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The Dilemma and Joy of Being Single

t1larg.single.woman.tsI’m writing today to all the single Sistas. Girls, it is so hard to be single. It is hard because it can feel like there’s not quite a place for you in the Church. It is hard because there IS a place for you in secular society, but it is a place that is not worthy of you. I speak of the Cosmo girl that society tells you to become, if you want to be truly happy, and we both know that Cosmo girls, God help them, are not happy as they seek their next “mind-blowing” orgasm.

First, however, let me start by stating my thesis. My point in this post will be to explain what is the blessed place of single/virginal women in the Church and society, and, if you are single and aching for your vocation, to encourage you to consider the beauty of where you are at this moment.

minervaLet’s begin with a quote from Gertrude Von Le Fort’s little masterpiece, The Eternal Woman: “The one whom we negatively call the unmarried woman is, in a positive sense, the virgin. In other times, the virgin held a position of dignity. Not only does Christianity approve of her, but many of the values that it emphasizes have been anticipated also in pre-Christian times. Names of mountains and of constellations claim the virgin; while her character as expressed in Diana or a Minerva, though differently conceived and motivated, is in a natural sense no less impressive than a Christian saint…Her inviolability, which, if it be purity, always includes a depth of pain, denotes the sacrifice that is the price for an insight into the infinite value of the person. This explains why the liturgy always places the virgin beside the martyr who, like her, bears witness to the absolute value of the soul in the holocaust of his/her earthly life…For the woman who does not recognize in her virginity a value that has its relationship to God, the unmarried state and childlesness are really a profound tragedy…Once we acknowledge the religious import of the virgin, we easily understand her temporal significance. The virgin who sacrifices marriage and motherhood in order to represent the worth of the solitary person secures by this very renunciation both marriage and motherhood…Virginity, then, denotes in a special manner a capacity, a release for action…Thus, the woman whose strength is not limited to her own generation, rightly and naturally feels the urge to make her own contribution toward the historical and cultural life of her people.”

Okay, that is a long quote. Let’s unpack it. First, I like how the text identifies the value of virginal women who, by virtue of their freedom from responsibilities to husband and children, can do mighty deeds, like Joan of Arc, and move Popes, like Catherine of Siena. Single women, because of their freedom from the constraints of marriage and child-bearing, are able to love everyone. They have time for their friends, for their nieces and nephews, for the work, and for volunteering. If you are a single woman, you are able to mother everyone, rather than just your own children. I’m being a little narrow here, obviously, because every woman is a mother by virtue of her femininity, and women who have children to certainly love on people beyond just their own families, but you see where I’m going with this.

Single-ness, and I am using that interchangeably with virginity here, opens before a woman the opportunity to serve God in unusual and extraordinay ways. A single woman, like Katie, can adopt an entire orphanage of children. She can be a doctor who gives all of herself to her patients, seeking new cures and providing round-the-clock assistance.  Watching the video below makes me want to be single and go to Africa and love on babies.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfXgCx3f_1c]

Women who are married and have children cannot do these things. Society tells us that we can have it all, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that babies need their mamas all the time; it would be an injustice to my children, as well as my husband, if I adopted an entire orphanage. My children need me to love them in a particular way, and my husband needs to know that he is a major priority. As a married woman, I cannot give myself universally in the same way that a single woman can, and that is a pain for me because I see the world wounded and dying, but I must be faithful to the vocation and that means being faithful to making lunch and changing diapers and feeding the dog and loving my husband.  My point is that either vocation, married life or single/virginity, entails giving up something in order to be fruitful in some way.

b&wAnother aspect of the above quote that I appreciate is Von le Fort’s recognition of the sacrifice that singlehood/virginity implies, as woman’s unfilled longing for the comforts of husband and babies translates into “a release for action.” If you feel called to marriage but, despite all your prayers and best efforts, you have not yet met your husband, it hurts. There is an ache in you for the comforts of home and family, and I am just so sorry that your prospects are so few. When Gertrude Von le Fort wrote The Eternal Woman, there were few marriageable men because so many of them had died in World Wars I and II. In our day, there is a different reason for the lack of good men.

The awful fact is that nearly one-third of our generation has been aborted, which means that one-sixth of men who might have been marriage material are not here today. God have mercy. In addition, the men who are alive today are largely handicapped, emotionally and spiritually; they have been fed a steady diet of pornography, video games, alcohol, and sports-addiction, and each of these fosters men who live in their heads or on the computer screens. Men, who are naturally inclined by God to action and bravery, have been largely reduced to Peter Pans who are unable to pursue a marriageable young woman with the intent of courting her and winning her hand. Wow, that sounds harsh. I think that I feel so much frustration on behalf of the beautiful single women I love, women who go on dates with “good Catholic guys” again and again and feel disappointed every time. It seems like there are few men who actually know what they want and who know how to deliberately pursue it. But, please forgive me if I speak without mercy or without a balanced perspective. I know that there are many men who seek God’s plan for their lives, but it can seem like there are so very few.

Which is why y’all need to become saints. “Right,” you say. “Thanks a lot, Katie. Not!” But, I’m really serious. One of the primary gifts of women is to sacrifice for those we love, right? We have an extraordinary capacity to “hold the tension”, as Heather King says, to make up for what is lacking in others and to stand strong if there is an emergency. And, ladies, if there ever was a time when heroic women needed to stand in the gap, it is now. Our world seems to be falling to pieces–families breaking up, sex-trafficking rampant, abortion, pornography, and so forth. If the man who God intended as your husband has failed to find you and failed to be worthy of you, then please consider offering the pain of your vocational longing as a prayer for our dying culture.

The only answer to the wounds in our world is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the only way that Jesus is going to be made present in that world is if you become a saint. Jesus needs you to become a flame, to be set on fire with His love, and to draw others to your warmth. Love, eternal and merciful and tender, is the only antidote to our culture of death, and when you cooperate with God’s plan to make you a saint, you become “walking Love” for others. If Our Lord has allowed you the deep suffering of having an unfulfilled vocational longing, the only way to make sense of it is to offer it up; you take every tear, every lonely Valentine’s Day, ever year of fertility that slips away, and you offer it to the Lord, asking Him to make it fruitful and beautiful. There is no other way to peacefully bear your singleness.

My dear dear Sistas who are single, please know that I ache right there with you. I see how beautiful you are and worthy of a good man and what a wonderful mother you would make, and I am so sorry. I pray for each of you. Amen.

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About Katie

Katie spent her girlhood in a cult, where she was sexually wounded and nearly crushed by sorrow. Katie is here today because she belongs to a Father who turns tears into dancing and darkness into light. She earned her undergraduate degree in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, which is also the place where she met Jesus in the Eucharist and took Pope John Paul II as her spiritual father. Katie ministered at a Honduran orphanage, had her heart pierced in India, and served as a pro-life lobbyist before marrying and becoming a full-time mother. Amidst her days of washing dishes, chasing chickens, and kissing babies, Katie is earning her Master of Arts in Theology at the Augustine Institute. The mother of two precious toddlers and three babies who have run ahead to heaven, Katie lives with her beloved husband, Devin, on a farm outside Austin, Texas, and serves as the co-director of Feminine Genius, Inc.

  • Gemma - Aw, thank you so much for this. As a young Catholic single gal I ache so much for my future to just happen goshdarnit. But I love how you reflect on virginity as a beautiful thing. That’s encouraging. It’s not easy being single and chaste these days, but I know it’s not easy being a mom either. Thanks for all you ladies do 🙂 Keep the prayers coming, and I’ll be sure to pray for you all today too!February 13, 2014 – 10:06 amReplyCancel

  • Brittany - Beautiful and encouraging! So full of holy girl-power 🙂 Thank you Katie.February 13, 2014 – 10:13 amReplyCancel

  • Pilar - “Girls, it is so hard to be single.” It is?

    Kate, why does the title mention “the Joy of Being Single” and then you end with “I ache right there with you. I see how beautiful you are and worthy of a good man and what a wonderful mother you would make, and I am so sorry.” ?

    Singleness is not a misfortune to be overcome. You don’t have to feel sorry.February 13, 2014 – 3:48 pmReplyCancel

  • HW - What about those women who are called to the dedicated single life? Those who have been called by God to forgo marriage in order to “make her own contribution toward the historical and cultural life of her people.” Many times when I read articles addressing singles they only address those who are in the transitional state of being single. Although your article was written for this particular group Von le Fort’s words are inspirational for all singles.February 13, 2014 – 7:59 pmReplyCancel

  • Katie - You make an interesting point, Pilar, and I can see how you would feel confused. In my post, I fluctuate between talking about virginity “for the sake of the Kingdom” and single (as in waiting for marriage).

    The joy of which I write is that which comes when a single woman, either virginal for the Kingdom or still waiting for marriage, unites her fruitfulness with God’s plan for her flourishing. Joy comes when we cooperate with God’s plans, and a woman who is single is blessed with that joy when she is fruitful according to God’s will.

    Then, when I write about the sorrow of being single, I am speaking specifically to those women who long for marriage but have not yet found their husbands. I know many women like that, and it hurts to see them suffer a sense of emptiness and vocational loss. You are absolutely right that “singleness is not a misfortune”, but for many women, it is a lonely cross.

    Hope this helps?February 13, 2014 – 9:02 pmReplyCancel

  • Katie - HW, I think that my first comment also answers your question. I address this blog post mostly to women who are single (longing and waiting for marriage), but I do also mention virginity for the sake of the Kingdom.

    With regard to consecrated life, it is such a gift for the Church and the world! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more single women discerned a call to consecrated life, either as consecrated virgins attached to a Catholic parish as or nuns attached to a particular religious order?February 13, 2014 – 9:20 pmReplyCancel

  • 7 Quick Takes (Vol. 35) About Teaching and Reading, oh, and Valentine’s Day | The Beginning of Wisdom - […] Valentines Day! Or if you prefer, Singles Awareness Day 😉 Today I read this article from catholicsistas.com about the single life called “The Dilemma and Joy of Being […]February 14, 2014 – 8:40 pmReplyCancel

  • Ann - Thank you Katie for your kindness and compassion. For all of the single Catholics who are happy being single or are considering religious life, I am very happy for you. God bless you. I know of many, many more single Catholics who are not called to be single -the Church teaches that the vast majority of us are supposed to married. These people are single by circumstance and often feel alone and miserable within the Church. I know that marriage and parenthood take a lot of work and sacrifice, often leading some married people and clergy to think that singleness is easy. It is not, especially when it goes on for years or decades at a time. I sympathize with married Catholics in their struggles. This is why I really appreciate hearing some words of sympathy from a married woman for those of us called to serve in the same way but who are still sifting through the cultural/spiritual rubble at our feet.March 16, 2014 – 1:47 pmReplyCancel

  • Fatima - Sorry for being late to this post, especially as Valentine’s Day has long since passed. I hope you don’t mind my input. As an over 40 Catholic, single woman I can tell you the following:

    1. Not all of us want to be consecrated.

    2. Not all of us want to be nuns.

    3. The cross we really bear as single women really involves Catholic men with Madonna/whore complexes, or Women like you trying to look sympathetic but feel really glad you are not any of us.

    This post seems to think single woman should all turn into Mother Theresa since we have the time to do it. In fact you romanticize poverty in your little poor-dear post without one iota of asking what are the underpinnings keeping people poor. In fact I see not one social justice component on this site, and it does not surprise me one bit. It’s in keeping with an observation I have made over the years about this obession with virginity, purity, and any sexuality issue; it’s easier than trying to combat poverty and inequality.

    It’s easier than questioning anything. Now I know I will not change you, and you will certainly not change me. Here is something to try with single women. Please do not pity them. You can start with me.

    Thank you for reading.July 26, 2014 – 4:10 pmReplyCancel

  • Katie - Hi, Fatima. It sounds like my post rubbed you the wrong way. Sorry about that. I re-read my post, and, you are right, my tone is one of compassion and sorrow.

    Obviously, you don’t feel this way, but I have many friends who would love to be married and grieve that they are single and don’t have a place in the Church. It was to them that I was speaking, but I should have clarified (i.e. “If you are single and struggling with that, this post is for you…”).

    Let me address your critiques:
    1. I do not say that all Catholic women who are single want to be nuns.
    2. I do not say that all Catholic women who are single want to be consecrated.
    3. It is unfair for you to say that I “feel really glad that [I] am not one of [you].” That is a mis-characterization of my words and sounds disdainful.

    As for social justice, I think that Mother Theresa was just as instrumental as someone like Oscar Romero in changing unjust social structures. She called the Indian people, and the world, to see each person as worthy of dignity and respect. She highlighted the fundamental option for the poor. She called for the protection of women and for freedom from sexual exploitation. She promoted peace in warn-torn areas like the Gaza Strip.

    With that said, however, you are right that I did not ask Catholic Social Doctrine in this post. That was not pertinent to my focus. If CSD is something about which you are passionate, I encourage you to contact the editors of this blog and ask to write a guest post.

    All grace to you and peace, Fatima.July 26, 2014 – 8:14 pmReplyCancel

  • A Blessed Time: A Review of ‘The Moment is Now’ | Lit By the Tree - […] The Dilemma and Joy of Being Single […]May 29, 2016 – 9:15 amReplyCancel

  • Charlene - But Fatima, what’s wrong with saying that you’re really glad to not be single—of course that’s how you feel, even if you didn’t say it….you’d *never* trade the life you have for one where you’d be lifelong single and childless…I don’t feel pitied by you but the “offer it up” solution doesn’t work…unwanted singleness and barrenness is *needless* suffering…Jesus’ suffering was *not* needless…it had a divine purpose…and I have a really hard time wondering why I was not one of the ones blessedAugust 28, 2016 – 11:35 pmReplyCancel

    • Chsrlene - So sorry, I was not replying to Fatima, but to Katie!August 29, 2016 – 1:15 pmReplyCancel

  • Charlene - But Fatima, what’s wrong with saying that you’re really glad to not be single—of course that’s how you feel, even if you didn’t say it….you’d *never* trade the life you have for one where you’d be lifelong single and childless…I don’t feel pitied by you but the “offer it up” solution doesn’t work…unwanted singleness and barrenness is *needless* suffering…Jesus’ suffering was *not* needless…it had a divine purpose…and I have a really hard time wondering why I was not one of the ones blessed…sorry I meant Katie not Fatima!August 28, 2016 – 11:38 pmReplyCancel

  • Miriam - This article is full of contradictions. How ever can a young married woman with children advise lonely singles as to “the only way to peacefully bear your singleness”? How can the author advise us as to how to satiate a hunger that she will never experience? I read her bio and am truly sorry about her history of abuse which sounds horrific. But the author does not walk in our shoes, and so she lacks credibility. As a moral exercise, I challenge the author to re-read her article and substitute for singleness the problem of homelessness, or physical hunger or sickness, and then see whether her spiritual exhortations hold up. They will not. They will fall appallingly short of the Christian moral mark. The dream of a home, spouse, and children is hard-wired into many (but not all!) of us, as fundamental to our well-being as food or shelter. But somehow, we singles are advised to become gracious losers and learn to attain instead a “spiritual high” through actually savoring and relishing our deprivation. The author rightly surmises that singles feel we have no place in the Church, but she fails to suggest any ways that the rest of the body of Christ might help to remedy this. Instead, she suggests that singles move away (!)overseas somewhere, where we can “just love on” those in orphanages perhaps, and so we can “just become saints, y’all.” Missionary work is not just for singles. In fact, some singles are hard-pressed just to earn a solo living, to care for themselves when they’re sick, and to care-give for the older folk that the mommy-bloggers have no time for. It’s not too late for the author to move her family overseas where she can mother many children beyond her own. There are humanitarian organizations which would support her family in so doing. It is very convenient to spout platitudes and glib responses when God’s will for your life lines up conveniently with your own dreams. This author cannot begin to know the pain of the single life.August 30, 2016 – 7:34 pmReplyCancel

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