Fr. James Chelich
The origin of your existence and mine is love. Hard though it may be to say it, it may or may not have involved your parent’s love – either for you or for each other. No, the origin of your existence and mine lies, before and above all else, in Another Love. The book of Genesis tells us that God fashioned all created things. Saint John, however, reminds us of exactly Who God is:
Beloved…love is of God… We have come to know and believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him… We love, because He first loved us.
1 John 4:7,16,19
Love fashioned all things! Not any kind of love, not any definition of love, but the “One Love” (see Philippians 2:1-2) – the “One Love” that is God. God took delight in each thing He made. The Bible says He, the Love that created them, pronounced each of them “good.” In this we see how God is drawn to embrace in love the goodness and beauty of His creation. It was at this point in the beginning of all things that God conceived of creating an extraordinary way in which and through which He could embrace in love the goodness of the universe He fashioned. We are this “extraordinary way!” God created us:
‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.’ God created man in His image, in the divine image
He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26-27
From this we learn we are conceived by the “One Love” that is God. We are made in the “image” of this “One Love.” We are given a physical form and existence in which to grow “after” (into) the “likeness” of this “One Love” that is our origin. We were made by Love for love. From the first moment of our existence this is our purpose. It is through us, with us and in us that the “One Love” desires to touch and embrace the elements of His creation, and so bring them to hope, healing, and the fullness of their potential. In this amazing perspective provided by our Catholic Faith, we recognize the dignity and beauty of the life of a Single Man or Woman in the world.
When the seed of your human father joined the egg within the womb of your human mother, and the embryo of your human existence formed and began to multiply; at that very moment, in His divine hands, the “One Love” that is God pronounced your soul into existence:
“You are in My Image –
the image of the One Love that fashioned all things.
Now grow into my Likeness
That as your grow I might love through you,
with you and in you
all those things I have fashioned you
to touch and embrace in this world.
Through you, with you and in you
I shall embrace and love them to a healing
and to the full potential of their life.”
God now joined your soul to your emerging physical form. And so your human life bagan, its meaning and purpose rooted in love. With the creation of each soul, God creates humanity anew!
The significance of this is enormous: God is capable of being God in you as He is capable of being God in no other human being. God can touch, and handle and love the world through you as He is capable of touching, handling and loving the world through no other human being and in no other way. God has fashioned your very being that He might embrace a part of His creation through you. This is the infinite value and unique dignity of your existence, as it is of the existence of every human being. Here lies the root of the passionate devotion the Catholic Faith has for every human life conceived, and the profound respect with which Catholic Faith holds the journey of every human soul.
One and the same question lies at the heart of each person’s existence.
It is a key to the meaning of his or her life:
“For what was I fashioned by Love
that Love might touch and embrace it
through me, with me and in me?”
Among these “things” can be: spouse, children, uncovering the potential in the person, discovering tje potential in some element of creation, informing minds, forming character, the healing of persons, the healing of the planet, the reconciliation of people, the coming together of people in industry and commerce for the betterment of all, the relief of the impoverished, the shelter of the destitute, the guidance of the disoriented, the defense of the innocent. Gregor Mendel found his answer in his laboratory where he discovered the secrets of genetics. Mother Teresa found her answer on the streets of Calcutta. A nurse might find hers in an intensive care unit. A man visiting his elderly parents in a nursing home might find it in them and a gowing circle of others he encounters there.
What does this mean for the single man or woman in the world? Love is your origin and Love surrounds every moment of your existence. When you come to this realization you find yourself a woman or a man. You are then ready to give yourself to the world and to others, because you now know you have something to give. And when you give it, you become a complete man or woman.
Often you hear the world around you telling you that to find love, you have to find the right “someone.” The truth is that it is futile to search for the “right someone” hoping to find love. Love is already yours! If you don’t see that it is, you will find it no where else. The single life will always be seen as diminished as long as it is defined in opposition to marriage. You will experience your single life as a marginalized existence as long as you define it in terms of marriage. The life of a single man or woman in the world is defined by the call to love – to love that which you have come to know you were created by God to love. The single life gains its full and unique character in your sacrifice of self in giving that love. The truth the contemporary world is reluctant to accept is that men and women can and do remain single precisely in order to love – in a total gift of self – that which God has given them to love.
Finding the Answer to the Meaning of Your Existence
You were placed in this world not to find love, but to give love – to express the One Love that is your origin. There is some part of this created world and its life that the One Love had in mind when he created you. He uniquely fashioned you to be an instrument of hope, healing and fulfillment of its life. It is supremely important to discover what it is that God has uniquely fashioned you to love. But how?
Today, people make a great deal of discovering their talents. I would tell you that it is not just about what talents you have or don’t have. Alone, your talents cannot help you see what in this world you were fashioned by the One Love to love. I would counsel you first to listen within and search for what the One Love has placed there. Discovering your talents shows you what you can do naturally. To love someone or something will require that you stretch yourself well beyond what comes naturally. When you discover that which you were made to love, it will press you to acquire skills of language, learning, craft and art that do not come easily to you, and qualities of soul that might not be naturally yours – such as patience, humility, fortitude, courage, and sacrifice of self.
A society obsessed with sex baits you with an enticingly appealing answer. It tells you that you need sex to love and be loved. You don’t need sex to be loved. If you believe you do, you won’t find the love you need in sex. And you don’t need sex to love. Only living in marriage needs sex in order to love – to love in a way that opens the path by which souls fashioned by the One Love may pass into physical existence and begin their journey.
The truth is that the only solid foundation for marriage is to successfully find your vocation as a single man or woman. A successfully single woman or man doesn’t join herself to a spouse in marriage in order to find someone to love or someone to love her. A successfully single woman or man joins herself to a spouse because she has found someone who can see what she is called to love and who wishes to partner her in loving it – and foremost to be seen and cherished in each other’s call to love are the children the One Love might ask them to bear into this world. Likewise, the only solid foundation for parenthood is to successfully find your vocation as a single man or woman. Such parents don’t love their children “as their own”. They love their children “as belonging to the One Love,” and as souls seeking in this world that which they have been formed by the One Love to touch and embrace. Such parents gift their children with a profound sense of the wonder and awe of their existence.
What a single man or woman in the world does need from others is warmth of relationship and the companionship of friends that value in him, above all other things, his call to love that part of the world for which the “One Love” has fashioned him. Such friends and companions support and encourage you to love successfully and fully what the One Love has called you to love.
As friends, family and community, we need to encourage those living the single life to persist in loving that which is theirs to love, to console them when they fail or grow weak, and to offer them our joy shared in celebration when they succeed. We also need to invite them to join us in forming a shared perspective of the world in which our loves must labor, and in wondering with awe at all that the One Love has pronounced “good” in the world around us – to see together the world in true perspective, to search together for the good in all things.
How the Single Life Becomes a Christian Vocation
Everything above sets out how Catholic Faith sees the dignity of the life of a single man or woman in the world. But this does not yet make it a Christian Vocation. A Christian Vocation consists of three things.
The first, is the realization that the world, and human life in the world, is fallen from grace. It is mortally wounded and, as a result, it mortally wounds the souls that pass through it. The “good” that God pronounced in each element of the world is, in some measure, in bondage and cannot reach the full potential of its existence or its life. God seeks to touch it and love it to healing and wholeness. Put simply, the world and human life need saving. This realization must then be followed by a conviction: “I believe my life has something vital to do with God wanting to touch a part of this world and love it to healing and wholeness.” When a man or woman comes to this conviction the foundation of his or her Christian Vocation is established.
The second, is to receive “good news” that salvation is available – in Jesus, our Lord! Jesus says:
Come, follow me! Matthew 9:9
This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks upon the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life. John 7:40
This is the work of God: have faith in the One whom God sent.
The vocation of a single man or woman in the world is to carry in his or her heart a passion to bring salvation in Christ to all in this world that the One Love has formed him to love. This means living personally the truth Jesus teaches, introducing others to it, assisting them in understanding it, supporting them in living it, celebrating with them the freedom it brings to them. This also means calling on Jesus’ name and asking the assistance of his saving power in all he does, teaching others that this saving and transforming power is available to them, coaching them in how to draw upon it, and celebrating with them the way this power unfolds the good in their lives to the fullest potential. To believe in Jesus and to respond to his summons is the birth of Christian Vocation.
Finally, what makes a single life in the world a Christian Vocation is the kind of love we love. Saint John says:
Beloved…love is of God…
Love, then consists of this: not that we have loved God,
But that He has loved us and sent His son as an offering for us…
1 John 4:7,10
What is the “love” that is “of God?” It is the love that sacrifices itself to heal and bring forth the good in another to its full potential. Jesus says:
The Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve – to give his life in ransom for the many. Mark 10:45
He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to naught for me discovers who he is.
The vocation to the single life in the world reaches maturity when it says in all its strivings:
(I) have come to know and believe in the love God has for (me)…
(I), for (my) part love, because He first loved (me). 1 John 4:16,19
Some Practical Considerations For the Community of Faith
I would suggest that some practical changes are in order in a faith community that wishes to value and support the vocation of single men and women in the world.
First, the members of the community that are married or consecrated to the religious life need to stop defining the existence of single men and women in terms of marriage. Society-at-large does this all the time and we in the community of faith all too easily fall into the same pattern. When meeting someone for the first time, one of the first questions we usually ask is: “Are you married?” And when the say, “No,” we rarely look really happy about it. When telling someone about a single person we just met, the first thing we often mention is that they are not married – either to invite the person with whom we are speaking to feel sorry for the person we are talking about, or to tell them that the person we are talking about might be “available.” One way or another, marriage ends up defining almost everything! The first ten questions you ask a person you are meeting for the first time should be about their interests and what they are called to care about in this world. Start defining people in terms of their call to love and to be a vessel of God’s love to the world.
Second, if you are a single woman or man, stop letting your existence be defined in terms of marriage. Get confident – and articulate – about what you are called to care about in this world and about your joy in being an instrument of God’s mercy in its regard. If you are not confident about the love that defines your existence, others won’t be either. Then they will have little choice but to rummage about looking for something about you for which they can by sympathetic – like not being married. Their sympathy you don’t need, their respect you do.
Third, stop inviting single people over to your house at Christmas because you feel sorry they are alone. Start inviting single people over to your house for dinner because you admire their vocation to embrace that part of the world God has given them to care for. Be proud to have them in your home and at your table. Want your children to know them and be inspired by them – to discover in themselves what God has given them to live in this world.
Fourth, teach yourself to notice and praise self-sacrificial love that extends itself for the healing of the world – where ever and in whomever you find it. Draw your children’s attention to it. Start believing that men and women can and do choose to remain single in order to pursue a vocation to love, in a total gift of self, that which God has given them to love.
Fifth, stop thinking of single people only on Friday and Saturday nights when you need a baby sitter. It is not bad that single men and women might support your vocation to marriage and family in this way, but make sure it goes the other way around. Put yourself out there for them by finding a baby sitter in order to join them in their labors of love, and when moments arrive to be with them in celebration of what God is doing through their lives.
I want to close with the words of Jesus:
All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, And your joy may be complete. John 15:11
There is an abundance of joy and true personal fulfillment to be found in a single life. I join Jesus in praying that it may be yours.