"The one who lives alone is self-indulgent…" (Pr 18:1)
Sometime ago, a woman whom I've known for many years sent me an email telling me what she usually did in her spare time. This woman was unmarried and without children and had lived this way for all of her life. She had retired early and was now spending all of her time eating, sleeping, attending sporting events, going to the theater, pursuing various hobbies, and taking trips. She faithfully went to church every Sunday and occasionally, she would attend a Bible study. But, for the most part, the overwhelming majority of her time was spent on the pursuit of her own pleasures, with hardly anything left over for Christ and His Kingdom except church attendance.
Occasionally, someone at the church would have a need, and this need would be brought to the attention of the people at the Bible study which this woman attended. Sometimes someone would need a ride to a doctor's office. Another woman one day tearfully mentioned to the group that she had lost her job and needed a place to stay until she could figure out where to go from there and formulate plans for her future. The single woman mentioned above was driving around in a criminally expensive car, yet, she did not offer to give anyone a ride whenever one was needed. She was living all by herself in a house with three bedrooms, yet, she refused to offer her home to a sister in Christ who desperately needed a temporary place to stay. Anytime a need arose in the church, the woman never volunteered her time or any of the other resources that she had been blessed with. The woman was selfish. Life was all about her. And yet, she professed to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, God created each one of us for a specific purpose, and He gave each one of us a mission to fulfill in our lives, just as He gave His Son. This specific plan for our lives is known as a vocation. In the Catholic Church, we believe that to the extent that a man or woman is fulfilling his or her God-ordained vocation is to the extent that he or she will be truly happy in life. Every person has a unique path; however, we can group vocations into four major categories: Single Life, Married Life, Priestly Life, and Religious Life.
There is one vocation that all of us have lived at some point in our lives, even if it was only for a short time while we were preparing for another vocation, and that is the single life. The single life, whether temporary or lasting one's whole life, is just as much as vocation as married life, priestly life, and religious life. Single people are called by God to use the time and resources that they have been given to serve Him and His Kingdom, not themselves. They are called to serve. For some, the single life is a permanent vocation which they have chosen in order to devote their entire lives to serve others in the world.
Whether a person's singleness is temporary or permanent, however, it must be understood that God expects them to use the freedom that they've been given for Him, not for themselves. Single people have a special freedom to serve God and others. Other vocations do not have that special freedom. Married people are committed to taking care of a family, priests are responsible for serving the Church, and religious brothers and sisters have obligations to their communities. But a single person has a unique opportunity to serve the Lord anytime, anywhere, and with their whole hearts. God is able to send them wherever He needs them and whenever He chooses because they are not restrained by the responsibilities that restrain those who have been called to other vocations.
While a person remains single, they have the opportunity to offer more of their time and talent in service to others just as Jesus did. Jesus was single, but He was not selfish. He showed His unselfishness by giving everything He had to other people, holding nothing back. He was willing to give people His time, listening to them and talking to them. He cured the sick and spent His time teaching in the synagogues and anywhere else where people would gather. Even when fatigue overtook Him, Christ did not stop serving and giving of Himself to others.
If a single person does not make an effort to serve others, he or she can be tempted to serve only themselves and use their time, talents, and other resources selfishly, like the woman mentioned at the beginning of this article. Single people should eagerly look for ways that they can serve others so that they do not become selfish.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul clearly hinted that the single life was to be
used for Christ and not for self. Saint Paul encouraged
the single vocation, not for selfish, worldly ends, but for Christ's ends. Saint Paul loved being single. He knew that it was the vocation to which he had been called, and he
loved it so much that he wished that all could be called to it.
He indicates this when he wrote as follows: "I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this
gift, another has that." (1 Co 7:7). Paul recognized that the ability to remain single
for God for one's entire life was a gift from God. If God didn't bestow that particular gift upon
an individual, he or she would not be able to pursue such a life. What God calls us to do, He gifts us to do. He also made it clear that those who chose other vocations were not sinning
It was his opinion, however, that the single life was the best life because of the freedom that it gave to the individual. "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband." (1 Co 7:32-34).
With these words, Saint Paul makes it very clear that the purpose of the single life is to be able to devote one's self to the affairs of God, not to the affairs of this world. He commended the single life because it gave those who were called to it an opportunity to live a life of undivided, uninterrupted devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible makes it very clear that there is a right way and a wrong way to be single. Those who use the freedom that they've been given for self-indulgence are abusing the gift of freedom that they have received.
In recent years,
many new groups and movements have sprung up to help single lay people to live their discipleship
more intensely through prayer, service, and spiritual growth. There are various volunteer organizations that offer single people
opportunities to give one or two years of full-time service to the Church. Some religious communities have branches specifically for lay people who
wish to live like members of the community, such as the secular Franciscans and Third Order
Carmelites. One of my favorite websites to visit is Secular Institutes (www.secularinstitutes.org.).
Members of secular institutes are "in the world, but are not of the world." They live in whatever circumstances God has placed them in, but they completely consecrate their lives to God through the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience, and chastity. They are the newest vocation in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church established secular institutes as a form of consecrated life in 1947 for people who wish to combine the contemplative and the apostolic life while living in the world. Secular institutes provide members with a community of like-minded people who put God first in their lives and everything else second. There are over thirty secular institutes in the United States, each having its own rule and lifestyle, period of formation, and ongoing animation. If you visit their website, a directory is provided that will lead you to each of these thirty institutes.
Whether you choose to join one of these secular institutes or not, the point that I am trying to make is that there are countless opportunities for you to use your singleness for Christ in your neighborhood, workplace, community, and parish.
The woman mentioned at the very beginning of this article calls herself a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, but she clearly was not following His example. Jesus is a perfect example of a single person who lived in the world and combined an active ministry with private prayer. He showed us that we, too, can do our jobs, go to school, have friends and yet still lead a holy and active life if we turn to God regularly for our guidance and direction. Most of all, Christ showed us that this is the best way to find fulfillment on earth and in Heaven.
What are some ways that you, as a single person, can avoid selfishness? Based on your talents and the needs of your community, how might God be calling you to be helpful? Are you using the gift of singleness that Christ has given you for Him or for yourself?
As a Catholic homeschooler, one of the things that I teach my daughter every single day is about vocations. In addition to religion, math, spelling, English, reading, phonics, vocabulary, history, writing, and science, I also spend twenty minutes a day teaching her something about vocations. I continually reinforce to her that her life is not her own; it belongs to Christ, who has called her to a specific vocation. At the conclusion of our daily vocation lesson, we always recite the following prayer, which I now leave with you.
Lord, my God and my loving Father, you have made me to know you, to love you, and to serve you. Only by knowing you, loving you, and serving you, will all of my deepest longings ever be fulfilled. Only in these three things will I ever find the true happiness for which every man searches. I know that you are in all things, Father, and that every path can lead me to you. But of them all, there is one path especially by which you want me to come to you. Since I will do what you want of me, send your Holy Spirit into my mind to show me what you want of me. Send your Holy Spirit into my heart to give me the determination to do it, and to do it with all of my love, with all of my mind, and with all of my strength right to the end. Lord, I trust in you. Amen.
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