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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!
Just a few months ago I seriously started looking for a relationship with a man again. This is the first serious effort I’ve made since losing my intended husband 6.5 years ago. And, as you may have gathered from some of my recent posts… to say the least, things have not been going very well!
I don’t know if I’ve just had the bad fortune of running into lousy men, or if I am just so rusty with interacting with men that I have been making my own lousy mistakes, or if the rules have changed drastically in the last 6.5 years. Maybe it’s just that I am 6.5 years older now, and decades more mature than a person my age should be.
In any case, it has been so hard not to get utterly discouraged and fall into despair. Yeah, it’s only been a few months, but I’ve gotten quite a few fresh wounds in this short time! My spiritual life has been pushed nearly to its limits as I struggle not to lose hope and patience and trust in God.
However, I have also found great comfort in God and the Church–particularly the Communion of Saints. I have found some novenas that are said to bring wonderful, even miraculous, assistance in finding a spouse:
Currently, I have just completed the Novena to St. Jude–since finding a decent man and potential husband does seem like a rather impossible cause.
I also pray each day this prayer to St. Raphael the Archangel.
In these and in my daily Divine Office and Rosary, and each time I go to Mass, I pray that I will soon meet a good man to be my husband, and that in the meantime, I will devote myself to growing deeper in love with God and to preparing myself to be a good wife and mother, with the Virgin Mary as my role-model.
I also pray for all the other single Catholic women who are also longing for a good husband and marriage and children.
I offer prayers for my future husband and children and ask that we all be together as a family soon.
I pray very hard for all the single men out there, especially Catholics, that they will fervently and steadfastly and courageously pursue the vocation of marriage and be open to loving women, no matter how many times they may have been hurt or rejected.
I pray that all of my own wounds from the past will be healed so that I can give myself whole and healthy and happy to my future husband.
Overall, I am just trying to put God first in my life and trust that He will richly provide for every need and desire I have. I am trying to be mindful of, and very grateful for all that He has given to me and done for me, to focus on the blessings I have, rather than focusing on what I lack. And I am trying to always remember that I am His daughter, and He is my Father. He loves me, and I love Him, and from that love springs all others.
Whenever I ponder love, I am brought back to this quotation from the film, Diary of a Country Priest:
Priest: We did not invent love. It has its order, its law.
Countess: God is its master.
Priest: He is not the master of love. He is love itself. If you would love, don’t place yourself beyond love’s reach.
Words to live by.
Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan recently spoke to the Catholic News Agency about challenges facing the Church in the U.S.
Notice what is the first challenge he mentions: instability of marriage and family.
“That’s where we have the real vocation crisis,” he remarked, noting that “only 50% of our Catholic young people are getting married.”
“We have a vocation crisis to life-long, life-giving, loving, faithful marriage. If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church,” Dolan said.
I just want to say thank you and amen for shining a spotlight on the crisis of marriage in the Church and noting the relationship between the vocation to marriage and religious vocations.
I’m not sure where that 50% statistic comes from or who it includes. I’m sure some of that 50% are entirely rejecting the Church’s teachings on sex, marriage, and family in favor of the secular world’s Unholy Trinity of fornication, cohabitation, and artificial contraception. Some have probably been traumatized by their parents’ divorces and see marriage as something doomed to painful, life-shattering failure. Some are probably just too immature to think about things like commitment and responsibility. Some my age have already been married and divorced.
And then a small number of them are probably people like me: faithful Catholics who honor the holy vocation to marriage and indeed desire more than anything to fulfill it–but find it nearly impossible to meet eligible people who would make suitable spouses. That is, people who actually share our values and beliefs.
In any case, the state of marriage and family within the Catholic Church is pretty much as messed up as in the secular world. And our bishops and priests don’t talk about it nearly enough. We need a major wake-up call. Without strong marriages and families, we’re soon going to be lacking more than religious vocations. We’re going to be lacking Catholics, period.
On a somewhat related note, I’m very close to signing on with Ave Maria Singles. It seems to be the best hope for unmarried Catholics who are actually faithful to the Church and actually want to get married and raise faithful Catholic families. The more I think about it and hear about it, the more I am drawn to it.
In this fair month of May when we celebrate motherhood in a special way, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I have been realizing and experiencing my own maternal nature and instincts. It wasn’t until quite recently that I have thought of myself as having motherly qualities and indeed being a mother in spirit. It has come with my maturing in the faith, with understanding who I am and who God created me to be, with learning what it truly means to be a woman, with developing a closer relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary and taking her as my model, and with coming to a real appreciation for how very precious life is and how very good God is.
For many years, I had no wish to be a mother. In fact, I was often quite hostile to the idea. There was a time when I would sooner have had a abortion than had a child. And yes, I would have considered it my right, the safeguard of my freedom. How very deceived I was! How very ignorant and at war with my own nature.
Now everything is so different. I see womanhood and motherhood being so intrinsically linked. I may not have children, but I still have many ways of expressing, exercising, and exploring my own motherhood.
I am not one of those people who think that animals can substitute for children, but I have learned some valuable lessons from caring for my two cats. Lessons of joy and being childlike of course. Also lessons of selflessness, patience, and forbearance. There’s nothing like coming home after a long, stressful day and just wanting to kick off your shoes and collapse into your favorite chair… only to find a great big yucky hairball on your favorite chair. And better yet, to get one mess cleaned up only to have another pop up somewhere else. But you look into those little green eyes and somehow you manage to just overlook the messes and the tiredness and the drudgery. Poof! They vanish.
Oh, and the expenses these little furballs can incur–I often feel that I spend more money on them than on myself. That can cause some dismay… for a moment. These little ones have nobody else on whom they can depend, apart from the good Lord Himself. When I think of how well He has provided for me, who am I to begrudge what I have, even to lesser creatures? God is much more superior to me than I am to my cats. At least the cats and I share the status of corporeal, mortal, finite creatures. If God loves, has mercy upon, and provides what is so small, should we not do the same?
Sure, animals aren’t people. But in our interactions with them and attitudes toward them, we can learn how to be human, how to love, how to be motherly and fatherly. As I wrote to one of my friends/commentors on another post, if we can’t love in small ways, how will we ever learn to love in great ways? The smallest acts of steadfastness, patience, self-giving, tenderness, empathy, and intuition can bear good and lasting fruit. They can grow and flourish and spill over into our relationships with other people, and with God too.
How often do I meditate upon the Incarnation and the Nativity of the Lord and picture my Lord, God, King, and Savior as a tiny, helpless babe. How often do I long to cradle Him in my arms. Or even when meditating upon the Passion and gazing upon the Crucifix, how often do I wish I were strong enough to bear away some of His pain and agony. Of course, it’s all I can do just to bear the much smaller and fleeting discomforts of my own unarguably comfortable life. Oh, and nothing is so dear to me as receiving Him in Communion! How often am I lost in wonder at the blessed union! For those precious moments, I can experience bearing Him in my own body just as the Blessed Mother did! All I want is to offer Him a good, pure, and loving place within me. No filth of sin, no weakness of constitution. Just a beautiful, firm, and worthy sanctuary within.
I think back also to October 2007, when I spent time caring for my parents. It was truly such a privilege for me. It was an act of filial love, but also drew upon my maternal instincts as well. I was actually quite nervous going into the situation. Worried that I would be inadequate. I mean, me caring for the two people who have always cared for me and given so greatly and freely of themselves to me my entire life… that was a huge deal, and a huge first. But something within me responded… something graceful, peaceful, and self-assured. A well of calmness and understanding. It bore me up whenever I felt overwhelmed.
I feel it stir within me pretty often, when I think about it. I often lie awake late into the night, thinking of family, friends, and other people in my life. Sometimes I feel consternation because I don’t know what I can really do for them… other than pray. So I do pray. And that well comes bubbling up, reassuring me that I am doing something for them, that my love and concern are not bound by the material world with its time and space, they are not limited to sheer physical action. And sometimes the best thing we can do is simply entrust our loved ones to God. After all, none of us belongs entirely to each other; we all belong to God. I have learned this from my own parents. My own mother and father have been in situations when they could only pray and trust in God. Situations I put them in. And pray and trust they did. And their prayers have been answered, perhaps more abundantly than they ever expected. Their prayers and trust in God have helped to give me new life, and I trust that my prayers and trust will do the same for all of my loved ones.
Since returning to the Church, I have developed a particular love for our priests and seminarians. I’ve been blessed to get to know and interact with a number of these gentlemen, each his own unique person, yet all of them among the brightest, kindest, most dedicated, most courageous, and most generous people I’ve ever known. I can’t help but be impressed, and really quite proud! I certainly regard them as my fathers and brothers in spirit, but I also feel a certain kind of affection, concern, pride, desire for their success, and longing to provide them support which I can only describe as “maternal.” With priests, of course, a lady must observe a certain prudent reserve, out of respect for their consecration to the Church and for the sake of their purity and good reputation, as well as her own. I suppose it is not too different from the more reserved love and admiration a mother feels for an adult son. Oh, I would be so happy to see any biological, adopted, or spiritual son of mine join the ranks of the priesthood! In the meantime, it gives me joy to support all of our current and future priests (as well as those who may be in Purgatory) with prayers, letters, attention, and when possible, the odd bit of material assistance.
Last but not least, there are the souls of the little innocents, those tiny victims of abortion. Since becoming more involved in the pro-life movement, I have thought a great deal about those little ones. I sense their presence around me sometimes, like little starbursts of pure light and life and love and warmth. No poor, unhappy, desolate souls, these! They live in the presence of God and His mother, amid the angels and the saints. It’s a marvelous example of God transforming evil into good. We may mourn, but they do not. Still, I feel like they do love, appreciate, and respond to the maternal and paternal love of we who live on earth. They love being loved by us. They love being regarded as the eternal children they are. And what joy they give in return, and what encouragement! This blessed army of little souls will help lead us to victory. And they will plead on our behalf when we reach Heaven, just as we’ve tried to plead on their behalf on earth.
Wow. Taking time to write all of this has made me even more aware of how very rich and blessed my life is. When my dear Patrick passed away a little over 4 years ago, I thought my life was over. Part of mourning my loss of him was mourning my loss of ever becoming a mother. Motherhood was narrowly defined as conceiving and bearing and raising a child of my own. But as you see, motherhood is something much greater than that. It is something every woman has simply because she is a woman. Of course, having children of one’s own is a very special blessing. But we needn’t feel bereft or inferior or desolate if we don’t have biological children. There are so many people who need our special kind of love and devotion and nurturing and womanly genius, and even other creatures and God Himself are not beyond the sphere of motherly love!
Oh… life and love and humanity are truly wondrous and endless treasures! We have only to open our eyes, hands, and hearts!
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.
From time to time, I am asked about my vocation, to the effect of: “Why would you become a Lay Dominican? Isn’t that a compromise? Why don’t you become a nun/sister and give yourself completely to God? Either that or just concentrate on getting a husband?”
Although I am certain that I am on the right path, I actually sympathize with these kinds of questions. Honestly, I even ask them of myself from time to time! My vocation and my purpose in my life and in this world can be a bit of a mystery to me. Sometimes, I start worrying and wondering whether I should be doing more, or whether I shouldn’t be somewhere much different in my life (geographically or spiritually). It’s one thing to practice discernment, but something else to let yourself get caught up in a whirlwind of doubt and anxiety that is going to sweep you off the path where God has placed you and plunk you down somewhere else… most likely somewhere you don’t want to be.
One thing I have learned about the spiritual life is that sometimes, you just have to stay your course and walk steadily, one foot in front of the other. Sometimes you need to resist the urge to question it. And whatever you do, don’t try to snatch the steering wheel away from God–that’s a fiery disaster waiting to happen!
I can say in all honesty: so far, so good! I know from experience that God has a way of setting up roadblocks if you really are going the wrong way. Lately, things have been pretty smooth… or at least as smooth as the spiritual life ever can be when your goal is Heaven! I’m not going to lie and say it’s always easy. The terrain can be treacherous. But when you allow trust in God and His Providence be your compass, you’ll find yourself in some incredible places… places so beautiful and restful that you forget the ordeal it took to get you there, and your path through life generally does seem pretty smooth!
Anyway, I found this little thing I wrote last December, apparently at a time when I had been trying to hash out questions of my vocation, and I think it sums things up pretty well (emphases original):
My passion is for the secular world and for the state of life of a secular layperson. I feel such passion, because I feel that such passion is direly needed! I see this need more than anywhere else among my fellow Catholic laypeople! They feel that holiness is either impossible or irrelevant to them, either beyond their reach or else simply not applicable to them! They think holiness is just for clergy and consecrated religious. I am afraid it brings about a certain lukewarmness and a certain spiritual laziness–and these allow the devil to sink in his teeth! Regardless of particular vocations, we are all called to holiness and to Heaven! And we can make our world holier too–we may never defeat the devil completely, but we can beat him back, pin him down, and say “Non serviam!” to him (instead of to God, as he did)! Pursuing our own personal sanctity is the only way to do that! It may sound crazy, and it may sound futile, but I believe in this world, and I believe in us–I believe that we and this world can be better, always better!My passion for getting married and having a family one day has not waned either, but only grown more intense. Because marriage and motherhood represent what my soul desires more than anything–to give myself completely to others, and through them, to God. I know why my soul craves this–because it longs to be like Christ! For me, marriage and motherhood would be the means by which I could become truly Christ-like. Certainly, people can become Christ-like by means of the priesthood and consecrated religious life, but that is not how I am made. Sometimes I tell myself, “You have God–that is more than enough for you. How dare you complain?” But then my soul cries out in agony, “Adam had God too! Adam saw God face-to-face and conversed with Him as we converse with each other! And yet Adam suffered loneliness for one of his own kind, his own flesh, and his own nature! God had mercy upon him and created for him what his heart desired! Is it so strange, then, that I, blinded and deafened to God by my own finitude, should long for one of my own kind, flesh, and nature?”
I know God knows my innermost longings and workings… He knows them as I never can. Therefore, He can provide for them as I never can by myself. But it is up to me to work with Him! To surrender and entrust myself to Him. And to do my best to give of myself here where I am, to the people at hand… and not to always merely aspiring and longing and daydreaming. Christ could have swept into the world in a blaze of glory–He could have brought about man’s redemption and salvation in any manner He pleased–but He didn’t! He instead came into this world as a little baby… He grew and learned and stumbled His way through youth into adulthood… He worked, He sweated, He wept… He devoted Himself to the fallen, the poor, the unloved, and the seemingly unlovable… He bled, He suffered, He died. And only then was His destiny fulfilled… only then was His divinity and His kingship proven and His glory revealed. Christ’s greatest glories are His profound humility, His profound patience, His profound faithfulness to His Father. And so it must be with me. No leaps and bounds for me. I must work patiently and walk humbly with my God.
Not very much has changed since then. I am so happy and excited to be a Lay Dominican… people still tell me that on the day I was admitted to the Order, I didn’t stop smiling for a minute! It’s still true, even if it doesn’t always show on my face. I love having roots both in the Church and in the secular world.
Is it a compromise? Maybe, but not in the way some might insinuate; it’s not the kind of compromise that lets me have my cake and eat it too. It’s the kind of compromise that takes its concessions out of me. I have to give myself both to the Church and the world. I have to keep a pretty demanding balance in my life. And it’s wonderful! For me, nothing could be better! That is how I know that I really do have a vocation as a Lay Dominican–it gives me happiness, it gives me peace, it makes me feel like I am where I need to be.
As for getting married… I still have that desire too, and that is where I really have to work to entrust myself and my life to God! Being a Catholic in the world (but not of it) and looking for a suitable spouse is sort of bewildering and downright scary at times… and so is the idea of being single for the rest of my life. It can make me a bit angsty. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself “happily single.” I’ve been tempted more than once to just run off to a monastery and not deal with it.
And I think that’s probably the #1 reason I decided that consecrated religious life wasn’t for me. I saw it as a desperate escape route, rather than an actual vocation. It was a “running from” rather than a “calling to.” There were other reasons, as well. A more positive one being that I really think I would just make a terrific wife and mother! That thought excites and energizes and comforts and encourages me. Again, it creates the kind of happiness and peace in me that are the hallmarks of a true vocation.
In any case, I have a lot to learn and a lot to do and a long way yet before I reach my destination: Heaven. That is the most important aspect of any vocation: it calls you to Heaven. It calls you to sanctity, to Sainthood. That is the most important calling and the most important goal any of us can desire and work toward. None of us–clergy, religious, or laypeople–should content ourselves with anything less than that! Let us support each other and keep each other in our prayers!
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.
Loneliness is a part of all our lives from time to time, regardless of our state in life. Being a single person, I find it to be more of a constant than I would like. So, I have sought, and found, some wonderful ways of combatting loneliness by prayer and by the help of some of our beloved friends in Heaven!
The first is this beautiful jewel of a prayer to that beautiful jewel of a Saint, Raphael the Archangel. St. Raphael has a rather vast patronage, but thanks to his role in The Book of Tobit, he is best known as Patron Saint of Happy Meetings, and is considered a special patron by single people looking for spouses. He can help lead us into all kinds of relationships, however, with all kinds of people: friends, relatives, coworkers, religious communities, etc. If it is a relationship we seek, St. Raphael is there to help!
O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us! Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for! May all our movements, all their movements, be guided by your light and transfigured by your Joy. Angel Guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze. Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of Earth, we feel the need of calling to you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the Province of Joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country. Remember the weak, you who are strong–you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene, and bright with the resplendent glory of God. Amen.
The Church has also given us St. Rita of Cascia as Patron Saint Against Loneliness. I haven’t found a specific prayer to her against loneliness, but I do often call upon her prayers and assistance. St. Rita is well-known as a “Saint of the Impossible,” among other things. She certainly lived through her share of tragedy, loss, and seemingly desperate circumstances–but she never lost her faith and her trust. She is a wonderful role-model for us all.
Last, but certainly not least, there are our guardian angels, who are our constant companions every moment of every day and, indeed, for all eternity! Each one of them is unique, and each one is assigned by God exclusively to one human being–this should make us feel very special and very loved! I think we often forget our guardian angels, especially as we grow up. We may even think of them as childhood fantasies, like imaginary friends. Or, we may think of them in warm, fuzzy New Age terms. But the Church, following Jewish tradition, teaches that they are very real and very powerful, far surpassing human beings in their nature. They are neither imaginary friends nor warm, fuzzy New Age creatures. But in their strict obedience to God, they do love, care for, guide, and protect their human charges with great devotion. And we can, and should, think of them as very special and very dear friends. As such, we should strive to form real, personal relationships with them. When I am feeling lonely, it always helps to remember that I have a very remarkable companion who is all my own and who is unlike any other person on Earth or in Heaven!
All of this, of course, is thanks to our great Lord–He is so good, so generous, and so wise! He provides for our every need and supports our every weakness. Ultimately, He is responsible for healing our loneliness. Angels and Saints and other human beings are His agents. He knows that we need them, even though He is always there for us. Sometimes, I’m tempted to feel guilty for feeling lonely when I know God is there for me. But then I remember the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam lived in the presence of God, and yet he still needed somebody like himself–a fellow creature, a fellow human being. God created us with that need. He provided for Adam, and He continues to provide for us. He never abandons us, not to loneliness or to anything else. So we needn’t ever despair!