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.

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.