As I got older and remained unmarried, one of the questions that more and more people asked me is if I felt like I was “called” to be single or if I had the “gift” of singleness. I have had different times in my life where I’ve considered and prayed about that. This is one of the areas we just don’t talk enough about in the Church.
Now, I’ve already talked a lot on here about the gift of singleness, taking advantage of singleness, and about 100 spiritual platitudes on singleness. Lately I’ve been talking more about the idea that we as a Church must have a theology of singleness. But the question becomes what does that mean. It has to start with what we talked about last week and focusing on Jesus and His family first. It has to. Without that, nothing else will fit.
The next thing we have to do is begin to rescue what we mean when we say “called to singleness”.
Singleness, is not a good category in general. It’s way too big if by single we mean unmarried. We need to understand that there are many, many different people who are unmarried. There are never married, divorced and widowed. You are not called to be “single” in the way we talk about it today. You may be divorced and unable to remarry, widowed and choose not to remarry or called to celibacy for the kingdom.
Neither Jesus nor Paul are talking about being called to a lifetime of dating. They are not talking about being called to be unmarried because you can’t make a commitment to another person or don’t know how to get a date. They are not talking about a call to a lifetime of selfishness and self focus. It is not a call to be alone. They are also not talking about some sort of gift where you never have sexual desires. You are not called to a lifetime of trying to get married. You are for sure not called to a lifetime of adolescence.
What Jesus and Paul are talking about is the call to or gift of celibacy. We have completely ignored this in the Protestant church and mostly only focused on the full time ministry part of it in the Catholic church.
The call to a celibate life is not a call away from marriage. It is a call to something. It is a call to serve God from an unmarried context. You might look at it like this. There is a first vow we make to God. This is first and most important – our response to the gift of salvation and committing our life to Jesus. But then we make a second vow. We either make this vow to God to live a celibate lifestyle and follow and serve Jesus from that spot, or a vow to another person with God and therefore get married and follow and serve Jesus from that spot.
Both of these are a calling and we have the choice to either obey and follow it or not. They are both good and honorable in the kingdom.
So when we ask someone if they are called to singleness what we really need to ask is are they called to celibacy for the kingdom.
This does not mean by the way that because you are not called to celibacy and not yet married that you are somehow sinning (although you might be). What it means is that we need this question to be our starting point.
The problem with our current state of affairs if that we have lost this whole thought process. We need to have a good theology of celibacy and marriage. We need a good understanding of both so that we can freely seek our particular calling. I think that in general the Church does a good job of talking about what marriage is. However they do a terrible job talking about celibacy. Most don’t even acknowledge it beyond a sentence or two here and there. They typically don’t help us pursue either one.
The reality is we are either called to celibacy or marriage. We need to determine that and then pursue it (with Jesus of course). We are not called to sit back and see which one “happens”.
When you think about the call to singleness – what does that mean to you? Have you considered that call? Would you be open to either call?
For more reading on celibacy I’d refer you to what John Morgan has written on the gift of celibacy here. It is easily the best thing I’ve found on the subject so far and it sheds a lot of light on what I’m talking about above. I’d encourage you to read it. It is more in depth but very clear.