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Valentine’s Day is difficult when you are single. I know that all too well, and I keep all single people in my thoughts and prayers on this day when love and romance are celebrated and loneliness and yearning are cast in darker, sharper shadow.
I’m not going to tell anybody not to feel sad or lonely or broken-hearted. It is only human to feel these things. Remember, however, that such things are only part of the ephemeral world, which is passing so quickly. They are not part of the eternal life that God wishes to share with us even, to some degree, while we are here in the world. As such, we should never let ourselves become fixated on them. Feel them, yes–and then offer them up. Today is Friday, right? Make it part of your Friday penance and your remembrance of the Lord’s Passion. Take those feelings and lay them at the foot of the Cross. Lift up your broken heart to the Crucified Lord and ask Him to make it whole. He will do it.
Instead of dwelling on what you lack, take some time to remember all of the many great blessings and wonders God has filled your life with. Remember that no person loves you and cherishes you more than God does. Let your heart be full of love and gratitude for Him. Also let your heart be full of love and gratitude for the people who are in your life: family members, friends, colleagues, teachers and mentors. The love we share with these people may not be as thrilling as romantic love, but it is generally more constant and loyal, every day of the year. There are also many, many people out in the world who are even more lonely and hurting and unloved than we are–even if they may not appear to be so. Look kindly on every person you meet. You never know how much good a smile or a hello might do for them–and for you too.
Know that you are not truly alone. I know that sometimes it feels like you are the only single person in the whole world on Valentine’s Day. You’re not. Your bonds with others who are in the same situation may span time and space–but they are there. This is especially true for Christians. We are never alone. No matter how isolated and alienated we might feel, the Church never fails to include us in her loving, universal embrace. We have people in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on Earth who share the familial bonds of the Church. None of them are ignorant of what we are going through and how we are feeling.
Have a happy and blessed day!
It doesn’t matter how good a Catholic you are. Chastity does not come easily, especially when you’re single and it seems like pretty much every expression of sexuality is off-limits. It can be easy to see chastity in a completely negative and prohibitive light. That’s how our society tends to see it. But is that right?
Human sexuality is not all about physical urges and actions. Human sexuality is about giving yourself heart, mind, and soul to others. It is about selflessness. It is about going beyond yourself. And chastity is about having the freedom to choose purity and goodness where sexuality is concerned. It is about overcoming what you are as an animal and striving for who you are as a son or daughter of God.
Now, I know what you’re saying, because I’m saying it to myself: “Yes, yes, that’s all very well and good. We know all of that. We believe all of that. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent our bodies from freaking out and driving us crazy sometimes! It can utterly distract us from what we know and believe. So, what then?”
In those moments, there is only one thing to do: turn to the One who loves us, the One who crafted our bodies, the One who endowed us with sexuality, the One who cherishes our chastity even more than we do. When sexuality gets you down, offer it up. Here is a prayer I developed and have found helpful:
O LORD, my Father and Creator,
who knows my heart and all the workings of my flesh,
I offer my sexuality, with my entire self,
to You, to Your holy will, and to Your own purposes.
Lord, in my moments of weakness,
please take my sexuality in Your hands,
take it to Your heart,
and be its safeguard.
Fortify and sustain my body and spirit
with the virtue of chastity
so that they may bear good fruit
for You, with You, and through You.
It doesn’t matter so much what you say. In fact, you needn’t really say anything. Words are not required for prayer. Only turn to Him, call to Him from the depths of your heart, offer up yourself, and He will help you. When I pray, I find that all the achings and yearnings of my body lose some of their edges and become more bearable. They never disappear completely–they are part of our humanity. But we can work with God, open ourselves to receive His graces, and exercise the freedom and self-mastery with which He has endowed us.
Father V has a great post about working working with God to overcome difficulties and vices.
When I examine my life and my conscience, sometimes I find that my desire to find a spouse has been so all-consuming that it has become a kind of idolatry. I care more about attaining to some happy future than I do about my life in the present and the people who are in my life right now. Sometimes I care about it even more than I care about my relationship with God. Sometimes I even let it turn me against God. I give in to worry and self-pity and lose my trust and my hope in Him. I forget all about the many blessings He has given me and instead become ungrateful and resentful and self-centered, and envious and bitter toward other people. It can be really hard not to give into this downward spiral.
Not to make excuses for my own part in that, but there are a lot of external pressures, both from society at large and from family and friends. With the latter especially, it may be well-meaning pressure, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing; in fact it can be much harder to cope with loved ones than with society, because you are more likely to care what your loved ones think of you. I should also say that sometimes I am my own worst enemy, in that I can be especially sensitive and self-conscious about my state in life, so that if a friend offers me fashion advice, I may assume she’s telling me I am not attractive enough, or if my mother comments on how much she wishes she had grandchildren, I may assume that she is profoundly disappointed in me, maybe even a little resentful. Such assumptions likely have little or nothing to do with reality. More likely, they are whispers of the devil. Whispers that are actually more like spears that know exactly where your armor is weak.
The real problem is giving heed to those whispers of the devil. The desire to find a spouse, the desire to have a happy and fulfilling life, the desire to win esteem from those around us–these are all perfectly natural and good and necessary drives. Our hearts naturally yearn for love, happiness, and approval. But our hearts, fallen as they are, often seek them in the wrong places. They seek them in the world… the world that is too often in thrall to the devil and chock full of pitfalls and mesmerizing diversions. Yearning after things in the world is the very root of all idolatry. We may not make idols as ancient pagans did–we don’t have to make them. They are already here, everywhere we turn. Everything in this world, including our own hearts, our own natures, are susceptible to distortion and corruption.
So clearly, we must look beyond this world. We must reinforce the weak spots in our armor. We must shore up our courage and be very vigilant. We must keep our minds trained upon what is real, what is good, what is true, what is right, what is at hand right now. We must pray for our society and we must assume the best of our loved ones–or at least be willing to forgive and forget any seeming inconsideration or careless slips of the tongue on their part. Above all, we must cling fast to our true God, our only true God, our only help and our only hope. Ultimately, despite all the outside influences, it all comes down to us and God and the relationship between us.
I find the image of God as our Good Shepherd especially powerful in keeping me close to Him. God is always there for us. He lets us run loose, hurry ahead, dally behind. He speaks to us, calls after us, but He doesn’t force us to listen. He even lets us run straight into trouble if we really have our hearts set on it–and let’s face it, we often do, and in those moments, we couldn’t care less about Him or where He is or the sound of His voice. But He is there when we need Him and want Him. If our hands reach out for Him, they will find Him. If we cry for Him, He will come. He is ever alert to our little bleats. He may break our little sheep legs if we wander off one too many times–but that is an act of mercy, not punishment, and He will carry us is His own arms, especially close to His heart, until we heal and start running around again.
And then, there is the Crucifix. Nothing sums up the relationship between God and mankind like the Crucifix. St. John of the Cross said: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Before a Crucifix, there can be no complaining, no quarreling, no rebellion, no self-pity, no shaking your fist at God. Not if you really look at it and think about it. There is just the stark realization that God’s love for us is so vast that it is beyond our understanding. I think it’s a really good idea to buy your own Crucifix for your home. I have a couple. And sometimes it helps to take one down from the wall, into my own hands. Somehow it becomes even more “real.” If I can pray in no other way, I just take the Crucifix and hold it and look at it and press it against my shoulder. And that helps me to feel very close to God and to His Sacrifice.
Finally, I wouldn’t be much of a Dominican if I didn’t recommend the Rosary! It is another really good way to draw us into the life and the person of our Lord, with help from His mother Mary. When I first started praying the Rosary, I found this site most helpful. For each decade of each set of Mysteries, it gives 10 brief meditations. It’s a good way to get into the habit of meditating while praying the vocal prayers.
Those are just a few things that help me to remain focused on God and His love for me and my love for Him. That is of the utmost importance in order for any of us to find any kind of happiness. As the priest says to the countess in Bernanos’ The Diary of a Country Priest, “[God] is not the master of love, He is love itself. If you wish to love, do not put yourself beyond love’s reach.”
I have encountered this question a number of times in the last three years. It is often a sincere and earnest question, with which I empathize greatly. Sometimes it is posed more cynically. I’ve been met with my share of incredulity when speaking of my life as a single Catholic.
The usual point of contention is the Church’s teaching on chastity and on sexual expression being reserved exclusively for husbands and wives–and even within marriage, there are laws of chastity and properly-ordered sexual expression. For all unmarried people, chastity requires complete sexual abstinence. Again, this is for all unmarried people: regardless of why they are unmarried, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of their state in life, regardless of how imminent their marriage may be.
This is a hard teaching. But is it impossible? It can’t be if I and many other people live up to it. So, do I have some kind of super-power? Is my sex drive abnormally low? If those were true, then I wouldn’t consider it such a “hard teaching.” The fact is, I struggle with it as much as anyone, and occasionally I fall–and I’m not sure I would believe anybody who said otherwise. So, then, how do we live according to this hard teaching? There are three fundamental and inter-related requirements.
1) We must stand apart from the secular world. This is important for Catholics to do in every aspect of life, but especially when it comes to chastity. In the opinion of the secular world, chastity is impossible, or at least miserable. In the secular world, even children are scarcely expected or encouraged to live chaste lives! For one thing, chastity doesn’t sell. For another, it doesn’t “feel good.” The secular world is very much about money and self-gratification, and nothing is more easily exploited for those purposes than human sexuality. This is pretty much the way it has always been.
For those who are (rightly) ashamed of being openly in thrall to money and gratification, there are all kinds of supposedly rational and scientific arguments that, as long as it is consensual, all sexual expression is normal and healthy and only natural, and that any kind of repression is harmful and turns people into basket cases–and the Catholic teaching of chastity sounds an awful lot like repression, doesn’t it? My favorite is the “argument from nature,” in which nature is used to rationalize any and every kind of sexual behavior based on the fact that such behaviors have been observed among animals. This argument is very faulty and capricious. I’ve heard quite a lot of people use it to rationalize their preference for promiscuity and conveniently overlook the little fact that some animals are naturally monogamous. Those who like to use it as rationalization for bad behavior drop it quickly as soon as some unnatural things like fast cars, computers, jet planes, and breast implants are concerned.
As for “repression” turning people into “basket cases,” experience simply doesn’t bear that out. If anybody can make a good case for me, or any other chaste single Catholic being a basket case as a result of being a chaste single Catholic, I’d really like to hear it.
All of this said, I am not saying that chastity comes naturally. Not in this fallen world. But remember: human nature is different from animal nature. It is partly supernatural. In order to live an authentically human life–which includes chastity–we rely on supernatural assistance. Better yet, it is there for the taking.
2) We must trust God completely. There are a great many things I could say about being in relationship with God. Let it go without saying that all Catholics must have an ever-growing, ever-deepening personal relationship with God. But I consider trust to be one of the most essential and crucial elements of that relationship. Lack of trust can make a soul especially vulnerable to ravage by loneliness, despair, envy, and depression.
When we say something is impossible, we imply that it is without hope, that it cannot be helped by anything or anybody. As we have seen, that is generally the opinion of the secular world when it comes to chastity. But Scripture and Tradition–our Catholic faith–tell us that we have a God who gives us hope, a God who cares for us and helps us, a God who knows us and knows our needs better than anybody else, even better than we know ourselves, and who provides for those needs. He made us–we hold no secrets, no mysteries for Him. There is nothing impossible for Him, and He does not ask anything impossible of us. All we have to do is cry out to Him for help. And when we are beseiged with temptations against chastity, we must be willing to cry out to Him immediately. “Lord, I am in trouble! Lord, please safeguard my chastity! Lord, please take the edge off of these desires!” If you pray like that at the first sign of temptation, and if you pray for chastity in general, God will help you!
In addition, trust also means entrusting ourselves to God, putting our entire selves in His hands, making a gift of ourselves to Him. It is saying, “God, I want to know and to fulfill Your will for me. I want to be the person You want me to be, and I want to do the things You want me to do. I want to follow Your commandments. I want to walk by Your side.” Trust in God involves both giving and receiving. He gives freely, but He does not force anything on us. We have to assume a posture of receiving. We have to be disposed to receiving what He gives us.
3) We must go to Confession regularly. God gives Himself and His eternal, supernatural life to us through the Sacraments of the Church. The Sacraments we can, and should, receive constantly are Holy Communion and Confession. Most people have no problem with Communion, but Confession is another matter. “Oh, I don’t need Confession. My sins aren’t that bad. Besides, why do I need to tell my sins to a priest?” Unfortunately, I think that this attitude has often been fostered by our clergy and religious educators, if not actively, then certainly by omission. Fortunately, I think that the damage is slowly being reversed. I am here to do my part by saying: You need Confession, and you need it regularly. I would recommend it at least once a month, but it is essential whenever you have commited a mortal sin. There are two basic reasons why.
First and foremost, Confession cleanses and releases our souls from sin and restores them to a state of grace. That state of grace is necessary in order for our souls to receive the graces offered by all the other Sacraments–it disposes us to receive grace. Furthermore, to receive Holy Communion when in a state of mortal sin not only deprives us of the graces of Communion, but also incurs additional mortal sin, namely sacrilege. Think about it: if you knew the Lord Jesus was coming to visit you in your home, you would probably want your home spotless and beautiful and full of good things to offer Him. When you receive Communion, you are bringing Him into your soul, which is to be a temple, a dwelling place for Him, so shouldn’t you want your soul to be spotless, beautiful, and full of delights for Him as well? You wouldn’t invite him into a sewer tank or a rotting mausoleum, but if your soul is in a state of mortal sin, that’s analogous to what you are doing. It is an offense to His goodness and His grace, an abuse to His Body and Blood, and hence an additional mortal sin. So my advice is that if you are aware of having committed a mortal sin, don’t even think about receiving Communion until you’ve gone to Confession!
Secondly, Confession is a Sacrament of healing and strengthening, which is effective even if you are not in a state of mortal sin. I have experienced this so many times in my life. Times when I have struggled constantly with temptations and come to the very brink of surrendering to them. Times when I’ve been distressed and exhausted physically, mentally, and/or spiritually. Times when everything has been in complete disarray and I haven’t been able to “get my act together.” Times when I’ve been plagued with confusion, doubt, despair, loneliness, envy, or other negativities. I often say that Confession “sets my world aright.” It has the ability to fortify me, to give me energy, to help me see clearly, to remind me that I am not in the world alone and I am not helpless.
I know Confession is not the easiest thing in the world. But I can say that it’s always much worse in my imagination than it ever is in reality! That’s probably because the devil doesn’t want us to go. The devil doesn’t want us freed from his slavery. So, one simple thing you might do if you have trouble going to Confession is pray to St. Michael the Archangel and to your guardian angel–ask them to protect you from the devil’s torments and trickery and to clear your way to the confessional. There are also Saints who are special patrons of Confession, such as St. John Nepomucene and St. Gerard Majella.
So, assuming it is not impossible to be a good single Catholic… can it make you happy? The answer to this is very simple: Happiness is not an object; happiness is not an emotion; Happiness is a Person. A divine Person. Actually, three divine Persons. As long as we have those three divine Persons in our lives, we can be happy no matter what life is like and no matter what the devil or other people may try to do to us. Ultimately, the three recommendations above bring us closer to Him. And thus, they bring us to happiness. Now, I don’t particularly enjoy being single, because I feel called to marriage, and I desire that will all my heart. But my life is still happy because I keep bringing it back to God and making Him my focus! This is something I’ve learned entirely by experience. Therefore, I encourage everyone to experience it for themselves. It is not always easy, but it is very worth it. The happiness that comes from living out the Catholic faith is a happiness the world can never afford.