by Fr. Dominic J. Unger, O.F.M., 1958, The Mystery of Love for the Single
There have always been enemies outside the Church who have attacked the celibacy of the clergy and denounced the perfect chastity of religious. With the defense of such single people we are not concerned directly, though much of what we say about chastity for the single in the world holds equally for the priests and religious.
Directly we are concerned with the vocation of men and women in the world who wish to live a life of perfect chastity in the single state. The legitimacy of this vocation has been attacked by those outside the Church. Even some Catholics seem to have had inaccurate, incomplete, and disparaging ideas on the matter.
We aim, therefore, to prove that it is lawful for people to remain in the world and live a single life of perfect chastity for the sublime purpose of attaining their primary end in life more easily and securely, thereby achieving a more complete and perfect personality, and ultimately for the purpose of obtaining a more perfect life of glory in heaven—all this for the greater honor and glory of Christ and God.
That such perfect chastity is quite legitimate is clear, first, from the fact that no one of less authority than Christ counselled it. He invited all those who feel capable of living that life to accept it when He said: “And there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. Let him accept it who can” (Matthew 19,12).
This invitation of Christ is general, it is not limited to priests or religious. His invitation implies that the vocation is difficult, but that it can be chosen freely by anyone who feels he can live it. And the reason He assigned for such a life is “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” Anyone may choose it for that reason, is Christ’s meaning; not merely those who for various reasons are barred from entering other vocations.
St. Paul, too, is warrant for the lawfulness of such a vocation of virginal love in the world. In his long and beautiful seventh chapter to the Corinthians about virginity and married life, he argues not only that this is a lawful vocation but that it is more perfect than the vocation of married life. For I would that you all were as I myself; but each one has his own gift from God, one in this way, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they so remain, even as I. (I Corinthians 7,7-8)
Later he explains: He who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please God. Whereas he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided. And the unmarried woman, and the virgin, thinks about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and in spirit. Whereas she who is married thinks about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
Now this I say for your benefit, not to put a halter upon you, but to promote what is proper, and to make it possible for you to pray to the Lord without distraction. (1 Corinthians 7,32-35)
And he concludes: But she will be more blessed, in my judgment, if she remains as she is [namely, a virgin]. And I think St. Paul was speaking directly of women virgins, but his thoughts have equal force for men who live in perfect chastity. That is evident from the fact that he proposes himself as a model even for the women virgins.
In view of that clear teaching of Christ and St. Paul, it is not surprising that Holy Mother Church, who is herself the virginal Spouse of Christ, approved of this vocation from the very beginning, and protected it against the attacks of heretics and immoral persons. By her infallible authority she has declared that this vocation is better, in itself, than that of the married.
The Council of Trent made this statement: “If anyone says that the conjugal state is to be preferred to the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to enter matrimony, let him be condemned. (Session 24, canon 10).
Though the Council had religious and priests more in mind, its canon was meant also for men and women who live a life of virginity in the world.
In our own day Pope Pius XII, in a discourse on the vocation of woman in the modern world, praised the thousands who through the twenty centuries of the Church’s history have followed Christ’s counsel and freely renounced marriage to consecrate their services to humanity by prayer and penance, by every kind of work of charity toward children, the ignorant, the sick, the dying.
These remarks of the Pope do not refer exclusively to priests and religious. He praised those, too, who freely renounced marriage for the sake of a life of contemplation, of sacrifice and of charity. In regard to these, he said, one immediately thinks of a “vocation”; namely, that they have a true calling for that life from God.
Then, to encourage those who because of circumstances of war had to remain unmarried, he added that they, too, have a “vocation,” a call from God for their single lives, and their lives need not be useless for society. (Discourse, Oct. 21, 1945)
It would be quite erroneous to think that the Pope did not recommend a single life in the world except for those who were forced to remain unmarried. Such a deduction, as our analysis of the whole section shows, would be utterly false.
The Pope would never make such a primitive error in so important a matter of Christian living. He was speaking of a fact due to war conditions. He was not laying down an exclusive principle.
In fact, just before that he spoke of those who voluntarily choose such a vocation. For them it is a “vocation” without doubt. But it can be a “vocation,” he wished to explain, also for those who remain unmarried by force of circumstances.
Already prior to that discourse, on Holy Saturday, 1943, in an allocution to the Italian girls of Catholic Action, the Pope praised “the sons and daughters in the earliest Church, who freely renounced earthly nuptials for the love of Christ, consecrated all their powers to the duties of caring for souls, of Christian education, of charity, of foreign missions.”
He then spoke of those who were even martyred for their faith and purity. Only later does he mention religious. Those referred to earlier evidently include lay people who lived in perfect chastity, as is clear too from his speaking of the “earliest Church,” when there were no religious in the strict sense.
But the Holy Father gave a more solemn approval to the single life in the world in his encyclical On Holy Virginity, March 25, 1954. This document deals generally with virginity as lived by priests and religious, but many points apply equally to lay people who live in perfect chastity.
In one passage in particular he speaks expressly of lay people: But while such perfect chastity is the object of one of the three vows, of which the religious state consists, and while it is required of the clergy of the Latin Church in major Orders, and is demanded from the members of secular institutes; it, nevertheless, flourishes also among not a few who belong entirely to the laity.
For there are men and women who are not established in a public state of perfection, and still they abstain entirely from matrimony and the carnal pleasures by virtue of a resolve or a private vow, in order that they may more freely serve their fellow men and that they may unite their souls more easily and closely with God.
We have here an authoritative as well as an express approval of the single vocation even for those who are not forced into it but who choose it freely.
Virginal chastity in the world has, through the centuries, received at least implicit approval from the Vicars of Christ by the fact that they have beatified and canonized many men and women who lived this form of life. They have presented them to the whole world as models to be imitated.
A couple more questions were asked after my last “Tea-Time” and I thought it would be helpful to others to answer them here. They were asked in the comments so I thought the ladies wouldn’t mind if I put them on the post…
I have a question–what advice do you have for mothers with morning sickness? Our routine completely falls apart and my husband works hard to care for all the children and me all by himself. It is discouraging and very difficult for everyone. My moods during pregnancy also lower my quality as a mother. What spiritual advice would you give me? Thank you and I love your work!
I sent this question to my daughters and daughter-in-law. Here is the “thread” of answers:
“Father said it is a woman’s time of exodus.. You literally have to offer it up to God and do what you possibly can do to survive. Each day is just trying to get your basic prayers in. Like you said morning, night, rosary… Otherwise leave it in God’s hands…He knows what you’re going through. Unless there’s very specific areas which she could possibly work on I can’t think of how it necessarily would be helped…except by offering it up. Looking at our pregnancies a lot of times it is just survival. But somehow God seems to bless us and pull us through.”
“Exactly! That’s why I tremble in my boots thinking about pregnancy. I know I will be passed out, sicker than a dog, for 4ish months. You have to just live one day at a time and be grateful that you can have children. (Progesterone cream for mood swings.)”
“And depending on the man, it’s his time of exodus also. They definitely have to pick up a ton of slack and especially if he’s a good and caring man. Now that I am thinking of it, it just amazes me how good our guys are and how much they do to help us during that time!”
“I never suffered severe morning sickness so I can’t completely relate. But, like all things in life, the gifts, the crosses, we strive to accept them both with a joyful heart and offer them up to God. And allow ourselves LOTS of grace when the going is rough. God knows we can’t do it all, all the time. We demand so much of ourselves, always trying to be ‘perfect’ that we have a hard time truly letting God ‘handle the reins.’ Practically, you do what you can and let go of the rest. Focus on nutrition, supplements, rest, and if available and financially feasible, seek outside help when necessary. Never be too proud to ask for help!”
Question: I follow your blog for quite some time and I enjoy it, it is like a breath of fresh air. I have a question: what would you advise to a single young woman who is alone, still waiting for soul mate, but I try to choose noble and more feminine jobs that would protect me from indecent behaviors. So I would like to hear your advice about possible jobs or your experience. Thank you very much and may God bless your family.
You are wise. There are jobs that are more feminine than others, and, if you have the choice, seek out the ones that help to build those qualities, rather than tear them down.
For myself, I worked in an office for the few years before I got married. I took quite a pay cut by quitting my one job to go to another. But I did not like the atmosphere in the government job I held. The women were very catty and unfeminine….and I was surrounded. So I vouched for the other job and was much happier…the money was not as important to me.
I think jobs where you help others….nursing home, nanny, etc. are very valuable. You are not only making a necessary income, but it is an apostolate, as you are working with souls. This brings out the feminine, nurturing side of a young woman, which is always good.
This being said, my girls go out on the job with their brothers and dad. They paint…which means they sand, they lift, they clean, etc. I’m not at the job with them but even though this job may not seem very feminine, the guys respect them, they wear their work skirts on the job and I am sure they work hard while being a lady. It can be done….
We may not have choices so God provides in our journey. Prayer always can change circumstances and put those more feminine choices in our paths.
You may have read this post: If You Want to Find the Right Person, You Must BE the Right Person, and it is not completely on topic to your question but it may be one you enjoy.
Often turn to Our Lord, Who is watching you, poor frail little being that you are, amid your labors and distractions. He sends you help and blesses your afflictions. This thought should enable you to bear your troubles patiently and quietly, for love of Him Who only allows you to be tried for your own good. -St. Francis de Sales
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This booklet contains practical advice on the subjects of dating and choosing a spouse from the Catholic theological viewpoint. Father Lovasik points out clearly what one’s moral obligations are in this area, providing an invaluable aid to youthful readers. Additionally, he demonstrates that Catholic marriage is different from secular marriage and why it is important to choose a partner who is of the Catholic Faith if one would insure his or her personal happiness in marriage. With the rampant dangers to impurity today, with the lax moral standards of a large segment of our society, with divorce at epidemic levels, Clean Love in Courtship will be a welcome source of light and guidance to Catholics serious about their faith.
A Frank, Yet Reverent Instruction on the Intimate Matters of Personal Life for Young Men. To our dear and noble Catholic youths who have preserved, or want to recover, their purity of heart, and are minded to retain it throughout life. For various reasons many good fathers of themselves are not able to give their sons this enlightenment on the mysteries of life properly and sufficiently. They may find this book helpful in the discharge of their parental responsibilities in so delicate a matter.
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This was very very good. For years I thought there was 3 vocations : religious, married, and single. However, recently, I was told there are only two vocations, religious and married, and single was the adsence of a vocation. This article, seems to point back to three vocations. Sooooo, are there 3 or not?
Thank you. 🙂
Erica Piferrer said:
I would add that midwifery is an excellent, feminine profession for single women.
Thank you, Mrs Leane. You are right, I experienced a grace to be a nanny and to be able to clean the offices and friends private houses. Currently I am trying to find work from home as a tutor and a translator.
Yes, I wish I had a father or brother to work with…