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.
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.