It’s been an unpleasant week for single laymen, I’ve heard. Valentine’s Day and World Marriage Day, and even the current battle over the contraception mandate—all have love and marriage, or at least fertility, at the center of the conversation.
But even at other times of the year, the Church in America is extremely family-centered. There are countless Church ministries dedicated to encouraging, supporting, and celebrating marriage and family life: meals and baby supplies for new mothers, retreats and lectures for couples, special blessings and intercessory prayers for the family. Myriad groups and activities invite and support children of all ages. And of course the “milestone” sacraments focus on family life.
This is, of course, a good thing. Now that fornication is routine and fertility is considered a preventable disease, marriage and childbearing should be encouraged and supported by one of the few remaining global organizations which doesn’t have its head permanently installed up its behind. We need strong marriages, we need strong families, and we need priests who value and encourage the strength of the family.
The things we really need from the Church are available to everyone, married, single, and with or without children: the Eucharist. Confession. God’s word. And we are all supposed to consider how we can serve the Church, more than how we can be served.
Still, I can see how a continual emphasis on marriage and family life could make unwillingly single people feel really crummy. True, single people are at least theoretically free to enjoy all sorts of delightful activities which I don’t have the time or energy for—choir, Adoration, pilgrimages, and even just being able to stay inside the nave for the entire hour of Mass, without having to take anyone to the bathroom or drag them away from the holy water (which is stored in an irresistibly shiny but inexcusably rickety metal tank).
So many of the church-sponsored activities I enjoy wouldn’t even exist if there weren’t single people around to make them happen. But I suspect that pointing these advantages out to to an unwillingly single person smacks of a second-rate consolation prize, like when I tell one of my kids, “I’m going to make the cake, but you can be my special helper.”
I don’t want to do that to anyone. I want to be sympathetic when I hear this comment I hear again and again: “The Church does nothing for single Catholics!” Someone inevitably makes this lament any time a writer complains, even jokingly, about marriage or childbearing or any aspect of family life: “You have no right to complain—at least you’re not alone. The Church does nothing at all for single Catholics!”
So, single people, if you feel neglected or misunderstood, here is your opportunity. Many priests and parish administrators read the Register, so here is a chance to make your suggestions. What do you need? Specific ministries or groups to support people who aren’t physically needy, but who find themselves alone too often? More explicit reminders from the pulpit to pray for and care for people whose needs are not obvious? Or what?
Or if you are a single person who does feel sufficiently integrated into the life of the Church, what has been helpful to you? Is there anything that non-single people ought to know about life as a single layman?
Christ loves everyone, but it’s our job as members of His body to make His love apparent to each other. So you tell me: what can we do?