What Sexuality Means for Singles
by Mary Beth Bonacci
(Crisis, February 1999)
Mary Beth Bonacci, Catholic speaker and author, writes: “Even theology seems to conspire against single people. (Note I say ‘seems.’ God would-n't really do that to us.) I'm currently teaching a class at my own parish on the theology of John Paul II. In our discussion of the theology of the body ... with its emphasis on the beauty of married love, the language of human sexuality, and the centrality of the family, the single people in the class are adamantly asking where exactly they fit in.
“But, ironically, it is in that same theology of the body that those single people are finding the key to a deeper understanding of their own vocation.
“The theology of the body, at its deepest level, is about the one true human vocation — the vocation to love. Man is created in the image and likeness of God. That image and likeness is reflected, in its deepest way, in our capacity and desire to give ourselves in authentic love. All creation is a gift to us from a God who personifies love. ... True happiness is only found in recognizing the image and likeness of God in others, and reacting accordingly by seeking what is truly best for them. The creation of our very bodies, as male and female, reflects our capacity to give ourselves, body and soul, to another human person. God's favorite act, the creation of new human life, is accomplished through the love of a man and a woman. The resulting family is a ‘communion of persons,’ a school of love in which each member lives not just for self but by looking out for what is best for all.
“That capacity to give of oneself is by no means limited to the complete self-surrender of marriage. We're all called ... to love — to recognize the image and likeness of God in every human person and to respond accordingly. ... In order to do that, we must live within a community of persons. ... The family is the prototype of the communion of persons, where each member (supposedly) loves and looks out for the others. Religious communities also constitute a communion of persons, where each person (supposedly) contributes to the welfare of the community, and each looks out for and loves the others.
“So what is the communion of persons for those of us who are single? Many of us live alone. ... We may have coworkers, but those people go home to their own families at the end of the day. Who is there to show an interest in our day-to-day lives, to share our problems and our triumphs? Most importantly, who is there for us to love and to give ourselves to?
“The answer for all too many single people is ‘no one.’And, unfortunately ... [i]f a person is frustrating a legitimate need to give of himself, what more obvious outlet could he find than engaging in sexual activity? ... [T]he underlying truth is that most unmarried sexual activity in this world is motivated by a futile attempt to stave off the loneliness caused by the frustrated need to give and receive authentic human love.
“Single people absolutely need a communion of persons. We need friends — not just acquaintances or coworkers or people who invite us over to dinner once a month. ... Catholic singles who work for your average high-tech company ... need to seek out these kinds of friendships, and Catholic parishes ... need to offer single adults good, solid support in their faith. Many, having grown up in the confusing years just after Vatican II, have significant gaps in their own faith formation. They're spiritually hungry, looking to fill the ‘God-shaped hole'in their lives. ... When we offer them substance, those who crave substance will stay. And they will find each other.
“There is another kind of community that is vitally important to Catholic singles: the community of Catholic families. ... I'm not talking about ‘invite a single person to dinner.’ I'm talking about really, honestly making single friends a part of your family, creating an atmosphere where they truly feel comfortable in your home.
“Many find themselves working for faceless corporations in jobs they see as insignificant. ... God's job for them is to be a witness to Christ in that environment ... simply by bringing their Christian values to the workplace. When they conduct business ethically, when they treat each and every person with the respect due to one who is made in the image and likeness of God, they are bearing witness to Christ.”
A condensed version, in the words of the original author, of an article selected by the Register from the nation's top journals.
- February 21-27, 1999