her parish about ways in which the Church could encourage more vocations to the sacrament of marriage.  After our conversation it occurred to me that she, and anyone else who is inspired to speak up to the Church on this topic, might need a few quick facts about single Catholics in order to back up the point they’re making.  So I put together a “cheat sheet” of information that I suspect many of the clergy are unaware of these days.  I decided to list this information for anyone else thinking about speaking to/writing to various members of the clergy.  The data listed below, along with the sources, is pulled from all of my previous posts.  I thought it might be helpful to have it all listed in one place, and so, here is is:

 

Emma Green of The Atlantic writes, “Beginning in 1970, however, Catholic marriages went into decades of steady decline, until the turn of the new century—when that decline started to become precipitous: Between 2000 and 2012, Church weddings dropped by 40 percent, according to new data from the Official Catholic Directory.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/07/how-important-is-it-to-have-a-church-wedding/374767/)

Emily Stimpson, writing for Our Sunday Visitor, cites statistics from the National Marriage Project, which describe some of the ill effects of the single life. “As statistics collected by the National Marriage Project show, the single life is rife with risk factors. For example, single people in general are two to three times more likely to be depressed than their married peers and far more likely to commit suicide. Singles, particularly men, tend to suffer from more health problems than married individuals, as well as die younger.” – See more of this excellent article at: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/ByIssue/Article/TabId/735/ArtMID/13636/ArticleID/1353/Being-single-in-the-universal-Church.aspx#sthash.F0YC6o87.dpuf

According to The Tablet, a British Catholic newspaper, some of the Catholic Bishops of France have offered their own insights on the topic of single Catholics.  The Family and Society Council of the French bishops conference states that, “many adults live as singles, not always willingly, and the Church should address their problems in its discussion of the family. . .  Bishop Herve Giraud of Soissons said single Catholics felt  ‘forgotten, even devalued, by the Church.’  They are often overlooked because they rarely come forward to speak about their problems.” (http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/1843/0/synod-asked-to-consider-situation-of-single-catholics-by-french-bishops)

According to Hannah Furness of The Telegraph, “A new study of churchgoers found many Christians feel isolated within their own communities, due to attitudes towards single people.

Four out of ten single worshippers reported feeling “inadequate or ignored”, with more than a third claiming they were treated differently to those who appeared happily married.

More than 40 per cent of those surveyed said their church “did not know what to do with them”.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10016925/Single-people-feel-ignored-and-lonely-at-Church.html

Anastasia Northrop, founder of the National Catholic Singles Conference, states that, “there are more than 27 million single Catholics in the United States, which is a record number.”  Ms. Northrop’s information, in turn, is taken from a Pew Research poll.  She also notes that, ” ‘Certainly, many singles could be called ‘young adults,’ but there are many in their 30s, 40s and older who are part of the Church, but often feel there is no place for them or that everything is centered on families.’ ” (http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/no-reason-to-fear-the-s-word-single).

Emily Stimpson asserts, “Chances are, however, you’re still single for the same reason most of us are:

We’re Catholic and the culture is not.

The sexual revolution, divorce, abortion, contraception, pornography, cohabitation, even serial dating have left countless potential mates wounded and in need of healing. Others want and expect things from us that we cannot and must not give. The pool of eligible spouses is small, which leaves many of us single later—maybe much later—than we’d like.

But your unwillingness to widen that pool by turning your back on God and compromising on what you know to be true doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. It means something’s right.”      (emphasis added). http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cw/post.php?id=639

It may also surprise a good number of people to know that there are definite spiritual dangers inherent to the single life.  As Jared Silvey describes it, in the single life, “There is no sacrament to go along with it. The single lay person may not have a community of support on hand, or a structured religious life. As we alluded to before, the single lay state, in a sense, is the most dangerous vocation, and because of the lack of accountability and ready-made structure there are many more opportunities for falling into sinful bad habits.”   http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/single-lay-state-deserves-attention.

David Mills states, “The rest of us who are married can also do something for the single people around us: Make them real friends, especially if the default setting of your life is—as it usually is—to spend your time with other married people. . . http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/single-and-catholic-5864386572845056s

“Cardinal Dolan recalled a ‘well-said’ observation offered some years ago when he was archbishop of Milwaukee by an archdiocese pastoral council member. The council was discussing ways of increasing vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life.  In that context, the pastoral council member stated that ‘the greatest vocation crisis today is to lifelong, loving, faithful, life-giving marriage.’ She added, ‘You take care of that one, and you’ll have all the priests and sisters you need.’ “  http://www.foryourmarriage.org/cardinal-dolan-sees-new-urgency-around-marriage/

Cardinal Dolan has suggested, “a ‘new phrasing’ of a prayer of the faithful during Masses.  His rephrased prayer would petition God ‘for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life and the sacrament of marriage.’ ”  http://www.foryourmarriage.org/cardinal-dolan-sees-new-urgency-around-marriage/.

Michael O’Loughlin, in his analysis of a Pew Research Center study states, married people only make up 52% of the Catholic Church in the U.S. (http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/05/12/pew-survey-percentage-of-us-catholics-drops-and-catholicism-is-losing-members-faster-than-any-denomination/).

Speaking up, part 2

writing*Update- I did receive a thoughtful and well written reply from this priest.  Although I don’t have time to get into details at the moment, suffice to say, I was very impressed with his sincerity and his openness on the subject of single Catholics.

Not long ago I got to hear yet another homily in which the priest discussed the symbolism of the priesthood as well as the symbolism of marriage and family.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, the priest forgot to include the other 48% of the Church in the US, i.e. single people.

Now I do want to give credit where credit is due.  In many ways this particular priest lives his vocation exceptionally well.  He even went so far as to remind, (perhaps instruct for the first time ?), the married people that part of living their vocation is the necessity of being open to life- an obvious reference to the immortality of birth control.  The priest also mentioned the importance of “getting there the right way”.  This comment may have been aimed at singles who are trying to navigate the dating scene.  If this was an indication that the Church recognizes there are singles sitting in the pews at Mass, however brief and indirect the reference was, I’ll take it.

Still the priest’s homily left me with many unanswered questions from the point of view of a single Catholic.  Seeking spiritual advice, I went home and wrote the priest a letter.  I have yet to hear back from him, and it’s been a few weeks.  I understand that priests are busy people, not unlike most singles I know who work long hours to pay the bills on a single’s salary, so I do sympathize.  However, since he is unable to respond to my spiritual needs, I thought I would open up the discussion to my readers.  Below is an edited version of the letter I composed that day:

Dear Father ___________,

Thank you very much for your service to __________ parish.  I appreciate how reverently you say Mass and enjoy hearing your homilies.

I do need some spiritual advice concerning your homily at Mass this Sunday.  You spoke beautifully about the vocation of being a priest and about the vocation of marriage.  You encouraged the congregation to continue living their vocation to marriage and reminded us that the family here on earth is an image of the Trinity.  You also encouraged us to live and/or get to our vocations the right way, by which I assume you meant by being faithful to Church teaching- something which the lay faithful does need to be reminded of these days.

My question is this:  as a single Catholic, called to marriage, but who cannot find a suitable spouse- i.e. one who does not expect sex before marriage, cohabitation, contraception, etc., where do I fit in to the Church?  Although I have a vocation, I have been unable to fulfill it, though not from lack of trying.  I’ve been involved in various lay ministries in service to the Church.  I’ve given online dating a fair try, having spent 8 years on Catholic Match.  Although I may fulfill my vocation at some point in the future, I have no idea when that will be.  In the meantime, I constantly wonder what good am I to the Church.  I am not a sign of the world to come, as you are as a celibate priest, nor am I part of an image of the Trinity as a family is.

I have a large number of single friends these days, the majority of whom are Catholic.  Most are my age and older.  It’s not surprising that I know so many singles.  In fact, 48% of the Catholic Church in the US is unmarried at this time (Pew Center Research study May 2015).   I can’t help feeling that the Church has no use for us and doesn’t quite know what to do with us or how to minister to our spiritual needs.  In short, as someone who is not living a vocation, what value do I have in the Catholic Church?

I certainly appreciate your service to the Church and that of all the priests in our Diocese.  I pray for the clergy on a regular basis.  If you should ever be inclined to offer prayers and encouragement to single Catholics who are trying to fulfill their vocations to marriage, especially those who are trying to get there the right way (and who are paying a price for their faithfulness), I can assure you this would be greatly appreciated.

I do want to thank you again, sincerely, for your service at _________ parish.  We are very blessed to have you as one of our priests.  Thank you for taking the time to listen to my spiritual concerns.  If you prefer to respond by email, my address is listed below.  If you ever have a free moment, I have a blog on single Catholics also listed below.  I once had the opportunity to show it to a seminarian in our diocese whom I happen to know.  He later told me he felt he had been “enlightened” on the topic after reading it.  I’m guessing the topic of single Catholics doesn’t come up too much in the seminary.

Yours in Christ,

Catherine Cash

Comment on US Bishops website or the Necessity of Speaking up

angel-statue-writing-2So it had been a while since I sent the US bishops a reminder that singles are part of the Catholic Church and in need of spiritual assistance. This time around contacting them was made easier by the fact that they now have a website all about marriage.  I sent in a comment on one of their articles entitled “Why does the Church care so much about Marriage?”  The link is provided for anyone wishing to read the article and the full extent of my comment.  If you follow the link to their site and don’t see my comment at the bottom, be sure to click on “comments” at the top of the page.  Just thought I’d share these thoughts with my readers here as well.  http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/2016/01/27/faq-series-why-does-the-church-care-so-much-about-marriage/.

My commentary, in part, on the article states, “The Church is correct that marriage is good for people and society. It puzzles me then as to why to Church seems indifferent to the enormous number of singles, both in society and in the Church these days. . . Since marriage is the manner in which God intends to save most people, why is there so little concern or at least prayers for all of these singles, most of whom are supposed to be married, many of whom are well into their 30’s, 40’s and beyond? . . . the reality is that the Catholic Church is badly in need of singles ministry, and single Catholics are in just as much need of tlc from the Church as married people.”

Testifying to the Truth

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Recently a reader posted a question asking what singles expect Church  to do for them as well as questioning the Church’s ability to minister to single Catholics when she has her hands full with the problems afflicting the world today.  (See comments to Words Unspoken post)  The following is a revised response to that question:

A question that occasionally comes up when the topic of single Catholics is raised has to do with priorities.  Some would say that the Church is too busy addressing the many moral evils in today’s society to be concerned with single people.  This line of thinking, however, prevents the Church from seizing a great opportunity. Assisting singles who are called to marriage is actually a practical way of addressing some of the moral issues that the Church is dealing with.

The Forgotten Children

Ultimately, I’d like to see Mother Church spend the same amount of time on her single children as she does on her married ones.  I’ve seen the Church put great effort into helping married couples stay married, something which is quite admirable on the Church’s part. These days, however, just getting to the altar has become a herculean feat.   A very wonderful and faithful priest once told a friend of mine that she needed “to find her husband at the altar” meaning she needed to find a man who lived his faith fully. While I think this is sensible spiritual advice, it’s hard to accomplish this when so few singles practice their faith in the first place.  And it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of single Catholics out there, somewhere, in society.  According to Michael O’Loughlin, in his analysis of a Pew Research Center study, married people only make up 52% of the Catholic Church in the U.S. (http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/05/12/pew-survey-percentage-of-us-catholics-drops-and-catholicism-is-losing-members-faster-than-any-denomination/). Although unmarried Catholics now make up almost half of the Church’s membership, few of them show up for Mass on Sundays, and there seems to be no concern on the Church’s part that they aren’t there.

I think singles ministry can be a very practical idea for drawing singles back to the Church and, for many people, catechizing them in the faith for the first time. For those dioceses which feel that this, or any other kind of outreach, is not feasible in the near future, prayers, encouragement, and spiritual advice could still be given for those of us who do practice our faith. Cardinal Dolan’s suggestion on prayers for more marriage vocations is an easy way to help singles who are called to marriage. ( http://www.foryourmarriage.org/cardinal-dolan-sees-new-urgency-around-marriage/.)  I’ve heard many a homily on the topic of marriage including encouragement for married couples to continue living their vocation, reminders on the importance of bringing children to Mass, etc.  How hard would it be to encourage singles to continue the pursuit of their vocation and reminders that we actually are morally obligated to get ourselves to Mass on certain days?

It would also help for the Church to consider that many single Catholics can no longer be categorized as “young” adults.  It may be tempting to continue to push the age limit of the young adult ministry further and further back, thus using the young adult model as a kind of catch-all.  In the end, though, this really is not fair to those Catholics who actually are young as well as to those who are shut out as a result of no longer meeting the age requirement.

Finding a Moral Witness Among Single Catholics

Because there is much moral demise within our society, we need a multitude of the lay members of the Church to testify to the sanctity of marriage by being living examples. We need men and women who get married, stay married, and remain open to life. It’s hard to do this, however, when people remain single on into their 40’s, 50’s and beyond, a problem which afflicts more and more Catholics each year. Sometimes it seems as if many of the people marrying young in the Church are the folks who are living together, using contraception, marrying outside the Church, etc., while those who follow the Church’s teachings are unable to establish a family.  Secular society looks at this phenomenon and sees further “evidence” that the Church’s teachings are outdated. It gives the appearance that in order to be part of a family, an individual first needs to disregard the Church’s teachings.  I obviously don’t believe that conclusion myself, but I know it must look that way to many outside observers.  At a time in which we are supposed to be evangelizing the culture around us, the New Evangelization is being undermined by the fact that more and more Catholics are not living out their vocations.

Why should the Church take an interest in single Catholics?  Ultimately, helping singles who are called to marriage, whether they are young, old, or in between,  is an important aspect of counteracting the culture of death.  It is a practical and concrete way of showing the world that marriage and family, when lived out in accord with the Gospel, are essential and beneficial to society.  In the end, it’s a matter of practicing what we’re preaching.

Many thoughts on Catholic Singles

cloud computing

The following is a list of articles on the topic of single Catholics.  In some cases, an entire article seemed to hit home with me.  In others, it may have been just a few thoughts here and there within the article that caught my eye.  For various reasons, the thoughts in this pieces stayed with me.  I felt they might be of interest to other readers on this subject.

Some of these (mostly the second half of the list) have been mentioned with links in my previous posts, but for those who don’t want to go back and sift through previous material, I’ve listed them here again.  This is not an exhaustive list of what’s out there regarding single Catholics, but I do think they give the reader a good overview of the topic.  The very first article is a link to another Catholic woman’s  blog.  Although her blog does not seem to be entirely about single Catholics, the author has written a three part series on the topic.  I thought she had some good insights worth sharing.  Happy reading!

Tammy, http://counterculturalcatholics.blogspot.com/2014/02/it-is-not-good-for-man-to-be-alone-part.html

David Mills, “Single and Catholic” http://aleteia.org/2014/10/29/single-and-catholic/

Charles Hickson, “The Parish’s Fifth Wheel” https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/Faith/Article/TabId/720/ArtMID/13628/ArticleID/14782/The-Parish’s-Fifth-Wheel.aspx

Dorothy Cummings McLean, “Catholic Singles: the Forgotten Among the Faithful”http://www.catholicregister.org/columns/item/17159-catholic-singles-the-forgotten-among-the-faithful

Christina Lee Knauss, “Catholic singles wonder about their roles in parish life”

Catholic singles wonder about their roles in parish life

Stephanie Wood Weinert, “Single Focus” http://www.catholicmatch.com/institute/2006/09/single-focus/

Catholic News Agency, “Marriage is Disappearing in Italy” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/marriage-is-disappearing-in-italy-62150/?utm_source=hootsuite

David Gibson, “Cardinal Dolan Sees New Urgency Around Marriage” http://www.foryourmarriage.org/cardinal-dolan-sees-new-urgency-around-marriage/

The Tablet, “Synod Asked to Consider Situation of Single Catholics http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/1843/0/synod-asked-to-consider-situation-of-single-catholics-by-french-bishopsfrom

Emily Stimpson, “Beating the single Catholic Blues” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cw/post.php?id=639

Emily Stimpson, “Being Single in the Universal “Church” http://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/ByIssue/Article/TabId/735/ArtMID/13636/ArticleID/1353/Being-single-in-the-universal-Church.aspx#sthash.F0YC6o87.dpuf

Hannah Furness, “Single People Feel ‘Ignored and Lonely’ at Church” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10016925/Single-people-feel-ignored-and-lonely-at-Church.html

Jared Silveyhttp, “The Single Lay State Deserves More Attention”       http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/single-lay-state-deserves-attention.

 

What to say (or not) to a Single Person

isolated-stop-sign-2 At times, those who are not in the single state will offer their own thoughts on why you’re still single and how to exit that state.  Although people may sincerely think they’re offering you words of wisdom with the idea of actually helping, some of the suggestions can actually do more harm than good.  Here are some of the most unhelpful and/or ridiculous comments aimed at single people that I personally have experienced:

  1. You’re old
  2. You’re fat
  3. Wear more make-up
  4. Change your make-up
  5. Change your wardrobe
  6. Go to Victoria Secret and buy a better bra
  7. You’re trying too hard
  8. You’re not trying hard enough
  9. You need to go hang out in a bar

While most of the items in that list are somewhat subjective- beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all- and a couple of the items are just down right silly, I can’t let item number two go by without a response.  For the record, I’m five feet, three and a half inches tall, and weigh 107 pounds.  Now that we’ve cleared that up. . .

Occasionally, by the grace of God and guidance of the Holy Spirit, someone has made a useful, uplifting remark.

1. When you say “no” to sex before marriage, it narrows the dating pool so much that your odds of marrying narrow with it.  This comment from a married friend had honestly not occurred to me, and yet, she put her finger on a very important truth. When your values are in conflict with most of the people in the dating world, the dating world then becomes closed off to you, not because you’re doing anything wrong, but because you’re adhering to your faith.

2. You’re doing everything you’re supposed to do.  This observation came from a friend who had married in her late 30’s, not because she hadn’t done everything she was supposed to do, but because she too adhered to the teachings of the Catholic faith and waited for God’s timing.  She knew exactly what she was talking about from her own experience and was in a position to comment on the situation.

3. I don’t know. . . I don’t get it.  After hearing so many blaming reasons as to why I was yet unmarried, this answer from a married friend’s husband was truly appreciated.  My friend wanted a “guy’s” perspective as to why I was still not married, so she asked her husband straight out what he thought the reasons might be.  Her husband, who has known me for many years,  honestly couldn’t imagine any reason why I wouldn’t be married.  His answer was honest, unassuming, and more helpful than I can describe.

4. Hang in there. I’m rooting for you.  A married co-worker came to my rescue with this two sentence show of support.  The co-worker saw how down I was on the subject of singleness.  Instead of blame and unjust criticism, she simply let me know that she was on my side in my struggle to reach my vocation.

Honestly, it’s this last response that a lot of singles would really appreciate from Church leadership.  If people honestly can’t think of anything else to do or say on the subject of being unmarried in the Catholic Church, they can at least send a little hope and encouragement our way.  How hard would that be, and why would the Church not want to encourage its members to continue to pursue their vocations?

In the meantime, if readers would like to share any helpful or unhelpful statements they’ve ever received on this topic, please leave a comment below.  Maybe we can all learn something about how to respond better to each other as a faith community.  Wouldn’t that be great during this Year of Mercy?

Words Unspoken- why singles remain silent and how it hurts the Church

note-paper-on-cork-board

First, a little analysis from across the pond. . .

According to The Tablet, a British Catholic newspaper, some of the Catholic Bishops of France have offered their own insights on the topic of single Catholics.  The Family and Society Council of the French bishops conference states that, “many adults live as singles, not always willingly, and the Church should address their problems in its discussion of the family. . .  Bishop Herve Giraud of Soissons said single Catholics felt  ‘forgotten, even devalued, by the Church.’  They are often overlooked because they rarely come forward to speak about their problems.” (http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/1843/0/synod-asked-to-consider-situation-of-single-catholics-by-french-bishops)

This last sentence brings to light a significant reason why singles are generally ignored in the Catholic Church- failure to speak up and be heard.  Why would singles be reluctant to let Church leadership know that there’s a problem, especially when so many people take every other spiritual struggle and slide it into their pastor’s inbox?

Land of the Free and Home All Alone

One of the reasons that singles remain silent is the cultural notion of the rugged individual.  In our society it’s considered acceptable to want to be married but not permissable to be unhappy about the situation if marriage does not occur.  Many singles find their situation humiliating, and the thought of bringing up the subject can almost seem worse than being single itself.  A person is expected to be able to “go it alone”, not need help from others, not need the support of a community, and certainly not long to be part of a nuclear family.  This is of course is ridiculous and runs contrary to God’s design of the human person.  Unfortunately, this misguided thinking often leaves single Catholics unwilling to admit that they need help fulfilling their vocation to marriage these days.

Rose Colored Glasses

A single friend of mine once described a very uncomfortable and discouraging situation that had come up in regard to her single state.  I asked how she was able to handle such a difficult circumstance.  Her reply? “There’s a lot of denial.”  Pretending that everything was rosy and that singleness didn’t bother her allowed her to suppress any negative feelings she had on the subject and get through the day.  Unfortunately, denial, over the long haul, allows people the ease of putting a band-aid over a wound that is already infected and spreading disease to the rest of the body.  It covers up the pain, but doesn’t truly heal it.  What many singles don’t count on are the unexpected, inopportune moments in which something or someone inadvertently rubs up against that wound, and the powerful, negative emotions that come barreling to the surface.

Negative Reinforcement 

There are times in which a few singles have reached out to the Church community.  Unfortunately the responses are often less than positive and frequently reflect a lack of deeper understanding on the nature and scope of this problem.  Those who married relatively young will sometimes assume that their experience with being single mirrors that of those who remain alone for years or even decades.  After all, everyone is born into the single state.  Even those who married young were obviously single adults at some point, however brief a time that may have been. What married couples may fail to understand is that being a young single is vastly different than being a single person past the age of 35.  Everything from buying and managing a house on your own,  dating parameters, experiences within the Church, baggage from failed relationships or a failed marriage, etc. all present challenges that simply aren’t there when singles are younger.

Some have tried to offer consolation to singles by pointing out that the Catholic clergy in the Latin rite are themselves single.  Thus the clergy should be able to identify with single Catholics.  However, from a spiritual stand point this is really not accurate.  Priests do not marry in the natural sense of the word.  Instead, they commit themselves to a mystical union with the Church.  In addition, because priests aren’t attempting to find a spouse in a society that has become morally depraved, their life experience with being unmarried is not the same as those who are pursuing the vocation of marriage.  It is understandable, then, that the Catholic clergy are often at a loss as to how to how to help single Catholics and what to say on this topic.

Looking Beyond Ourselves

The family is foundational to society and the food source of future vocations in the Catholic Church.  For most people, singleness is an unhealthy way to live.  When the percentage of single persons reaches unprecedented numbers, the situation becomes unhealthy for all of society as well as for the Church. (See post #1 for data on number of singles and single Catholics.)  Singles themselves need to see the big picture, understand that there’s more than just their vocation at stake, and do their part to help.  The Church can’t pay attention to a group of people whose existence they’re not even aware of.  As long as the married and clerical members of the Church remain uninformed about the problems encountered by single Catholics, the lack of responsiveness from the Church will continue.

If the Church can find ways to reach out to the youth, the young adults, the married, the poor, the sick, the dying, the prisoners, the homeless, etc., then they can find a way to pay a bit of attention to the enormous number of single Catholics, but first they have to know that we’re here, and that we need their love and compassion just like everyone else.  Singles Catholic, the Church needs our help in order to grow in this important area.  We are the ones who need to initiate a dialogue.  Find your voice.