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The Single Life: Closer To a Religious Vocation Than You Might Think

November 21, 2011

Catholics learn early on that all of us are called to a vocation life, whether it be marriage, a religious vocation, or the single life. But practicing Catholics should understand that committing to the call of a single life means a lifestyle more clergy-like than carefree.

Devout Catholic singles committed to the “single life” often cite St. Paul’s 1 Corinthians 7: 1-40 as sage advice. While Paul, who as the Pharisee Saul would have most definitely taken a wife in a traditional Jewish ministry, instead remained celibate in his vast missionary work to spread the Gospel and convert the Gentiles. Based on his own life experiences, he had this to say about the choice of marriage versus the single life:

“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”

For as much as this passage seems like an indictment by Paul on the Institution of Marriage, nothing could be further from the truth: Paul also clearly stated that marriage as an institution is a direct reflection of our relationship with God, and that the love and commitment to a spouse and children bears great merit towards Christ’s Great Commandments. Rather, Paul here is being pragmatic: he, like the rest of the Apostles and early Christians, interpolated Christ’s second coming as imminent, and as a result, choosing marriage over a religious vocation would be to choose a more wordly lifestyle in the face of a world that he believed to be soon at an end:

“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

While Paul’s timeline for the end of the world is 2,000+ years off and counting, there is another perspective to be divined from his own judgments on marriage and remaining single: what kind of life the devout Christian single is called to.

The Christian Single Life: More Like a Hermit, Less Like a Hipster

The other side of Paul’s argument here is that, because a married life with a family compels people more towards a “worldy life,” choosing the single life is ideal, because it allows you to concentrate more on your faith and less on temporal trappings. This is why Paul stipulates the value of being a married person; he is careful to ensure married early Christians that they have just as much opportunity to love God and one another as those choosing a religious vocation.

But Paul is also saying that the single life is about total commitment to one’s faith, much in the same way that a man eschews marriage and a family to become a priest or monk, or how a woman may choose to become a nun over the role of a wife and mother. Paul sees the single life as either a choice of engaging in missionary work, or otherwise taking to the hermitage.

In today’s culture, leading a single life can be to lead a life of leisure, adventure, and self-satisfaction. Whereas a married individual may struggle to provide for their family in spite of having a well-paying job, a single person potentially invests their earnings into themselves. In this way, they can go about life without having to deny themselves anything. Even devout Catholic singles, who still keep the Church’s doctrines central to their lifestyle, can fall into the same trap that secularists fall into: even a righteous life can be lived for oneself.

If you are a Catholic single and beginning to believe that God may be calling you to the “single life,” try to imagine yourself leading a lifestyle — from this time forward — according to how St. Paul would have advised if you had consulted with him. According to his epistles, he would have ultimately suggested to comport yourself in such a way to prepare for the end days, and if works toward your salvation would not be earned through the commitment to a spouse and children, then how in your single life will you achieve it?

For as Catholics, we know that this is what Christ Himself calls us to do — to live each day as if it is our last.

Thanks for reading our article! Are you still discerning about whether to remain a single Catholic or get married? Ave Maria Singles is a leading online Catholic dating community, filled with devout Catholic singles like you who are discerning the same thing! 

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