The splendid Seraphic Singles blog has, today, a post called ‘Who are YOU ?’, which contains a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which may be of some interest :
1658. We must remember the great number of single persons, who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection and solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family, often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbour in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the ‘domestic churches’, and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. ‘No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labour and are heavy laden”.’ 1
One obvious point is that, although there are honourable exceptions, it could hardly be said that the average parish particularly sees itself as a ‘home and family for everyone’; still less that the doors of other people’s homes or ‘domestic churches’ are open to all – or indeed any – single persons : and if this teaching is to be anything more than mere words, we need to do something about this.
What I found particularly interesting, though, was the previous paragraph of the Catechism, 1657, which speaks of the home as ‘the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment”.2 Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life’.
It seems to me that this definition of ‘home’ is not so much a definition of a ‘Domestic Church’, as a definition of a ‘Domestic Religious Community’ – and indeed more or less by definition, anywhere that people live, as opposed to merely come and worship, must have at least something of the character of a religious community.
My point, though, is that just as there are many forms of religious life – contemplative and active, cenobitic and eremitic – all of which, in their differing ways, form those who live them, so it must surely be that the different forms of home life must have the same effect on those who live them : and that, as a result, a single person living a single life from choice will find him/herself being formed by that life.
Seraphic Singles distinguishes people, sensibly in my view, into ‘Searching Singles’ (those who don’t want to be single), and ‘Serious Singles’ (those who do); and of course there are probably far more of the first category than the second.
My understanding of her position - which I think a wise one - is this : if you are happy being single, then that’s fine, and you probably don’t need a lot of advice – but if you aren’t happy being single, then the first thing is to try and remedy the unhappiness (as opposed to remedying the single state), as otherwise the bitterness of your unwanted state will probably poison your whole outlook on life . . . with the inevitable knock-on effects on everything else, including your chances of ceasing to be single !
I’m not in the business of advising people who don’t want to be single how to deal with that problem; and in any case Seraphic seems to be doing a good job of it without my assistance.
All that I want to do at this point is to suggest one important thing for the ‘Serious Singles’ (or those whose motivation is religious, anyway); which is to take a leaf out of the lifestyles of the religious communities in the eremitical tradition when forming one’s own home life.
Even after I recognized that I felt a calling to a specifically single life, it took me quite a time to realize that trying to live a ‘family’ lifestyle actually makes it a lot harder to cope with. Doing things in a way that is physically appropriate for a community, however small, is not going to make it easier for you to be alone.
As an example : in the 2009 Continuum book ‘Basil Hume – Ten Years On’, Bishop John Crowley (who was Cardinal Hume’s first Private Secretary at Westminster) tells a tale of him which I imagine few would have suspected :
‘. . . he was no stranger to loneliness. For him, its particular shape was that of a celibate who could in other circumstances have found deep fulfilment and solace within marriage . . . on one occasion, when he was talking about his life, he said how much he missed the sense of being uniquely held in someone else’s affection. His faithful prayer life gave him a lot of resilience, but it could not of its nature provide the same kind of emotional intimacy as, for example, a good marriage. I remember him telling me that, on his first Christmas Day in London, when all the public duties were over and everyone else had gone home to family or simply disappeared from view, he wandered across to the upper library of Archbishop’s House and cried there like a child for sheer loneliness.’
Of course as a Benedictine at Ampleforth he had known much silence, and not a little solitude; but it had been silence and solitude in community; and that is the difference – there, in Archbishop’s House, he found himself for the first time, totally alone in that enormous barrack of a place which was designed to emphasize his importance, yet which, contrarily, merely heightened his sense of abandonment – and I personally am sure that it was that which made him react as he did.
I say that because Cardinal Hume was actually very well aware that he was ‘uniquely held in someone else’s affection’ : he once said ‘Deep down every human being is in need of human love. I want to be someone’s first choice, and I think the only one who knows me completely, understands me entirely, and wants me unconditionally, is God – and I am his first choice, and you are his first choice. The marvellous thing about God is that He cannot have second choices . . . all the time, whatever my mood, whatever my attitudes, whatever my failures, I am his first choice.’
The whole point, of course, is that one has to come to terms with that truth; and as must be obvious from Bishop Crowley’s story, even a man as holy and as self-sufficient as Basil Hume can lose his grip on it when the circumstances are changed, and the physical situation hides it from sight.
As I said : I believe that it was his physical environment on that Christmas Day which temporarily undid the deep and certain knowledge he undoubtedly had of God’s personal, unique, love for him, so that he felt lonely.
If he had been back in his cell at Ampleforth he would most probably have had no more company than at Westminster; but his cell would not have cried out so much of the emptiness which Archbishop’s House emphasized so cruelly.
Similarly, if you are specifically trying to live singly, then it is probably best if your domestic arrangements are quite unmistakably designed for one person; and are not simply inadequately utilized family arrangements. In other words, whilst it is not necessary to be particularly austere, don’t dine at a large dining table with six chairs, don’t have enough comfy chairs for ten (unless you need to entertain frequently, in which case it may be best to have a ‘den’ for yourself, and a ‘parlour’ for entertaining in), and whilst it is best to live according to at least some sort of regular pattern, let it be one which fits your life, not one which is primarily appropriate to a couple with a young family. (Indeed, one could almost say that one ought to ensure that one’s pattern is not appropriate to anyone other than you; thus reminding you that you are ‘different’ .)
That way you can concentrate on your one and only relationship – with God : because He doesn’t mind what time you eat dinner, or go to bed, or anything else; all He asks is that you remember that He is there, precisely because no-one else is. Then, in the ‘offering of one’s life’ to which the Catechism refers, one will slowly grow into the relationship with Him which is presumably one’s purpose in being ‘seriously single’.
1 Familiaris Consortio, 85 – bold emphasis added
2 Gaudium & Spes, 52 §1