I have often wondered why so many members of the Church, with our heavy emphasis on marriage, don’t see the large number of single members as a sign of a growing problem. I’ve begun to think that several common assumptions about single life play a part in the lack of responsiveness toward this segment of the lay faithful.
#1-Perhaps the lack of concern for the Church’s single member stems from a common belief that while marriage is hard, being single must be easy. Since singles have it easy, they must not need any kind of support from the community, or so the thinking goes. However, this myth is fairly easy to disprove. 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
#2-With difficulties like those, you would think singles would find solace at church. Unfortunately, here we have myth number two. Many single Catholics have described church itself as a lonely, isolating experience. Apparently that experience is not limited to Catholicism either. 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”.”
This negative experience that many singles find at Church, an experience I like to call the “invisibility factor”, is no doubt one of the reasons why single Catholics often fail to practice their faith consistently.
#3-Our third myth is the “sit back and wait” syndrome. It goes like this: Many single Catholics fall away from their faith in college, often start cohabitating, and eventually come back to church when it’s time to marry. The idea is here is that, while not approving of the unfortunate choices these singles are making, if we wait long enough, eventually they will make their way back to the Faith. At that time, it is hoped that these individuals can be converted/catechized to the fullness of the Catholic faith and become devout Catholic families. The reality, however, is that the longer people stay away from the church, the less likely it is that they will return at all, married or not. We are at a point where marriage is occurring so late in life, and for some it won’t happen at all, that this passive kind of approach to singles, and even to fallen away Catholics in general, is not working any more.
It’s time for more active and innovative strategies to reach all of the faithful. These strategies don’t have to be time consuming, complicated, or expensive. I’m a big advocate of praying for single people. The response from the Church doesn’t have to be phenomenal. Any kind of acknowledgment that singles even exist would be well received by single Catholics.