Monday, January 10, 2011

Timeliness and the 'Single State'

Vocations are meant to be a sign, in part. Of the three goods of marriage, Augustine indicates that the third is 'sacrament,' by which he means that the permanence of the bond is a sign of the permanence of the covenant of Christ. All vocations have sign-value. The sign dimension of priesthood, of baptism, of confirmation are well known. Some aspects of the marital sacrament are well known. Even celibacy, which is not a sacrament, has sign-value: it points to heaven, says, JP II. In the Church, the sacraments and vocations cannot conflict. For instance, the fecundity of marriage and the celibacy of religious life are meant to magnify each other's greatness.

But where exactly does the single-state fit into all of this?

There is such a thing, we are told. But it has never had much of a place in the history of the Church. Whether you like it or not, it's true.

It is a problematic life: it is a life without obedience; more problematically still, it is a life whose obedience is configured charismatically. Open up the Rule of Benedict, it is the thing the Patriarch rails against. In marriage the spouses obey each other (as well as the whims of babies and the needs of children). In holy orders, the bishop. In an order, the superior.

What's worse yet: the single-state does not testify to the world at all, but seems to confirm all of its worst prejudices: self-direction, self-interest, autonomy, whimsicality. It, thus, has no sign-value. In light of all of this, is this where the Spirit is calling the Church today?

As Paul directed: stay where you are. Too many shift about in orders, parishes, dioceses, states of life, marriages, relationships, training, ministry. We all sin against our callings. With every loose imagining, glance, and word, we sin against our marriages; with every vacation we sin against our priesthood; with every re-discernment, our order; with every spiritual prompting, we justify self-direction and failure to commit. We have enough of all of those things in the world. The Spirit is not calling for more.

I am very sceptical of calls to the single-state. There are few Elijahs, and that is a good thing. Technology makes independence possible. This constitutes a spiritual challenge.

Let the sed contras begin. (You'll not throw me off.)


  1. i have never met anyone who has genuinely felt called to that state. it seems like a default vocation. but, there must be some and it must be heroic to live a life unselfishlessly that lends itself so totally to selfishness.

  2. What about the lay men and women at MH? Are they in a different category because they live in community and take vows? Just wondering...

    Beyond the lay people at MH, neither have I met anyone who felt called to the single state as a permanent vocation. I have heard of them, but not met them.

    We have a friend at MH who tells us that us living our married vocation well helps her live her vocation well, in some mysterious Body-of-Christ economy.

  3. A vocation is a calling from God about how to live your baptism out. It can't be temporary because baptism isn't temporary. Discerning your vocation is good and necessary, but it cannot be life-long in this sense. Consecration is permanent, involves obedience either to a superior - as in the case of MH - or the diocesan bishop. It is in this way a very good thing, a path to perfection. Those who take, for instance, temporary vows do not take them again and again. There is an end to vocational discernment. Spiritual discernment, of course, never ends, but you have to put the hand to the plow and not look back sooner or later.
    The people at MH are the exact models the world needs.
    Unfortunately most people who speak of the single-state speak of it as a temporary thing. A vocation is not temporary. A consecrated lay person is one who has fully engaged their call and is ready to do the work of obedience and charity. There's no dating in that. ;)