This weekend is my parish picnic, and I’m having a hard time deciding if I should attend. I’m part of the parish family, so I have a place, and I should be there. But I’m also a never-been-married Catholic adult, and in the past, at previous picnics, I’ve felt left out. As I’ve stood around looking for a way to introduce myself, I’ve seen married couples chatting with other married couples; families who know each other from school, sports, and Religious Ed; kids running around like crazy; older parishioners sharing jokes; and then…me.
I am one of the 13 million never-been-married Catholic adults in the United States, and I don’t always feel like I fit in. We are an odd bunch. Though we can be grouped as “never-been-married,” that is where most of our similarities end. We have a variety of needs, a variety of faith formation experiences and knowledge, and a large age gap. There are never-been-married Catholics who are twenty-four (hello!) and never-been-married Catholics who are sixty. For some, “never-been-married” is a transitional state; for others, it’s permanent, but the catch is we don’t really know which state is ours. Overall, it’s hard to pin us down.
According to “Being single in the Universal Church,” a recent article in Our Sunday Visitor, the statistics are worrisome:
- Less than 20 percent of adult singles attend Church regularly.
- Two-thirds of Catholic singles feel the Church has nothing to offer them.
If two-thirds of our people think the Church has nothing to offer them and are skipping the source and summit of our Christian faith, something is seriously wrong!
And what about the singles who are attending Mass regularly? The article continues:
“There also are plenty of Catholic singles managing to live happy and virtuous lives…These singles are going to church, going to confession and not going home from bars with strangers. They’re actually not going home with anyone. They’re both professing and living the Church’s teachings on human sexuality…Unfortunately, those singles are the minority, even within the Catholic Church. And as happy and virtuous as that minority might be, most still have their fair share of struggles with their singleness.” The largest struggle comes from desiring marriage and knowing marriage to be one’s vocation, but not being married. That frustration is augmented by the relatively low numbers of Catholics who attend Sunday Mass, participate in faith formation events, and agree with the Church’s teachings on sexuality. Basically, it’s hard to find someone to date, let alone marry. And then, on top of that, it’s hard to find a place to belong in the Church.
Now, you may rightfully be thinking, “Singles, if you feel like you don’t belong, maybe that’s a sign you’re not active in your parish.” That may be true. I myself am very involved with Young Adult Ministry, which in my area takes place at a Diocesan level, rather than a parish level, so this past week I signed up for lector training. It’s time I become a more familiar face in my parish. But I still have those lingering feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty about belonging – I’ve been to my parish picnics, retreats, and prayer groups before with not-so-wonderful results.
What can be done?
Never-been-married adult Catholics must continue to get involved in the Church. If you’re not sure of where you belong, pray for guidance, explore different ministries, and join the one you feel called to. Christ said, “Do not be afraid,” countless times. Keep that close to your heart as you get more involved in His Church and spreading His Gospel. This is the first time in the Church’s history that so many people have delayed marriage or never married, so be patient as She figures out how to minister to us.
Parishes and Dioceses, continue to grow faith formation events, Young Adult Ministries, and Singles Ministries. Outreaching to married couples and families is so important, but so too is the pastoral care of everyone else who doesn’t fall into that category. Never-been-married Catholics have different pastoral problems than need to be addressed and tended to, and I think they would feel more comfortable sharing and growing in faith in a ministry that is tailored to them. They need a community because they don’t have the built-in one that married couples have, and they may live in different areas from their parents, siblings, and extended family. It may take time and persistent effort to attract men and women back to the Church and back to Christ, but that’s the task God has given you!
Married couples and families, you have a unique role, too. Please try to attend faith formation events that aren’t just geared to marriage and family life. Share the struggles you had in relationships before getting married. Often it seems like every married couple had a fairy tale romance (and I’m happy about that!), but I think it would be really useful and enlightening to for singles to learn how you discerned your relationship and how you handled different situations. Outreach to Singles in your parish by building friendships. I can’t tell you how happy I was when one of the young, Catholic families I’m friends with invited to me their son’s birthday party. It was so touching to be included.
On Saturday, I’ll attend the parish picnic. It is my parish after all. I can’t miss a good opportunity to meet the new pastor, scout for the lone never-been-married Catholic adult, and introduce myself to those nice looking young families! Plus, there’s free food!