*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,