The single life

The universe works in pairs. From the atoms to the human species, generativity is predicated on union with another. Happiness, it would seem, is also predicated on that.

So where does that leave singles and celibates? How can they be normal, generative and happy?

For many people living single and celibate, life can seem unfair. Everything, it seems, is set up for couples, while they are single. And that isn't the only problem. A further problem is that, too often, neither our churches nor our society give singles and celibates the symbolic-tools to understand their state in a life-giving way.

Consequently, single persons often feel like they're looking in at life from the outside, that they're abnormal, that they're missing something essential within life. Moreover, unlike married persons and vowed religious, few single persons feel that they have positively chosen their state of life. They feel it rather as an unfortunate conscription.

Few single persons feel easeful and accepting of their lot. Instead, they regard it as something temporary, something still to be overcome. Rarely does a single person, especially a younger person, see himself or herself growing old and dying single — and happy. Invariably the feeling is: This has to change. I didn't choose this! I can't see myself like this for the rest of my life!

There are real dangers in feeling like this. First, there's the danger of never fully and joyfully picking up one's life and seeing it as worthwhile, of never positively accepting what one is, of never accepting the spirit that fits the life that one is actually living. As well, there's the danger of panicking and marrying simply because marriage is seen as a panacea with no real possibility of happiness outside of it.

Partially those fears are well-founded. Being single and celibate does bring with it a real loss. Denial is not a friend here. Pious wishing or platonic spiritualities that deny the power of sexuality don't placate our emotions or erase the fact that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

The universe works in pairs and to be single is to be different, more different than we dare admit. Thomas Merton, reflecting on his own celibate state, once put it this way:

"The refusal of woman is fault in my chastity…. And all my compensations are a desperate and useless expedient to cover this irreparable loss which I have not fully accepted.... I can learn to accept it in the spirit and in love and it will no longer be 'irreparable.' The cross repairs and transforms it. The tragic chastity which suddenly realizes itself to be mere loss, and the fear that death has won — that one is sterile, useless, hateful. I do not say this is my lot, but in my vow I can see this as an ever-present possibility."

Celibacy and the single life bring with them real dangers for immaturity and unhappiness.

But, paradoxically, admitting this truth is the first step in beginning to live positively beyond those dangers. Sexuality is a dimension of our self-awareness. We awake to consciousness and feel ourselves, at every level, as cut off, lonely nomads separated and aching for unity. Celibacy is indeed a fault in our humanity.

However, to be celibate and single doesn't necessarily mean that one is asexual or sterile. Today the impression is often given that no happiness exists outside of sexual union. That's superficial and untrue.

Sexuality is the drive in us towards connection, community, family, friendship, affection, love, creativity, delight and generativity. We are happy and whole when these things are in our lives, not on the basis of whether or not we sleep alone. The single celibate life offers its own opportunities for achieving these. God never closes one door without opening countless others. For instance, when our culture recognizes that it's easier to find a lover than a friend, it recognizes too that human sexuality and generativity are more than biological.

There are other ways of being healthily sexual, of getting pregnant and impregnating, of being mother or father, of sexual enjoying intimacy. Sexuality, love, generativity, family, enjoyment and delight have multiple modalities.

Early on in my ministry, I once served as a spiritual director to a young man who was discerning between marriage and priesthood. His greatest hesitation in moving towards priesthood was one particular fear:

"I've always been afraid of being a priest because celibacy will mean dying alone. My father died when I was 15, but he died in my mother's arms. I've always resisted celibacy because I want to die like my father died — in a woman's arms. But, meditating on Christ's life one day, it struck me that Jesus died alone, loved, but in nobody's arms. He was alone, but powerfully linked to everyone in a different way. It struck me that this, too, could be a good way to die!"

It can be, but only if first, as Merton says, the cross repairs and transforms us.

Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. His website is www.ronrolheiser.com.


Voices

Iowa and us in a Year of Mercy

Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was in the general-purpose room of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Des Moines that Donald Trump made his last pitch to Iowa voters, inside a caucus room. He wanted to make sure people remembered that not only will he build the wall on our border with Mexico, but that he’s the only candidate who will make Mexico pay for it.

Events

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February 6, 2016

  • Saturday, February, 6

    Second Annual Sisters of Notre Dame Nun Run 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run, 8 a.m., Hosted by the Sisters of Notre Dame and La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks. Course starts on Dover Avenue in Thousand Oaks and finishes in front of La Reina School. Open to runners and walkers of all ages and ability levels. Professional chip timing technology will be provided to 5K runners by Vendurance Sports. Participants will receive a free T-shirt (while supplies last); pancake breakfast available after the race. Pre-registration is $35 per person for the 5K, and $25 for the 1-Mile. All proceeds support the Sisters of Notre Dame Life and Ministry Fund, allowing the sisters to continue their ministries in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. For more information, contact Chloe Vieira at cvieira@sndca.org, or visit sndca.org/nunrun. 

    Math Competition for Middle School Students & Problem-Solving Workshop for Teachers, 7:45 a.m., Don Bosco Technical Institute, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead.A mathematics competition for fifth through eighth grade students. The 44th annual event will offer awards for the highest scoring individual and teams. Participants must register by Feb. 2 atwww.boscotech.edu/events. Space is limited. The cost is $8 per individual and $5 per person for teams of four or more, up to 15. Check-in begins at 7:45 a.m.; one-hour test starts at 9 a.m. Free activities offered and food available for purchase. Award ceremony follows the competition at 11 a.m. For more information, contact Valeria De Luna at MathCompetition@boscotech.edu.

     

    San Fernando Regional Day of Prayer for the RCIA, 1 - 4:30 p.m., St. John Baptist De La Salle Church, 16555 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills. An afternoon of prayer for those who will celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion this Lent. Catechumens, candidates, sponsors and team members will come together in prayer with Bishop Joseph V. Brennan. To register or for more information, contact Sandy Cole at (818) 368-1514 or dre@sjbdls.org.

     

    Second Annual Valentine's Dinner/Dance, 7 p.m., St. James School - O'Gorman Center, 4625 Garnet St., Torrance.Dance music from the 50's to the present; $20 per person. Proceeds will benefit our seminarians. For more information, call the parish office at (310) 372-5228, or Ely at (310) 944-3355.  

     

    Snowflake Swing Dinner/Dance, 6 p.m. to midnight,St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1523 Golden Gate Ave., Los Angeles. Great food, door prizes and dancing (assorted music), featuring the LA Trio. Tickets $25; RSVP by Feb. 2. For reservations, call Liza at (323) 664-1305 or Renee at (213) 413-3036. 

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