Wednesday, April 2, 2014


A number of years ago when I was still a seminarian, some of us were invited to a reception.  It was one of those receptions at which the host thought it a marvelous idea to have assigned seating so that you could not sit with people you knew, loved, and trusted, and be forced to get to know the host’s friends so that we could be one big happy family.  I hate that.


As it turned out, there I was seated at a table with one other seminarian and three other couples.  The couples were relatively recently married and, though they were close friends growing up, had not seen each other in a number of years.  The entire night’s conversation evolved around such topics as how to keep you husband from tracking tar from the newly sealed driveway into the house and exactly how dilated each woman was at the birth of her first child.  They were perfectly delightful people.  But when desert was served, as soon as we had polished off the plate one or the other of us said, “Wow, look at my wrist!  It’s getting late.  Time for all good seminarians to go to bed.”

There was nothing wrong with the evening.  The couples were polite and interesting.  The reception was actually quite nice, but as you might imagine, the night was so focused on couples that there was just a lack of finding a place.  We couldn’t even hang out with other seminarians.  So we drifted out.
Parish life can be the same way.  There are a lot of single people.  Some are simply single people waiting to become a couple.  Some may be discerning a priestly or religious life.  Some are divorced or widowed.  Some have discerned that the single life for Christ is for them.  Sometimes it is chosen, sometimes it is not.  And a parish, particularly if there is a strong school, can tend to focus on families.  Even catechesis has moved in that direction at times stepping away from a classroom model to generations of faith in which families are catechized together.
It is possible that dinners, dances, homilies, programs, and clubs can tend to be couples or family oriented.  This is great because the family needs support, but it can’t be at the expense of this large population.  And I’m not talking about grieving clubs, or Catholic singles, or divorced Catholic clubs that treat being single as a malady, but something to acknowledge, celebrate, and offer opportunities to these people who are often the backbone of the parish.
So there you go!  Easy to point out the problem, not so easy to come up with the solution.  If you’ve thoughts and ideas, I’d love to hear them.


Anonymous said...

I wish I had an answer, but I know the problem. My wife and I were both in our 40s when we married. It was a first marriage for both of us, and we were both practicing Catholics.

Even though I was quite active in our Parish, even head of the Trust Fund, I always felt like a fifth wheel. That all changed after our marriage.

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago my husband and I went on a pilgrimage/cruise led by our pastor (who was pretty much monopolized by people from his former parish).

We were in tables of 7 for dinner. There was another married couple and 3 single ladies at our table, and we were all roughly the same ages (50is-60ish), except for one young lady, who had just graduated high school. We were all from the same parish.

We had a blast. Of course, being on vacation, we could always trade notes about what we had done that day, and so had something in common besides our shared parish ties. But after our return, we all agreed that the one thing we missed the most was sitting down to eat together every day. The single people pretty much always ate alone, and they really liked eating with all of us.

Personally, what I feel left out of is volunteering and attending daily Mass at our parish. Everything seems to take place during the work day, including daily Mass and other devotions. As working people, we feel a bit stranded, as much as we love our parish and pastor.

Anyway, I guess the situations we find ourselves in are a matter of finding some kind of common ground with others we meet.

frival said...

I think the problem of so many things happening during the work day is an epidemic in the Church (probably outside of it as well, but I can't speak to that). It seems most groups, meetings, etc. are set up by people who then time things to work best for themselves and their group of friends, probably with no ill intent towards anyone but simply because they don't think of the fact that others might want to join as well. It is indeed incredibly frustrating to find that an apostolate you'd like to work with in your parish only meets at 10AM or 1:30PM or such which excludes everyone who is not retired or a stay-at-home parent who can leave the kids for a couple of hours.

Our last parish evangelist made a huge change in the parish by making sure all of his teaching classes were held both during the morning after daily Mass and at night, late enough for commuters to get home and have dinner and still make class. Unfortunately for him that meant his teaching days were *very* long, so fixing this problem probably requires either separate groups or someone who's willing to voluntarily put in pretty terribly long days.

Anonymous said...

As a single professional woman I am just happy to see that I am not the only person who sees this as an issue.

I have really come to realize that I don't exist in the Catholic Church. This makes sense because single professional women are a relatively new phenomenon and the Church has no tradition of how to deal with them.

I wish there was a solution. There isn't one I can think of at the moment.

In addition to the fact that much of parish life occurs during the work day there is this wrinkle... an organization was recently announced in a parish bulletin which I was really excited to join - until I saw it was meeting on Saturday evenings. What is the thinking there?

I wish I knew an answer. There doesn't seem to be an obvious one. Perhaps my greatest temptation to leave the Catholic church is because my Protestant friends don't have the same problems in their communities. Perhaps we can look to how those communities deal with unmarried members.

Anonymous said...

Hi There -

I am the "Anonymous" who went on the cruise (see above).

To the single, professional lady writing -

Some of our closest friends from our parish are single, professional men and women.

What we have in common is our love for the Church and our parish, and we get great joy being together. It is good to get together whenever we see one another - whether it is at Coffee Hour after Mass (weekly at our parish) or any other time we cross paths.

We know they are unmarried (being a professional is not an issue, I think), and they know we are childless (which was not what we wanted). Really, I understand - we so yearned for children, and to listen to people talk about their children is sometimes difficult, but we have learned to simply take a benevolent interest in their children, as fellow parishioners and friends.

Perhaps you should get friendly with a wider circle of people at your parish. The fact that the organization you wanted to met on Saturday night may simply be a matter of deciding on a time that most people could make - not the fact that you are single and have nothing better to do.

Please don't be tempted to leave us for the Protestants. Maybe some parishes do need to work on social activities for their people, but the most important thing is that we have the Sacraments. Nothing the Protestants can offer can compete with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Love from a sister in Christ

Anonymous said...

I will say it has been interesting going through a divorce and not really knowing how to answer people when they ask if I'm single or married. I feel like I can't really say single until (and if) the annulment is granted, but I don't really want to say married because then they will proceed to ask questions about spouse/children and will probably end up being awkward/painful. And, I definitely don't want to say I'm separated/divorced or else they will be scandalized. I admit I try to run out as soon as mass is over to avoid this--at least until things are resolved.

Catholic Mom Formerly a Single said...

This difficulty is similar in some ways to the youth "problem." We don't understand how to really love and encourage the youth and so we stick them in peer groups where they eat pizza together until they are too old.

In a similar way, single people are often in transition. Some are trying not to be single, some are professionals, some are elderly, some are devoted to service, some are caring for parents, some have high-functioning mental disabilities. You can't just stick this group together, call it "singles" and have an answer.

The answer, I believe , lies in the true integration of faith family in the liturgy and service. Youth groups tend to go to car washes and avoid parish liturgical calendar. Singles often feel isolated because they are meeting people at dinner parties instead of. Holy Mass or service within the community.

As for the married with children we often have a hard time being able to focus outside of our vocational sphere because it engages everything we have. We often feel left out of circles that seem to have so many more options and time.

A strong parish life focused on a strong liturgy and authentic Catholic culture has the greatest potential for bringing these groups together with joy and fruitfulness. People will discover how much richer life is when they are truly integrated and not just thrown together at dinner parties.

One huge obstacle to healthy integration is a sports/activity based family culture that directs away from parish/Christ-centered life. Nobody got time for Jesus.

Terry T said...

I am grateful and encouraged that you acknowledge the problem. That is a good first step. The fact that you can relate is also great. No answers at this point but knowing there are more of us out there is a comfort.

Hallie W said...

Thank you so much Fr. V for commenting on this and pointing out the problem. Thank you everyone else for your comments. Just a mere acknowledgement is a huge relief!

As a young professional who has recently returned to the Catholic Church, I struggle with feeling excluded. I was often tempted to walk away from the Church again out of frustration.

There are no easy answers. As commented above, having such a large population of singles is a new phenomenon. However, we can still make a person to person effort to include one another. If you see a single person walking out after Mass, say hello to that person and invite them out for coffee. Take the initiative to get to know your fellow brothers and sister in Christ at your parish! By God's grace that is how I met some wonderful people at my parish (St. Sebastian). While most of these people are not fellow singles, we are still united in our love of Christ and can learn a lot from each other regardless of our state in life. I am indebted to their kindness which has really helped pull me through some rough times. It has propelled me to reach out to others in a similar fashion with charity and enthusiasm.

So while there is no easy solution to "deal" with the single population in the Catholic Church, we can all do our small part by reaching out to one another. Many little actions done with love can move mountains.

Mary said...

A remarkably insightful talk on ministry to singles, by Dr. Christopher Yuan, an Evangelical bible professor with a PhD in ministry, can be found here: "Redeeming Biblical Singleness" .Scroll down to Marcy 15, 2014 to find the talk.

His talk is about the need for the Church to elevate it's respect for and value of the single life. What's particularly notable is that it sounds like this guy is talking Theology of the Body, and he's not even Catholic. I attended this seminar and asked him about it. Sure enough he's studied and LOVES JPII's Theology of the Body! Just like what Dr. Peter Kreeft says – the Evangelicals he knows love TotB.

Another significant dimension of Dr. Yuan's perspective is that he has same-sex attraction. (He's got an incredible testimony of the power of grace to save one from the jaws of hell. See his family testimony, "Out of A Far Country" (the same page, but on March 9.) Part of his message is that if the church is going to propose that most people like him remain single, then singleness has to be elevated above second class status and the church needs to be much more of a family for the single folks in our ranks.