It is no secret that most people are called to the vocation of the religious life or the vocation of marriage. And it is right for Christians to anticipate their entrance into those vocations with eagerness.
But too often, these vocations are promoted at the expense of the vocation of singlehood. A common belief, even among faithful Christians, is that singlehood is an undesirable temporary state to be avoided whenever possible.
But singlehood, whether temporary or permanent, is itself a wonderful gift from God.
The charism of singlehood is freedom. The single man or woman possesses an incredible freedom which the very natures of both marriage and religious life deny to their participants.
Any committed relationship is on some level a bond. Marriage is an unbreakable bond between a man and a woman. The priestly vocation is one of marriage between a man and the Church. Religious sisters become “brides of Christ.”
To be sure, marriage and the religious life are very joyful bonds. But nevertheless, in a very real sense, those who undertake them are bound – with all the responsibilities that come with those bonds. Any man or woman who undergoes them – their lives are not their own.
The married man or woman is bound to put his or her spouse first, to the exclusion of others. Other desirable relationships are correspondingly diminished or even destroyed as a result of the exclusive nature of marriage. (Imagine a husband talking with a woman other than his wife for hours on end, or a wife who spent all her time with her female friends. What would happen to those married relationships?)
And the priest or sister or monk (or bishop or Pope, for that matter) is bound to the service of Christ, living under a rule and placed under strict obedience to authority. Their mode of life and submission to authority constrains their actions.
But the Christian single is free to talk with anyone and everyone, free to go where he or she wills, to do as he or she wishes (so far as the law of God is followed). The Christian single is a free agent: free to discover God’s plan for him or her without the often wearisome cares of a relationship or obedience to a superior.
And the freedom to live a Christian life, unhindered by the cares of marriage or religious life, is a radical joy to those who embrace it.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating that all or even many young men and women remain single indefinitely. Most men and women were meant to enter the married state, and will be better and happier people (in the long term) if they enter into that calling than if they remain single. (And indeed, I believe that God is calling me to marriage, and await that happy occasion with incredible longing.) And those who give up everything to follow Christ totally and completely in the religious life are the most blessed of people if they faithfully follow their calling.
But the worth of Christian singlehood should not be denied. Christian singlehood should be embraced as a gift – and treated accordingly.
Too often, singlehood is treated as a curse, and looked down as a state for people who can’t attract a mate or who can’t commit themselves to give their lives to God. But this attitude fails to take into account the radical freedom of singlehood – the opportunity that singlehood gives for a person to freely explore God’s wonderful gift of creation and to discover God's plan.