It's Not All About You

May 14, 2014 | 9 comments

Last week I decided to write about weddings and the trial that they can be for clergy and parish staff. Here at Catholic Answers we have heard some hair-raising tales of the shenanigans that go on when couples are planning weddings, and I wanted to share some tips on how not to drive your priest to drink.

In the more than eighty blog posts I have written since the Catholic Answers Blog was inaugurated in early 2013, I have written about weddings precisely five times, including last week's post (the other posts may be found here, here, here, and here).

That is why I was bemused when the very first commenter on last week's post opened the discussion with this comment:

How about realizing that not everyone gets married and many of us are still single, may want to marry but for some reason God has chosen for us not to marry? It's always all about weddings, marriage 24/7, but very little attention paid to those of us who are single and will remain so for the rest of our lives. . . . Do you understand that you are telling us that we do not count?

I responded:

Um, no, actually I don't [understand that]—especially since I too am single and have written before on the single life here at the Catholic Answers Blog [here and here]. This time I chose to write about something else. I'm sorry that this post didn't meet your needs, but not every post can be relevant to each and every person all the time. I hope the next one I write will be more helpful to you.

Now, granted, evidently I have written about the single life less than half as often as I have written about weddings. In blog posts I usually write about what interests me and what I think will inform or entertain readers. There are only so many times you can write about the travails of the single life before the vast majority of readers get bored. As the saying goes, cry and you cry alone.

But the reason I chose to write this blog post was that this back-and-forth with the commenter reminded me of a larger problem within the Church and the world today. We live in a time when the great rallying cry of our day is "What about me?"

A few examples:

  • Pope Francis recently speculated about the possibility of baptism for Martians. I kid you not, I saw comments asking how the Pope could be open to baptizing Martians and still deny holy orders to women. (Quick answer: Because baptism and holy orders are two different sacraments, with different purposes and with different qualifications!)
  • Mother's Day was this past Sunday. My newsfeed on Facebook filled with people offering greetings and homage not just to their own mothers but also to anyone who has ever in some way mothered someone or something, or who wanted to be a mother and never got the chance. (Ironically enough, I had happily posted an homage to my own deceased mother and had not even given thought to my own lack of children—until I started seeing all the reminders about why I should not be happy on Mother's Day.)
  • On Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II. Catholics all over the world celebrated this historic event, but there were naysayers. One Traditionalist commentator offered a survival guide for the canonizations (no joke). Another complained about the fact that his favorite pope, Pius IX, still languishes among the beati.

Left unchecked, this focus on the self and what we believe is owed us can burrow into our theology and distort how Christians understand the relationship between God and man. Catholic apologist Frank Sheed, in his life of Christ titled To Know Christ Jesus, observed:

Our salvation is not all that matters in religion, or even what matters most. That was the mistake of the old type of Bible Christian: He was saved, the rest was mere theology. His fellow Bible Christians might believe that God was three Persons or one only, that Christ was God and man or man only—these were secondary, the sole primary being to accept Christ as one's personal Savior. It made the self unhealthily central, unchristianly central (p. 10).

Frankly, all such navel-gazing is unhealthy and un-Christian. In his essay First and Second Things, found in his book God In the Dock, C. S. Lewis observed that putting lesser goods above greater goods ultimately meant losing both. That is much the principle at work here. When we put self above God and neighbor, we not only lose God and neighbor, we also lose a healthy sense of self.

How do you overcome the temptation to throw pity parties at the drop of every bit of good news? Here are some tips:

Find confidantes. Everyone should have two or three confidantes whom they can talk to about anything. One confidante is not enough; you need more than one so that you do not overburden any one person. And the way you find confidantes is by being open to accepting your share of other people's burdens. Even single people can have two or three close friends to whom they can unburden themselves. Rather than spilling your misery on the Internet, where it will be archived forever as a testament to your foibles and idiosyncrasies, share your sorrows with real people who have expressed deep interest in your well-being. In turn, you should do all that you can to help them through their own hard times.

Express joy. You are a single person who may never marry or have a child. Go to bridal and baby showers; bring meals to new mothers; smile when you are told of others' good news. At such a time as this, no one wants to hear about your woes, however much they might sympathize with you at a more appropriate time and place. The same is true for those times when the Pope says Martians might be eligible for baptism or when he canonizes new saints. These are times to choose to be happy for others, even when your own pet agendas are not met or your own favorite holy people are still waiting to be universally recognized as saints. (Trust me, even if you are not happy about a new saint, your favorite blessed in heaven will be happy for that new saint!)

Rebuild where you are. Do you think there are not enough pastoral services to meet legitimate needs in the Church? Rather than complain, reform. And before you say, "I am just one person, what can I do?" remember the story of St. Francis of Assisi. In a ramshackle church, St. Francis heard the Lord say to him, "Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins." St. Francis took this to mean that he should repair the church in which he heard this directive from the Lord, and did just that. Over time it became clear that he was to repair the universal Church. But he had to start somewhere, and so should you. Start something where you are, and perhaps it will grow beyond your wildest hopes.

Live in the present for the future you hope to attain. Actress Gabourey Sidibe, who was nominated for an Academy Award a few years ago, is not your typical Hollywood starlet. She once said about beauty:

People always ask me, "You have so much confidence. Where did that come from?" It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl.

Anyone who has seen photos of Gabourey Sidibe would agree that she is indeed a very beautiful woman, and a lot of that beauty comes from how she chose to perceive herself and carry herself.

What does that have to do with the topic at hand? Well, I would still love to get married and have a family. So I do a lot of reading on marriage and family. If the time ever comes, I would certainly have an adjustment period to a different state in life, but perhaps it may not be as large an adjustment as it otherwise might be if I had not done all that personal study. Likewise, if there is an unfulfilled dream you have, prepare yourself for the day when you could be granted that dream.

Naturally, some dreams will not ever be fulfilled in the way we hope for, and we cannot pretend that they will. For example, women should not attempt to receive ordination in the hopes that the Church will one day ordain women priests. But women's ordination advocates could study what the Church teaches about the sacrament of holy orders with a heart open to God's will as it is expressed through his Church. Doing so may expand understanding of what the priesthood is and what it means within the Church. Then, like Sister Sara Butler, a one-time advocate for women's ordination, now author of a defense of the male-only ministerial priesthood, a better understanding of holy orders may emerge.

Take up your cross. Finally, always remember that Christianity is all about death to self. Whenever we are tempted to say, "What about me?" that is the time to ask instead, "What can I give?" As Christians, we are constantly called to offer up our sufferings, in union with Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world. Not only can our sufferings be seed for growth of the Church, bringing others to Christ, but our sufferings also can perfect us and make us ready for union with Christ. In this we have Christ himself as our model:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:7–9).

Michelle Arnold is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers. You can visit her personal blog or contact her online through Facebook.
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Comments by Members

#1  Deacon Chuck Stevens - Brigden, Ontario

Very sound stuff Michelle; I am pretty confidant in saying there is not a single Catholic, myself included (pun intended) who hasn't resorted to this thought line at one time or another. Salvation history has never been about 'me' - and we all need to be reminded of this every now and then. God bless you!

May 14, 2014 at 7:55 am PST
#2  Michael Kelly - Toledo, Ohio

"I usually write about what interests me and what I think..." This kinda goes against the point you are making throughout your article doesn't it? I agree with what you are saying and make this comment with tongue in cheek!

May 14, 2014 at 8:22 am PST
#3  Cynthia Coleman - CHALFONT, Pennsylvania

This has reminded me of the "everyone is a winner" culture that you so often see today. When children play on a sports team--everyone on every team gets a trophy, not just the league winner or the all-stars. Contests are avoided at school because we don't want to make any child that doesn't win feel bad. But how about we celebrate gifts and talents? Everyone is not married-->don't write about weddings. Everyone woman is not a mother-->don't honor mothers Much as we don't want to make anyone feel bad, the truth is, we are all not the same. Some are married, some are single. Some are mothers or fathers, some are not. Some are gifted athletes or students, some are not as much. Then I take it to the next step I see in our culture thinking today of trying to make the same what is different. Why can't woman be priests? Aren't men and women the same? (um, NO) Why not "gay marriage"? Isn't "love" just "love"? I know these issues are more complex--but I think there is a certain element of this fallacy of everyone is equal = everyone is the same.

May 14, 2014 at 11:07 am PST
#4  Kelly Hall - Gladstone, Missouri

Great points, #3Cynthia! Great article, Michelle. I (not to soudn too self-absorbed LOL) particularly liked the quote from Frank Sheed.

May 14, 2014 at 11:12 am PST
#5  James Champagne - Mobile, Alabama

I understand that not every post can apply to every situation, but I have to empathize with the first poster from last week. For one thing, the title of your article was "Wedding Season Blues". When I clicked on that article, I was expecting it to be about how single people can cope with the wedding season blues, and I'm sure the poster's expectations were similar. Instead, I found an article that not only offered no helpful advice, but also compounded feelings of loneliness and alienation by completely ignoring the group that appeared to be the target audience.

Like the poster, I'm single. Like the poster, I've accepted that I probably will never find a partner to share my life with. Like the poster, I understand the pain, isolation, social stigma, and existential despair that can come along with that. Time and time again, we go to the Church seeking answers about why it is good for us to suffer, or to petition for the suffering to lessen. Instead, we're told, "Take up your cross."

I can understand part of being a Christian involves suffering. What I cannot understand is that when people who are suffering come to us for comfort or help, we coldly turn them away by telling them to "take up their cross." For some reason, I have trouble finding the Gospel verse that says, "For I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, sick, naked, and imprisoned and you told me to get over it."

May 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm PST
#6  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

James, forgive me, but I would have thought that the photo of the sour-faced bride and and the opening paragraph would have indicated that "wedding season blues" indicated the "blues" faced by clergy having to deal with bridezillas. The advice was for the target audience of that post—engaged couples and those who must shepherd them through the wedding process.

As I pointed out to the upset commenter, I too am single and I have written about the single life here at the CA Blog. I even included links to my posts on the single life in this follow-up post. Being single doesn't mean that you can't take interest in the problems of others, even when you are not currently facing those particular problems yourself. And, frankly, complaining about one's singlehood in a post intended for engaged couples is rather churlish.

Finally, while I strongly deny that there's anything cold or lacking in comfort about advising afflicted Christians to take up their cross, did you notice that this advice was only one suggestion out of five suggestions total? If you don't like that suggestion, you might want to consider one of the other four.

May 14, 2014 at 1:19 pm PST
#7  Matthew Kraemer - New Braunfels, Texas

I would like to say that I feel for and understand a single person's pain and abandonment because I suffered from and continue to suffer from social anxieties. This led me to isolate myself and go through major depression and suicidal thought; until one day my future wife would, who is a social butterfly, forced me to join the rest of the world.

Now I look at this suffering and reflect on a quote from the Diary of St. Faustina:

"At the beginning of my religious life, suffering and adversities frightened and disheartened me. So I prayed continuously, asking Jesus to strengthen me and to grant me the power of His Holy Spirit that I might carry out His holy will in all things, because from the beginning I have been aware of my weakness." [p. 56] She later writes; "From the moment I came to love suffering, it ceased to be a suffering for me. Suffering is the daily food of my soul."

Everyone is called to Our Lord to do something, whether we are single or married. I try to stay as involved with my parish as much as possible, but my wife and children make hard set commitments difficult to make, which is a reason why marriage for a priest is so difficult.

So the point is if you feel like you are called to be single, find a way to embrace it instead of hating it. Learn to evangelize more and love others more with the Church backing you up because sometimes I wish I had more time to help others find Christ.

May 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm PST
#8  Michael Gray - Gilbert, Arizona

I think the issue is that people equate being "alone" to being single. If you think that being single is the same as being alone then I would question a person motives to even want to get married. Being married for the sake of just having someone else is in a sense the opposite of what marriage is about. Currently my fiancé and I are going through the marriage prep in our diocese and if there is one thing that is hammered deep into our skulls it is that true love looks outward not inward. It is about giving yourself to your soul mate not getting what your soul mate has to offer. Everything that we experience in the Church whether it is the Eucharist, Holy Orders, or Marriage or any other sacrament for that matter was instituted so that we may love more perfectly. Being single is not something to harp or be upset about, yes it is difficult and can be trying at times, but it is your opportunity to discern God's will for you. And I am not just talking about Marriage, Holy Orders or Religious life. It can also be something as simple as your career or like Michelle said a ministry at your parish.

Also if you know that God is calling you to marriage but you haven't found that special someone, increase your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. After all your marriage is a reflection of God and his perfection and we know that all good things come in threes. The more grounded you are in your faith (and I don't just mean Catechesis and Theology) the happier your single life and future married life will be.

As far as taking up your cross goes, again I would only like to add to what Michelle has already stated. It is not some cop out response or cold shoulder when somebody tells you to "take up your cross" or "offer it up". It is a reminder that true love takes sacrifice, and the phrase take up your cross comes straight for our Lord's mouth! And if you think that the cross gets any lighter when you are in a relationship or married then you are seriously mistaken. Now that is not to say that all hell breaks loose but as Mark Hart once said "In marriage, the good things get even better and the bad things get worse". It is not about give and take, but a mutual giving of self. And the only way we can learn to give ourselves totally to our spouses or community is by following the example that Christ set before us. To sacrifice self for the sake of another. That is the whole point of the Church.

Peace of Christ be With You

May 15, 2014 at 4:54 am PST
#9  Mari Lu - Los Angeles, California

James, I understand your pain. I'm single too. Still, being in a relationship with someone for a long time when I'm not ready had caused me more pain. I'm glad I got out of that relationship. It gave me a chance to know myself and to just enjoy being single. I believe I am called to marriage but being a nun also had its appeal. God wanted me to consider both so that's what I'm doing. I think I'm getting closer to discerning what God had wanted me to do.

Find single godly friends. They might not be perfect but believe me, they bring joy in my life. Especially when you vent out the woes about being single and dating Mr. Wrong. Having plenty of married friends are good but sometimes it's harder to l for them to understand being single. Having single friends that are prayerful are awesome because they like good clean fun too whether it's dancing or watching movies or taking a trip somewhere. If you're married, you have to make a lot off arrangements to do that.

May 15, 2014 at 8:07 am PST

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