Catholic Mythology part 2

athens-greece-acropolis-1392620940h0TAnd the myths continue.

#4-It’s your fault you’re single.  You’re too picky or there is something wrong with you.  This conclusion is simplistic and usually incorrect.  A better answer comes, once again, from author Emily Stimpson who pinpoints the real answer when she 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

So basically if you’re following the teachings of the Catholic Church, you may very well find yourself without a family.  At this point, words like “fault” and “picky” begin to fall away from any analysis of single Catholics.  Instead, the phrase “white martyrdom” begins to emerge, more accurately summarizing the situation.  Faith, if it has any substance to it at all, makes demands on us.  No doubt many singles never imagine that they’d find themselves still single after so many years, even decades.  The proper response from the rest of the Church should be one of compassion, not blame.

#5- Family is under attack and needs the full attention of the Church.  Singles can wait.  The underlying premise of this myth is that the attack on the family doesn’t affect singles.  However, nothing could be farther from the truth, especially for those who are unwillingly single.  The immense number of singles, partly from the divorce rate and partly from the low marriage rate, is part of the attack on the family.  This is a two front war we are fighting.  Certainly we want to keep existing families together, but we should also want to help singles live the lives for which God designed them.  For those called to marriage, this means helping single people become married people.

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.

All of these, and various or myths about singles, point to a general observation about the Catholic lay faithful. We seem to be very compartmentalized these days. Married with children Catholics socialize with other married folks.  Singles associate with other singles. Or as a married friend once said to me, “Married people don’t hang out with single people.”  Because our married counterparts spend so little time with their single brothers and sisters in Christ, they really do not have a clear and accurate understanding of what the single life entails these days.  David Mills describes the solution to the source of this problem. “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

The challenge to Catholic married couples: get to know the single people around you.  Their lives may be different than yours but not as different as you may think.  Like you, they have a calling from God to be part of a family.  Unlike you, the blessing of a family eludes them, as they wade through the mess and mire of our society, but that calling still remains.  On that note, one last piece of advice from Mr. Mills, “A family is a blessing, and blessings are given to be shared. . .” http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/single-and-catholic-5864386572845056s.

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Catholic Mythology: How False Ideas Allow Singles to be Forgotten

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

Single Catholics: The Vocations Solution

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It is widely know, in both Catholic and non-Catholic circles, that the Catholic Church is experiencing a shortage of priestly and religious vocations at this time.  We often hear prayers at Mass for an increase in these vocations.  There are those who are called by God to this vocation who have responded with great generosity.  I admire and pray for these people.  The sacrifices they make, from which the rest of the Church benefits, are not always appreciated or acknowledged to that extent that they should be.   I mean this quite sincerely- I really feel for our priests and religious at this time.

Why the Well has Run Dry: Declining Marriage Rate Leads to Fewer Priests

The Church has been working to address this shortage for some time.  Various ideas have been laid out on the table.  One of the newer insights into this problem involves the connection between the vocation to the priesthood/religious life and the vocation to marriage.  Vocations to the former ultimately are fostered in the family.  This is particularly true within very devout families.  The family is a kind of food source for future priests and religious, and that source has been drying up for some time.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York explains it quite well:

“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/

Although many people are aware of the shortage of priests and vowed religious, few are aware that a shortage to the vocation to marriage exists as well.  In this instance, ignorance is not bliss.  The divorce rate is one of the factors in this shortage, but the larger part of the problem is the low marriage rate.  Emma Green in 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/

This is what puzzles me about the whole situation.  Even if the Church sees no need to remember single Catholics from a pastoral standpoint, I have to wonder why an attempt at prayers and encouragement isn’t made for very practical reasons.  Since priests and religious start with the family, and family starts with two singles, shouldn’t we begin being mindful of our single members?  It is not unreasonable to wonder: if we’d been praying, thirty or forty years ago, for those singles who felt called to marriage, would we now be experiencing the kind of vocations shortage we see before us?  Here’s another unpleasant thought: if the marriage rate continues at the same low level or drops even further, will we have even fewer priests and religious thirty or forty years from now?  Logically, and unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes.

For those who may need more convincing as to the connection between the Catholic marriage rate and future vocations, here’s a story about a Catholic couple whose youngest child eventually took center stage in the Catholic Church.  http://www.livecatholic.net/2010/02/real-love.html

The First Step

Several years worth of research on the topic of singles Catholics has led me to some very definite conclusions, and here’s one of them: singles need prayers.  Those who honestly want to fulfill their vocation to marriage, in the midst of a depraved society, need all the prayers and encouragement they can get.  Trust me, single Catholics definitely don’t get these things from the world.  Another conclusion: if the church today doesn’t respond to theses issues, the church of the future will be the one paying the price.  My single friends and I are praying for priests and religious vocations; why can’t someone pray for our vocation to marriage in return?

Cardinal Dolan seems to be in the same frame of mind on this point.  His Eminence 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/.  

Seriously.  It’s a simple, yet far reaching, first step in the right direction.

 

A Single Voice

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It’s time.

Soon the Extraordinary Synod will begin in
Rome. The Catholic Church, very wisely, is concerned about the attacks on the family. The family needs sound pastoral advice, encouragement, and most importantly, prayers.  In short the family needs the Church’s help; but there’s another group within the Catholic Church that also needs encouragement, advice, and especially prayers- single adults, both those who have been married previously and those who have not.

According to the 2010 census, within the general population single adults actually outnumber married adults in the US population.  Many of these singles are divorced; most have never been married (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/ facts_for_features_special_editions/cb11-ff19.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).

It is reasonable to believe that God calls the majority of people to the married state.  The latest battle in the war on the family can be seen in the huge number of people now living outside of the nuclear family.  Many in the church seem to be cognizant of the high divorce rate yet at the same time are unaware of the low marriage rate.  This latest attack on the family, the low number of people entering marriage, is very subtle and insidious by nature.  We’re dealing with a kind of preemptive strike, one in which the family is eliminated by preventing it from forming in the first place.

The spiritual difficulties and injuries encountered by unmarried Catholics should not be taken lightly.  Many Catholics sadly have gotten caught up in a culture which regularly engages in cohabitation and contraception.  It is erroneous to believe, however, that all single Catholics are no different in their values and practices than  any other single American.  There are numerous singles who practice their faith, assent to the Church’s doctrines and moral teachings, and who do their best to live a life worthy of a Catholic Christian.

For those single Catholics who do remain faithful, and often hidden, the road they are on can be a lonely and forgotten path.  Since faith is fragile, even among the most devout, many feel the impact on their relationship with God or with the Church or both.

Marriage is important for the Church and for society.  Those who are called to the married state need help starting their vocation as well as living it for the duration of their lives.  While all the members of the Church have a responsibility to pray for more priestly and religious vocations, one should also consider that the Mystical Body of Christ has the same responsibility to assist those who are called to marriage, particularly those who are trying to get there the right way.

While many in the Church feel at a loss as to how to help the single members, outreach does not have to be complicated or time consuming.  Mentioning single people in the General Intercessions at Mass, especially those who cannot find a suitable spouse, would be appreciated by more than a few singles.  A little encouragement would really go a long way.  Singles themselves need to find their voice, be humble enough to admit that help is needed, and express gratitude on those occasions in which Mother Church actually does remember her single children.

Trying to fulfill ones vocation to marriage these days, while following the teachings of the Church, can be discouraging at times.  When we hear prayers for the family, including prayers for the upcoming World Meeting of Families, why not say a prayer for any single person you might know?  This can include those who are walking the narrow road and for those who have lost their way.

Believe me, it’s time.