Dear Jessica, I've been thinking a great deal about your email over the past couple…
A letter from a young, single, practicing Catholic
This is a letter to all parents and grandparents who wish the best for their beloved young ones. This is also a letter reaching out to my fellow singles who are struggling being, well, single in the current world in which we live. Finally, this is a letter in response to other articles I’ve read and the general narrative I’ve encountered within society and often the Church. Let me start with the last one.
I recently read an article that made the general statement that women who have graduated college do not need career advice, they need vocation advice; specifically, they need to be told that the best thing they can do is to get married and have children as soon as possible.
Now, I do want to mention that I believe the overall intention of the writer was to challenge the societal narrative that puts career before vocation, that puts success over God’s will.
However, the blanket statement still hurts. It’s been stinging for a number of weeks now. This hurt comes from assumptions that are often untrue, and it ignores the present reality that is out of our hands. And as a young, single, practicing Catholic on behalf of all the other singles like me, I need to share my two cents.
First, let me start with the statistics. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of women getting married is 27.8, while for men it is 29.8. These numbers are about three years older than when my parents married in the early 90s. The jump is even higher when comparing the data to when my grandparents were married. This is the world us younger people were born into. This is the world we are striving to navigate within the Catholic perspective.
The second point I want to make is regarding the average perspective of young Catholics. In my experience, most young practicing Catholics would be more than happy to begin their vocation. Within my ministry with Radiant, one of the most frequent prayer requests I receive are from young women longing to be married. Similarly, within my own experience in my own young adult community, this desire persists. But, in many cases, it is not because we have run away from it in pursuit of careers. Rather, for one reason or another — either the effects of the general societal norm or because of God’s timing — things have not worked out in the way the cultural narrative told us it would as kids and teens. We go to the young adult events and groups, we try out dating apps (often the specifically Catholic ones), we pray, we work on trusting in God, and still the narrative is just that — a narrative, not reality.
However, may I reframe the narrative completely? Articles like the one I read, though well-intentioned, miss the mark. For so long, the faithful thought holiness was out of their grasp, that only the clergy and religious were called to sainthood. Thank goodness this lie has been challenged with renewed vigor in the past 100 years. However, with this renewed appreciation for the laity, I believe we have encountered an idolization of vocation rather than an understanding that vocation is not the end goal. So, what is the end goal? Union with God.
While every vocation points to this union with God in some way or another, we must understand that this life is passing. And if we are going after vocation for vocation’s sake or for the sake of our own happiness, we are missing the point. Vocation will not satisfy. Only God can do that.
So, instead of telling single men and women to get married as soon as possible — or even to discern their call to religious life or the priesthood soon rather than later — I encourage all parents and grandparents to pray for the vocation of your kids and grandchildren. But also pray for their sanctity. Pray that they strive for God above all things that they glorify God in everything they do.
Recently we celebrated the beatification of Carlo Acutis, the young teenager whose aptitude for technology and his love for the Eucharist has led to him becoming a household name in Catholic circles. He never entered into an official vocation, but he had his priorities straight.
To any single men and women who happen to read this, I see and hear you. We live in a different world than our parents and grandparents experienced in their 20s and 30s. We didn’t choose this. But we can choose God. We can choose holiness. And just like Blessed Carlo and all the holy men and women of God in heaven, let’s keep that our focus.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.