‘the two ‘To the willunmarried...I become say that it is good for them one ﬂ esh’ to remain single as I am’. 5:317:8 1 Eph Corinthians
‘I know the plans I have for you… a future full of hope.’ Jeremiah 29:11 Single in Transition The single life as a transitional state is a vital part of most people’s vocational journey. Many single people are hoping to discover a vocation to marriage, priesthood or consecrated life but are unsure about which one. Or they may be clear about wanting to marry but are still looking for a husband or wife. Or they could be in a long term relationship but unsure if they should get married. This moment of being single in transition requires prayer and patience as people seek to hear God’s personal call to them; although it is temporary and the future is unclear, it is in itself a time of growth in faith, hope and love.
Single with Commitment Some people effectively make a personal commitment to lifelong celibacy without taking formal vows. They choose to remain single in order to dedicate themselves in service to other people or to a particular work. In recent decades new forms of celibate vocations have emerged, for example, within the movement known as Communion and Liberation or the personal prelature of Opus Dei. There is a great variety of vocations within these new organisations and for some people their calling involves a lifetime commitment to the celibate life, inspired by those early Christians who chose to stay single for the sake of the Kingdom of God but in the midst of the world. A distinctive feature that many of these new organisations have brought to the life of the Church is that they embrace both those who are married and those committed to the single way of life. They enable lay people of all kinds, married couples, transitional single and committed single, to walk together along the path of Christian life while remaining in the world, each following their own charism, with mutual support and a distinctive spirituality.
Single with Consecration There are a variety of ways of formally consecrating one’s life to Christ as a single person. Through vows of life-long celibacy and often through vows of poverty and obedience, men and women have sought to follow Christ’s own example as closely as possible. This single life may be lived as a member of an institute, such as a religious congregation, or individually, as in the case of consecrated lay people. There are other leaflets in this series that consider priesthood and religious life so this leaflet looks at the single life lived outside the structure of religious congregations or the priesthood. In contrast with the previous group of unofficially committed single people, there are those who vow to remain single within formal church structures but without joining a religious congregation or being ordained priests. This consecration includes a number of possibilities. Among the oldest of these are consecrated virgins and consecrated widows. These are described in the Letters of St Paul but then faded from view. Consecrated virginity has been revived
Jean Vanier, Founder of L’Arche Federation
Some people are stable in their single state of life, not actively seeking another state, while remaining open to whatever the Lord presents to them. In this way, the single life becomes their vocation, even though it is not formally declared. Of course, although somebody in this situation may not be looking for a new opening, because there is no official vow, they can remain open to other possibilities that may arise unexpectedly. Other single people may come to accept that, for a variety of reasons, they are unlikely to get married so they embrace this reality as God given and willingly follow Christ in the state of being single.
Chiara Lubich, Founder of the Focolare Movement
The Catholic understanding of vocation begins with the call to be baptised and then grows into a calling to a particular way of life. Every human being begins life as a single person but not everybody has a vocation to be single. The single life can become a vocation when it’s chosen in response to a sense of calling or at least willingly accepted as a long term way of life in response to circumstances.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Social and political reformer
Single, stable and open
Saint Catherine of Sienna
On Being Single
by the Church in the last fifty years and involves a formal liturgy which commits a woman not only to celibacy but also to obedience to the local bishop, while leaving her free to choose her own work and run her own financial affairs. Another ancient form of the single life is that of hermits and their female counterpart, anchoresses. This way of life grew in the first centuries of the church in Egypt and Syria, eventually spreading throughout medieval Europe. Julian of Norwich is the most famous medieval English anchoress, whose Revelations of Divine Love continue to inspire people today. The hermit life continues today in two ways: people who are already religious who move to a more solitary life of prayer within their order; others who, under the direction of the local bishop, profess the evangelical counsels in order to lead the solitary life.
The evangelical counsels are poverty, chastity and obedience. These are virtues to be lived by all Christians but only
some are called to consecrate themselves to a way of life explicitly shaped by them.
A major development in this area in the modern era has been the creation of secular institutes, a new way of organising formal consecration that was first recognised by the Church in 1947. Members of secular institutes live entirely in the world, some in groups and some on their own, while also promising to live the evangelical counsels according to the norms of their institute approved by the Church. They are formally consecrated but do not have a distinctive habit; theirs is a hidden consecration unlike the public consecration of those in religious orders. Through this lay form of consecration in the world, members of secular institutes contribute in a particular way to the Church’s evangelizing mission. The Canon Law of the Church also envisages new forms of consecrated life being approved by the Holy See in the future.
‘Jesus said to him ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything and followed him.’. Luke 5:27b-28
How to discern if you are called to the single life Some people have a clear sense of their vocation from a young age and that early intuition deserves to be nurtured rather than dismissed. However, most people begin their adult life with a general rather than a specific sense of vocation and go through a process of discernment to find the way of life to which Christ is calling them. This involves a prayerful consideration of how they can best express their love of God and it is a great help to do this in dialogue with a spiritual guide who is already in a stable state of life.
On the Single Life
For more information about vocation discernment and about vocations to lay single life, the following web sites may be helpful: • www.ukvocation.org • www.consecratedwomen.wordpress.com • www.secularinstitutes.co.uk • www.opusdei.org.uk
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All rights reserved. © 2013 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. Front cover: Christ in the House of Martha & Mary, by Jan Vermeer, © The Bridgeman Art Library. Inside: Left - Girl at World Youth Day courtesy © The Bishops Conference of England & Wales. Centre: Statue of St Catherine of Sienna statue by Angels Bridge © Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com. Right: Blessed Giorgio Frassati © Daniel Munoz/Reuters/Corbis. Chiara Lubich, courtesy © Centro S. Chiara Audiovisi Soc. Coop. a.r.l. Jean Vanier courtesy © Robert Laskowiecki from L’Arche Federation. Back: Young man from Youth2000 courtesy © Youth2000 Facebook page, 2013.
Continuing in this series of colourful and informative leaflets, the National Office of Vocations offers this explanation of one of the most...