Originally Published by The Catholic Thing
Jesus told us that he is the Way to God. (John 14:6) Previously, I laid out some features of married life on the Way. Life on the Way is vastly different from what our culture even considers to be life. Our culture prefers that we get caught up in a couple of religions – fascinations that soak up our time, our effort, our money, but – most of all – our morals. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called these fascinations “religions” based on how pagans have operated for centuries.
At the time of Jesus, for example, people would have five or six “religions” – paying dues, doing their rituals, completing a checklist of things. The “gods” were often chosen according to one’s occupation, for example a soldier would sacrifice to Mars, then to the god of the hearth for a peaceful home, perhaps also to Zeus, the god of his city, and so on, living “enslaved to the elemental powers of the world.” (Galatians 4:4)
Today, without calling them “gods,” people can get tied up with the same elemental powers developing an almost religious obsession with sex, shopping, the culture of death, blind progressivism, self-indulgence, etc. It is easy to be pulled in all directions.
Single Catholics are only single in the sense that they are not married. They are not alone. People usually begin life in the intense relationships of a family and community, including the Church. Singles, we hope, then pick up the load of being adults in the Church where “each and every individual occupies a definite place in this body to which he has been called.”(Leo the Great) Then, from the clergy’s perspective: “the parish exists solely for the good of souls.” So one should expect a lot from a parish.
Only in a parish community can singles grasp the big picture. Vatican II explained that, “all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness.” Single people live out this drama as married people do within a network of relationships with other singles and with married couples.
The single Catholic is learning more and more about relationships and how to act as a Christian in the world. A properly developed Church community can help enormously, both spiritually and materially.
Many parishes do some kind of charitable work. The single baptized person can better learn selfless love by such work, even for an hour or two a week. As Vatican II explained: “the first and most necessary gift is love, by which we love God above all things and our neighbor because of God.” Selflessness is only learned in situations where one is not in control. Where the poor person, the homeless person, the sick person is the one calling the shots, needing time, or resources. That’s where we can learn.
Another benefit is belonging to a group of like-minded people, people who want to become saints. The group cannot be a clique cut off from the parish, but it can help members to develop a spirit searching for God and his company.
The single person on the Way is trying to become like Christ, the one who always follows the will of God. A saint becomes a saint only as part of “a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.”(Vatican II) What is this holiness? Vatican II said: “holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others.”
In the normal run of things, going to college, finding a job, finding a spouse do not look like “follow[ing] in His footsteps and conform[ing] themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things.” (Vatican II) The “him” in the sentence is Jesus Christ himself.
Being on the Way means conforming to Christ, the perfect human being. For example, Christ’s lower bodily powers were ordered to his higher spiritual powers that were in turn totally ordered to the Father. Developing this kind of ordering only happens around good people, in good company, so that grace can achieve its effects. In such a group, men and women refine their relationship to the opposite sex so that it is loving and respectful.
The Christ who is coming to bloom in the individual radiates love and respect to others reflecting to some degree the union between Christ and his Church.
Saint Paul describes another kind of conformity to Christ: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”(Romans 8:5)
Being on the Way involves a whole new mindset, one remade in Christ. Being on the Way is complicated at first, but ultimately simple.
Fr. Bevil Bramwell is retired, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True andThe World of the Sacraments.
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