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Life Issues Forum: Of Strollers And Walkers

By Mary McClusky
 
The parents of a 3-month-old recently wrote to The Washington Post food critic's online chat to ask about dining etiquette in a city where many restaurants are inaccessible to strollers. 
 
The critic responded by complaining about "strollers the size of Zipcars," but then admitted he wasn't the parent of an infant and invited readers to discuss the topic. Reader comments varied and expanded the topic to include people who use walkers. The chat provided much food for thought on the many ways that we can welcome those whom others might consider burdensome while we are out and about at restaurants, churches, parks, on transportation and in public. Our loving welcome may help others soften their hearts and change attitudes toward families with young or elderly members.
 
The first commenter suggested that parents eat at off-peak hours to avoid "consternation" from fellow diners. As hard enough as it is to raise children in a city, are we now asking parents to eat dinner out with children only from 2 to 5 p.m.? Perhaps as fellow diners we could be patient and understanding and help when we see a parent struggling with a stroller or a temperamental child. Or suggest that a restaurant have a secure place to stow strollers and walkers.
 
Recall God's creation of each of us "in His image" (Gn 1:27), meaning that every one of us is made to be in loving relationship with others. Even the smallest community of love, sometimes as small as two people, mirrors the Divine Trinity. Members of a loving community patiently accommodate one another's needs.
 
My parish during high school displayed this loving acceptance each week as everyone kindly greeted my grandmother making her slow but steady way into church with her walker. On the other hand, I've been present at Mass when a priest stopped during a homily and asked a parent to take a slightly noisy child out of the church.
 
How we treat the defenseless and vulnerable among us not only impacts our salvation but also sends a powerful message to those around us. Our acceptance of others can bear witness to their very existence as God's gift. By our attentiveness and loving assistance, we proclaim that the person in front of us, no matter how young, frail or in need of assistance, is an unrepeatable and precious creation from God. And in turn, we grow in character and virtue each time we choose to sacrifice for another.
So, ask yourself, how accessible is my parish to strollers and wheelchairs? Could we install a wheelchair ramp or elevator to be more welcoming to the elderly or disabled? Is there a place to stow walkers or canes safely? Are there diaper-changing tables in women's and men's restrooms? Or accommodations for parents to participate in the Mass as much as possible if their children become distracting?
 
Perhaps I could smile understandingly when I see a mother and her crying child walking down the airplane aisle toward me, instead of silently praying that they're not seated next to me. Or learn to be more grateful for the gift of children and families being present in our celebration of the Eucharist.
 
Through better accommodations -- but more importantly, through open hearts and loving attitudes -- we can build up a culture that truly welcomes every life in all situations, even a situation as seemingly insignificant as accommodating stroller storage in a crowded restaurant.

Mary McClusky is assistant director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For confidential help after abortion, visit hopeafterabortion.com or esperanzaposaborto.com.
 

 
 

Movie review: 'Annabelle: Creation'

Most of the mayhem wreaked by the figurine-haunting demon at the center of the horror prequel "Annabelle: Creation" (Warner Bros.) is restrained. Yet, as the film progresses, director David F. Sandberg and his collaborators allow their imagery to become briefly but disturbingly graphic.
 
Accordingly, only those grown moviegoers willing to brave flashes of intense gore should say hello to this particular dolly.
 
This also is not a good fit for those insistent on strict logic or those who expect the characters on screen to behave rationally. As for Catholic viewers, they will likely be both annoyed and distracted by the wildly inaccurate, albeit incidental, portrayal of their faith incorporated into the proceedings.
 
In 1950s California, a group of female orphans shepherded by kindly nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) have somehow -- by circumstances not specified in returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman's script -- been displaced from their former dwelling. They've been offered refuge, of a sort, at the rambling, spooky home of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his invalid wife, Esther (Miranda Otto).
 
The Mullins are still overcome by grief following the death of their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), in a tragic car accident a dozen years before. So their hospitality is extended in an effort to brighten the tone of their funereal household. The outcome, of course, is quite the opposite.
 
No sooner has polio-afflicted Janice (Talitha Bateman) been warned by her brooding host to steer clear of Bee's perpetually locked bedroom than she somehow finds herself inside that very chamber, mucking about and stirring up trouble.
Discovering a hidden key to the closet in which the toy of the title has until now been confined, Janice unleashes her, much in the manner of Pandora opening her ill-fated box. Cue a reign of terror for nosy Janice, her BFF, Linda (Lulu Wilson), and the rest.
 
Darwin has clearly had no place in these girls' education. No matter how hair-raising the terrors to which Annabelle and her guiding fiend subject them, they always move toward danger, never away from it. Even allowing for youthful curiosity, this stubborn refusal to learn from experience becomes a tiresome trait.
Even more taxing, however, is a scene in which Sister Charlotte hears Janice's confession of her disastrous trespass, not in the context of a confidential conversation but in what is clearly meant to be a formal sacramental encounter.
 
Thus Janice kicks things off by requesting, "Bless me, Sister, for I have sinned," and Sister Charlotte wraps things up by imposing a penance, though no absolution intervenes.
 
The fact that only bishops and priests can administer the sacrament of reconciliation is hardly a bit of inside-baseball religious arcana. And the mistake is all the more glaring in a movie that clearly wants to position itself, in some vague way at least, as faith-friendly. Equally out of place in that proposed context is the counter-scriptural concept that infernal beings can somehow "steal" human souls.
 
There are some old-fashioned shivers awaiting the restricted audience for which this follow-up to the 2014 original -- itself a spinoff of "The Conjuring" franchise -- can be labeled appropriate. But lapses in reason, believability and even the most rudimentary knowledge of Catholicism may inspire more frowns than frissons.
 
The film contains a distorted presentation of Catholic faith practices, mostly stylized but briefly very bloody violence, numerous gruesome images and at last one mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 
 

Saying 'yes' to God

By Deacon Phil Lawson

She said “Yes!”
 
Some 13 years ago, I got down on one knee in the adoration chapel and asked Patty to marry me.
 
After a short pause, (during which the mind tends to operate very quickly!) she said “yes.” My heart soared at that one word response.
 
Some 2,000 years ago, the Angel Gabriel approached Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God. At her “yes,” all of heaven rejoiced. In the years since, our Lord has continued to ask for our “yes” to His call or even his proposal to be part of His life and to be His instruments in this world.
 
This year we mark the 100th anniversary of Mary’s appearance to the three shepherd children in Fatima. And when she appeared, for what did she ask? For their “yes” to being part of God’s plan.  “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?” To which they said, “Yes.” And no doubt Our Lady smiled. For these precious three children, had echoed her own “yes” so many years before.
 
Being a person of faith, at its root, is simply about saying “yes” to the Lord, which is exactly what Mary and the three shepherd children did. It’s that simple; it’s that difficult! We said “yes” to the Lord at our Baptism, at our First Holy Communion, at our Confirmation. We say “yes” to the Lord every time we go to Mass. And we say “yes” to the Lord, every time we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and act in accord with the Lord’s will.
 
Pope Francis, commenting on Mary’s “yes,” stated: “Every yes to God creates stories of salvation for us and for others…. God desires to see us and awaits our “yes” (Dec. 8, 2016).
 
What does this look like in terms of evangelization? We say “yes” when the Lord allows us to enter into someone’s life. We say “yes” when we are invited to pray with and for someone. We say “yes” when someone encounters Christ in us. We say “yes” when the Lord allows us to share the joy and beauty of our faith with another (1 Pt 3:15). We say “yes” when we willingly witness the importance of faith in our lives. We say “yes” whenever someone sees the joy of the Gospel in our life and thereby, as Pope Francis shares, create stories of salvation for countless others, as both Mary and the children of Fatima did in their own lives. All of these “yeses” are forms of “evangelization.”
 
There was exultation in heaven when Mary said “yes,” exultation when the children at Fatima said “yes.” And there will be exultation in Heaven as well each time we say “yes” to the Lord’s will.
 
As a final note: The name of the church where I proposed to my wife? St. Mary.
 
Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Book review: 'Things My Father Taught Me about Love'

By Lois Rogers
 
In her small book, “Things My Father Taught Me about Love,” author, editor and educator Mary Regina Morrell offers a bouquet of insights on faith, spirituality and family life gleaned from her own garden.
 
Brushed with humor, tenderness and a sense of reverence for the way small and meaningful moments can illuminate life, Morrell’s 54-page book opens the door to her world and bids readers come inside and experience the spiritual gifts of her loving father.
 
Over the years, she has shared these lessons with readers of her award-winning, syndicated column, “Things My Father Taught Me,” which weaves together insights drawn from life as daughter, wife, mother of six and friend to many.
 
In what she calls “just a snippet of our lives, a whirlwind of blessing and loss, joy and heartbreak, grief, frustration and accomplishment,” Morrell gifts us with endearing glimpses into her own life and a reflection of our own.
 
She begins with a simple litany of these gifts which run the gamut from doing good and loving well to laughing often as we embrace the mystery of God.
 
Traveling with her in the all-too-brief pages, we see the possibilities that emerge as “life unfolds while we are not looking.”
 
The landscape Morrell creates winds through the garden nurtured by her father which, in turn, inspired her boundless ability to marvel at God’s creation.
 
It surfaces in a pond full of koi where, leaning over to view the aquatic parade, her own reflection in the water brings to mind the myth of Narcissus – the Greek youth in love with his own image. She notes presciently how this ancient and sometimes fatal character flaw seems sadly to be “flourishing in this day and age.”
 
It’s a vision that ranges from pathos – Morrell writes movingly of the deaths of her parents – to the joy experienced when the ordinary suddenly becomes  extraordinary; the immeasurable gratitude of a friend, for instance, when one of her six sons bestows upon him a huge container of cannoli cream rescued from the shore bakery where he worked as it closed for the winter.
Morrell’s fluid and approachable style is, in itself, a gift to readers. She’s able to weave a considerable body of knowledge into a book filled with basics that everyone can savor.
 
In demand as a speaker and catechetical consultant, she begins each entry with a quote, drawing mostly from Scripture, the saints or Catholic apologists including G.K. Chesterton and Thomas Hardy.
 
Opportunities to pause and enter into prayer and reflection with excerpts from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, provide welcome respite in these troubled times.
 
Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred the Messiness of Life,” captured the essence of this book in his endorsement: “If you want to find God, know love and truly understand these are the same, read this beautiful book. But be prepared to have your heart opened up, to laugh and to cry, to take many deep breaths of awe and wonder and to shout out to the Heavens and to the people in your life, ‘Thank You! Hallelujah!’ What a perfect dose of grace this book is for people of all backgrounds.”
 
“Things My Father Taught Me,” with cover designed by Clara Baumann, is available on Amazon as an e-book.
 
Lois M. Rogers is a long-time journalist and creator of “Keeping the Feast,” an award winning blog on food, faith and family.
 
Mary Morrell is a life-long writer who has served as associate director of religious education in the Diocese of Metuchen; assistant editor and catechetical consultant for RENEW International; managing editor of The Monitor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, and is author of Angels in High Top Sneakers, Loyola Press. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

 
 

Don't give up trying to love God better

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet. … Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”
 
~ Rebecca Harding Davis

 
Passing the ice cream store recently I noticed something unusual – a number of Great Danes standing outside the entrance as if they were waiting in line for a treat. I chuckled at the image of the dogs striding up and resting their big heads on the counter while their owners ordered them a large vanilla cone.
 
Then I recognized the name of a Great Dane rescue organization on the banner hanging from a table nearby and realized it was an adoption event.
 
I haven’t seen a Great Dane in a long time, probably not since my son and daughter-in-law brought one home from a similar organization to their little apartment, where they nursed and nurtured this abandoned, disturbingly skinny Snuffleupagus of Great Danes back to health. He shared apartment space with his counterpart, a feisty little Schnauzer, and two ferrets.
 
Years later my son and his wife would welcome another Great Dane just hours from her being euthanized, to nourish and nurture her, as well, until she was ready to be put up for adoption.
 
No longer in an apartment, this new pony-sized pup had more room to roam, but she was so weak and emaciated from a lack of care, she had trouble walking and was grateful for the generous couch where she could stretch out her body and be showered with attention and affection, plied with high quality food and, eventually, learn to play.
 
Looking at a photo of her gaunt body, I imagined the dogs in Scripture who scavenge under the table for scraps, dropped by the children who were fed first, and best. Fortunately, these two Great Danes no longer had to scavenge for scraps. They thrived under the care of my children, who eventually had children of their own, and who understand that real love provides more than leftovers.
 
It is a lesson suited not only to how we love our pets, our spouses, our children or our friends, but, most importantly, our God.
 
Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He did not say love the Lord in bits in pieces, a little here, a little there, when the mood strikes or when we can find room in our hearts or our lives.
 
Jesus calls us to understand, and the saints remind us, that loving God requires complete abandonment to God’s will -- an acceptance of the joy and struggles, but always with gratitude.
 
That can be a real challenge.
 
St. Francis de Sales pointed out that “many people say to our Lord, ‘I give myself wholly to thee without any reserve,’ but very few actually practice this self-abandonment.”
 
Many of us, perhaps more often than we’d like, fall into that category of people who truly want to serve God, but mostly in an advisory capacity. Still, St. Francis encourages us to not give up trying to love God better. He writes, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so you learn to love God and man by loving. Begin as a mere apprentice and the very power of love will lead you on to become a master of the art.”

--By Mary Morrell
 
 

Movie review: 'The Emoji Movie'

Tech savvy viewers will especially enjoy the wacky proceedings of "The Emoji Movie" (Columbia). But patrons of all stripes will appreciate the film's themes of loyal friendship and faithful romance.
 
Set within the smartphone of high school freshman Alex (voice of Jake T. Austin), this lighthearted animated comedy tracks the adventures of a trio of misfits on their quest to reach the internet Cloud.
 
Gene (voice of T.J. Miller) is a "Meh" icon meant to express only indifference. But the first time Alex makes use of him, the native enthusiasm of his personality, together with nervousness at making his professional debut, causes him to register a strange mix of emotions instead of the bland apathy he was supposed to convey.
 
This malfunction immediately makes Gene an outcast and draws the ire of the chief emoji, maniacally cheerful Smiler (voice of Maya Rudolph). She condemns Gene to be deleted. So he goes on the run and joins forces with upbeat hand symbol Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden) and rebellious codebreaker Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris).
 
Once one of Alex's favorites, Hi-5 has fallen into disuse and longs to regain his former popularity. Jailbreak resents the regulated life she is forced to lead on the phone and hopes to enjoy much greater freedom by transferring herself permanently to the Cloud.
 
As the three newfound friends bond, and something more than friendship blossoms between Gene and Jailbreak, the challenges of their journey force them to prove their mutual devotion. Messages about teamwork and putting the interests of others ahead of your own goals balance the emphasis on Gene's right to break the mold and be himself.
 
The presence of a minor character named Poop -- voiced, amusingly, by no less a personage than Sir Patrick Stewart -- typifies the predictable potty humor running through director and co-writer Tony Leondis' script, penned with Eric Siegel and Mike White. Together with episodes of peril, these jokes may make "The Emoji Movie" a less than ideal choice for the youngest film fans.
 
The feature is preceded by an eccentric, enjoyable short called "Puppy!" which involves a young lad, a giant, disruptive dog named Tinkles and the boy's indulgent grandfather -- who just happens to be Count Dracula.
 
The film contains characters in jeopardy, mild scatological humor, a suppressed crude expression and a slightly crass term.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 

Mary's mantle

Superman has his red power cape. Elijah wore a cape to manifest his divine authority. Most famously, the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed wearing a cape-like garment known as a mantle, often blue and sometimes adorned with stars, to highlight her extraordinary role in history.
 
In the Church’s oldest Marian prayer we say, “Beneath your mantle we take refuge, O Mother of God.”
 
Medieval artists often depicted Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mercy, with her arms outstretched to reveal a crowd of tiny suppliants huddled in the folds of her mantle. All kinds of people found a place at Mary’s feet – from princes and pious nuns to slaves and peasants.
 
In The Virgin of the Navigators, a Spanish work, Our Lady’s mantle is full enough to envelope a whole armada of ships!
 
Through these paintings, whether they were seeking refuge from pirates or the
plague, medieval women and men expressed their faith in Mary’s motherly protection and powerful intercession.
 
Our Lady’s mantle had a special significance in the New World too. As Mary appeared to Juan Diego in Guadalupe, she assured him, “Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. … Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? … Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?”
 
Mary explained to Juan Diego that a sanctuary should be built on the hill of Tepeyac so that she could demonstrate her merciful concern for God’s people: “I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection,” she told him. “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
 
The foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Jeanne Jugan, was also known for her mantle, a black hooded cape that billowed in the Breton winds and under which she fingered her rosary beads as she traveled on foot seeking alms for the elderly poor to whom she had given a home. Perhaps finding inspiration in the traditional images of Our Lady of Mercy, several artists have portrayed Jeanne Jugan gathering the elderly under her mantle and holding them tightly to her breast.
 
I find solace imagining those I love and care for sheltered in the folds of Mary’s mantle or nestled close to the heart of St. Jeanne Jugan. But I also sense a challenge, and I believe that is why God has inspired me to contemplate these images, which manifest the powerful yet gentle and merciful love of God himself.
 
I believe that God is calling the Church today, and each of us, to open our arms, reach out and draw all those on the peripheries of society into our circle of love. “We are called to bring to everyone the embrace of God, who bends with a mother’s tenderness over us … stooped down in a gesture of consolation,” our Holy Father once said to consecrated women and men.
 
These words of Pope Francis can motivate all of us. This is how we will be missionary disciples who bring the joy of the Gospel to the field hospital of today’s world.
 
St. Jeanne Jugan’s feast day is celebrated on Aug. 30, and during these last weeks of summer we celebrate Mary’s Assumption and queenship, as well as her birthday. On these special days let’s ask Our Lady and St. Jeanne Jugan to teach us how to extend a mantle of compassion over wounded souls, creating – and becoming ourselves – sanctuaries of that powerful yet gentle love which animates the heart of Christ.
 
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 

Movie review: 'Dunkirk'

“Wars are not won by evacuations," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously observed. As writer-director Christopher Nolan's compelling historical drama "Dunkirk" (Warner Bros.) demonstrates, however, fine films can be made about them.
 
May and June 1940 were indeed, in Mel Brooks' sarcastic phrase, "Springtime for Hitler." Using blitzkrieg tactics and a surprise attack through the supposedly impassible Ardennes Forest, his forces rapidly defeated and encircled the British Expeditionary Force and its French allies. Eventually hundreds of thousands of troops were left trapped in a small pocket centered on the English Channel port of the title.
 
Though the Fuhrer called a halt on the land assault and assigned the Luftwaffe the task of finishing off the Allies from the air, the prospects for Britain remained dire. Were the vast bulk of its army to be taken prisoner in France, the outlook for defending against a Nazi invasion of Britain itself would be virtually hopeless.
 
In picking up the story at this point, Nolan takes an Everyman's view of the situation. Dividing the action into events on land, sea and air, he apportions story lines among an ensemble cast, with sometimes confusing and dramatically diffuse results.
 
Representing the cornered forces on the beach is a trio of ordinary soldiers, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles). Among the few officers portrayed in the film are the senior naval representative on the scene, Cmdr. Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and his army counterpart, Col. Winnant (James D'Arcy).
 
Embodying the many hundreds of British seafaring civilians who answered the call for fishing and pleasure craft to join in the rescue is small yacht owner Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance). Dawson is accompanied by his teen son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and by Peter's equally youthful friend, George (Barry Keoghan).
 
In the middle of the channel, they rescue an unnamed soldier, played by Cillian Murphy, whose shell-shocked condition and frantic determination not to return, however temporarily, to Dunkirk pose a fresh and distracting challenge for them, with ultimately grim results.
 
Up in the skies, a duo of RAF Spitfire pilots -- Collins (Jack Lowden) and his higher-ranking comrade, Farrier (Tom Hardy) -- battle the German fighters and bombers seeking to wreak havoc on both the hapless soldiers and the shipping below.
 
The perils of the desperate, against-the-odds operation are fully exploited for dramatic tension, with near-death experiences awaiting almost every character. The measures resorted to by some of them in their efforts to survive seem questionable -- at least as viewed from a comfortable theater seat.
 
Yet these ethical lapses are balanced by a general sense of heroic pluck and by incidents in which humane justice and generosity of spirit are upheld. The altruism motivating Dawson and others to risk life and limb for the sake of strangers also elevates the moral tone.
 
While "Dunkirk" is not for the fainthearted of any age, the movie's educational value and relative freedom from objectionable content makes it probably acceptable for older teens.
 
The film contains intense, stylized combat violence, brief gore, a couple of uses of profanity and at least one instance each of rough, crude and crass language.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 
 

The single life

By Mary Rezac

(CNA/EWTN News).- From a young age, Catholics are taught to pray about and discern their vocations – whether they're called to marriage, to the religious life, to the priesthood or consecrated single life. 
 
This can leave the lay single person feeling that they are in a vocational limbo of sorts, and it's become a topic of much heated and emotional debate in the Catholic blogosphere: have these people missed their vocation? Is the lay single state, chosen or by default, a vocation?
 
But actually, at the end of the day – does it matter?
 
Father Ben Hasse is a vocations director for the Diocese of Marquette, Mich. He said addressing the topic of singleness in the Church can be difficult because of the emotions surrounding the issue.
 
“I have quite a few friends who would like to be married, so there's a much more emotional investment in the question because there’s more people who find themselves single” rather than having specifically chosen it, he said.
 
Recognizing the emotional weight of the topic,Father Hasse noted that there are many aspects to addressing the question of vocation and singleness that need to be taken into account, and that it can be difficult – and dangerous – to make generalizations about a population in the Church that is actually very diverse.
 
Being specific about singleness
 
Father Hasse said that he has found it’s helpful as a pastor to approach singleness very specifically – whether it's a college student who hopes to marry someday, or a widow who lost her husband last month, being single encompasses a wide variety of people and circumstances.
 
“Everybody will be single for at least part of their life. Nobody is born as a priest or married to someone or a consecrated religious, so everyone will pass through being single,” he said.
 
“It's important to distinguish between people who are single because that's kind of where you're at when you're 16, versus someone who has really felt God calling them to give their life in service to the Church as a single person,” or various other circumstances.
 
For example, a single 19-year-old college student is probably not necessarily living a vocation of singleness in any settled way, Father Hasse said, but a person in their 40s who finds joy in serving Christ in their everyday circumstances of work and life “is not someone I would say lacks a vocation.”
 
“It would be different from the way we usually use the word because it wouldn't be defined, and made concrete by vows or promises,” he said.
 
“But the single accountant or school teacher could certainly live their life and see the work of their hands as something they're offering to God, and live that in a very spiritually fruitful way, and I wouldn't say – now here's a person without a vocation.”
 
Your vocation is given at baptism
 
Jason Coito, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told CNA that most of the debates surrounding singleness and vocation rely “on a very narrow definition of vocation, or confuses the term with what we refer to as 'states in life.'”
 
He said when we become fixated on discerning our state in life, referred to in the Church as the primary vocation, “...we become so focused on the ranking of them, rather than looking at each day or the bigger picture and saying, here are all of these components of my life, now how am I called to live the promise of my baptism and of my life, and how do these things work together?”
 
It can be helpful instead to refocus these debates and conversations on the universal vocation to holiness that each Christian receives at their baptism, Coito said.
 
“I think this helpfully reframes the conversation and then asks us, 'How is God calling me to make a response to Him and to my brothers and sisters from within the state in life in which I find myself?'”
 
This respects every vocation, because it's a question anyone can answer on any given day in their life, regardless of their state in life, he said. 
 
“You do have a vocation. All baptized Catholics are called to live their lives as disciples of Jesus. This is the foundational call of our lives as Catholics,” he said.
 
“If you feel deeply called to get married, and you have prayerfully discerned and confirmed this call, then until you meet the person you feel called to get married to, you continue to live out your baptismal call, open to the people and circumstances that God puts in front of you each day. For those who are married, we do pretty much the same thing, except that we do this out of the sacramental relationship we have with our spouse,” he said.
 
In “Lumen Gentium,” one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI wrote about the universal call to holiness each Christian has:
 
“Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”
 
Father Hasse reiterated the importance of the baptismal call to holiness, and said that this call is not something to “settle for,” but rather should be the primary focus of our lives as Christians.
 
“The call to holiness is not some second-string operation,” he said.
 
“It's not like – wow I really wish I had something important to work towards, but since I don't, sanctity will have to tide me over until the beatific vision.”
 
“So I think a reappropriation of the universal call to holiness, which is deeply, profoundly significant, it’s the one that matters in a sense, and we're all called to that,” he said.
 
The big lie: You are incomplete until you've made vows
 
Coito noted that one of the worst patterns of thinking that a Catholic can fall into when thinking about vocation is to believe that they are somehow less-than or incomplete until they are married, or are a priest or in a religious order.
 
When he taught high school religion, Coito said he would ask his students to recall the famous line from Jerry Macquire, when he tells his love interest (played by Renee Zellweger): “You complete me.”
 
“I would always tell them that from a Catholic perspective, that's ridiculous. It wasn't as though before marriage you were incomplete, or that a priest before his ordination is incomplete. God already made us whole and entire,” he said.
 
“We've been given everything as human beings that God intends us to have, so to begin to think of ourselves as somehow unfinished...we can joyfully be living out our vocation already right now.”
 
Part of this mentality has seeped in from the culture, he said, which tends to romanticize love and to view marriage as another achievement or milestone in life, rather than as a sacrament.
 
“I think it's important to address the mentality that if I'm not married or in a community or ordained that I’m this sort of 'Catholic arrested development' or 'suspended animation,'” he said.
 
The belief that marriage or religious life will also magically make us completely fulfilled is also a mentality that can set people up for disappointment, he noted.
 
“It ends up being a Disney sort of (mentality) of happily ever after, but it's much more Paschal mystery than happily ever after,” he said.  
 
Finding fulfillment: It's about self-gift
 
The reasons that there are more single people in the Church now than in other times in recent history are many and varied – an emphasis on education, a culture that values individualism, higher rates of divorce and economic factors are just some of the many reasons there are more singles in the pews.
 
But this doesn't mean that human nature has changed – we are still made for love, self-gift and service, Father Ben Hasse said.
 
“Trying to schedule events in our lives that will make us happy at some point that doesn't really work,” he said. “Happiness is richest and fullest kind of as a by-product of gifts of love and of service.”
 
“There's almost a way where you can attend to the basic dynamics of seeking to live a life of holiness, and that's the actually the path that’s going to leave you more and more disposed to receive his call,” he said.
 
In particular, acts of service can be a key way to find fulfillment regardless of one's state in life, he said.
 
 
“Look for opportunities to give of yourself,” he said. “It's also a good way to meet other people who have a similar disposition...doing that has very real potential to fill one's heart, and leaves you more and more receptive to (God's) call.”
 
Soley utilizing acts of service as a way to find a spouse would be unhealthy, Father Hasse added, but serving alongside like-minded people, and finding others who share your values is a good way to find authentic community, in whatever form that may take.
 
What the Church has to say about single people
 
Pope John Paul II, who wanted to be known as ‘the Pope of the family’, wrote in his familial document “Familiaris Consortio” that those without a family must be able to find their family within the Church. In fact, the entire final section of this document is dedicated to single people.
 
This is a subject with which John Paul II would have been intimately familiar – by the age of 20, all of his immediate family on earth had passed away, and he surrounded himself with good friends that essentially became his family.
 
In the document, he wrote: “For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church - the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate - must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'”
 
The Catechism of the Catholic also recognizes “the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors.” (CCC 1658).
 
Practical advice from single Catholics
 
Still, it can sometimes be difficult for single people to know where they fit in the Church. Parishes are often structured around family life, which can make it challenging for single people to find community.
 
Judy Keane is a 40-something single Catholic and author of “Single and Catholic,” a book in which she interviewed numerous single Catholics of a wide variety of ages, circumstances and backgrounds about their experiences in the Church.
 
“Mother Teresa once said that the greatest poverty is loneliness, and feeling discounted by society,” Keane said.
 
“So I would say (to married people in the parish): approach single people, connect with them, take that initiative to introduce yourself, not make them feel like because they don't have a spouse and children in the pew with them that they’re no less a member of the parish community,” she said.
 
MaryBeth Bonacci is a Catholic author and speaker who has often written on the topic of being a single Catholic. She said she loves it when people in her parish help her feel included in their families and lives. 
 
“Some people would say, 'Oh well she wouldn’t want to go to a 1-year-old's birthday party.' Yeah I would!” she said. “We don't have our exciting singles lives that you think we have, I'm at home eating cottage cheese and watching Simpsons reruns, it’s not that exciting.”
 
Bonacci said she's also had a friend at her parish who told her she was invited to her family's dinner any time. And she didn't wait to make good on the invitation – she followed up with Bonacci every day.
 
“She would call me every day at 3:00 and say, am I setting a place for you? And I didn't go every night...but she actually called every day, and said if you want to come, we'll set a place for you, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that.”
 
She added that she appreciates when parishes make an effort to create a cohesive community, rather than always segregating people into groups according to their states in life.
 
Both Bonacci and Keane said that they especially have noticed that there are many single elderly Catholics who are alone, whether they’ve never been married or have since lost their spouse.
 
“If you're having a family Sunday dinner, why not try to befriend an elderly single person who may have lost their spouse and say we’re having our family dinner, would you like to join us?” Keane said. 
 
It's also important to remember that God acts in unexpected says, and oftentimes frustration with one's state in life stems from a place of thinking about vocation or God’s will too rigidly, Father Hasse noted.
 
“If I'm talking to someone who says well most of my friends seem to have found their vocation and I haven’t, what do I do? I usually say man, the saints are people that God caught in all kinds of unexpected situations and places,” Father Hasse said.
 
“So there's lots of precedent for thinking God has passed me by or hasn't answered my prayers” but then he shows up in unexpected ways, he said.
 

Jesus, Mary and the rosary

There’s an old jewelry box at my house; it’s tucked away in the bottom drawer of my dresser, and it’s full of rosaries. Almost all of them have some sort of story attached to them, which is one of the reasons they are still with me – that and the fact that just about all of them have been blessed. They form a kind of spiritual anchor for me, and every once in a while I take them out and look at them, running my fingers over the different styles of beads and crucifixes, remembering who they came from or in what circumstances they came my way.
 
One of my earliest encounters with the rosary happened when I was four years old, and I’m sorry to say that it was less than devout. My mother, and many of the other women in the parish, belonged to the Legion of Mary; among other things, they used to do a “block rosary” once a week.  This meant that each member took a turn hosting the prayer at her house. I’m sure that coffee and dessert were also involved, but what sticks in my memory isn’t the food but rather that circle of women, all kneeling on someone’s living room rug, reciting the rosary together.
 
One of the weeks when the gathering was at our house, I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime and pray with the ladies. This may have been a lapse of judgment on my mother’s part, because before the first decade was concluded, I decided it would be great fun to fall over sideways on the carpet. It was, in fact, so amusing that I did it a few more times before I finally stayed down for the count and fell sound asleep. Needless to say, I was tucked into bed long before the coffeecake was served.
 
Thankfully, as I grew older, my appreciation and respect for the rosary also grew.  When my CCD classmates and I made our First Communion, for instance, one of the gifts each of us received was a rosary, and one of the things that made it special was what it was made of. Rather than crystal or wood or something like that, these beads were white and glowed in the dark. That might not seem like a very big thing, except when you are seven and monsters have visited you in your dreams; then you could always find your rosary, glowing gently on the nightstand next to the bed. Many nights Mary lulled me back to peaceful sleep as I clutched the beads that protected me from things that went bump in the night.
 
I went through the rosary box recently, and it was like a visit with old friends. But mostly it was a reminder of how protected and loved I am. Life, on occasion, presents different “monsters” to me now, but praying the rosary reminds me that, no matter what happens, Jesus and Mary are never far away.
 
 Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
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