Friday, August 18, 2006

Wishing vs. Hoping

A friend who read an advance copy of my book on chastity for marriage-minded single women commented to me that she was glad I mentioned the prospect that the reader might never get married.

She was being generous. The book mentions the possibility of a lifetime as a chaste single woman only in passing. At the time that I wrote the book, I didn't very well know how to acknowledge it without making it sound like a death sentence.

It wasn't until reporter Nadine O'Regan of the Irish Times asked me point-blank how it felt to realize that I might never meet the right one, that I began to articulate what had been at the back of my mind for a while.

""Experience has shown me that I'm not getting more unhappy. I'm getting happier," I said. "So, as depressing as it may be to think of another five years, or a lifetime, of not being married, the depression is only in me in the fear. Actually living out a chaste lifestyle indefinitely is not sad. I'm accomplishing so much with my life that I didn't think I'd be able to accomplish."

G.K. Chesterton writes that, according to the "Penny Catechism" he read before entering the Church, "The two sins against Hope are presumption and despair."

We don't usually think of hope as something that can be sinned against. But it is a virtue, and presumption and despair are its corresponding vices. More than that, it is, along with faith and charity, one of the three theological virtues, meaning that it is directed towards God.

A person living chastely while wishing to be married is living in hope. However, I'm realizing more and more that, while there is nothing wrong with longing for marriage — God expects us, after all, to look to Him to fulfill our desires — the kind of hope in which such a person abides is ideally not centered upon wedding vows.

Here again I run up against the difficulties of the language we use when describing the single life. I don't say that one desiring marriage should merely "stop looking," as advice columnists would have it, nor that one should "cultivate other interests" or "just be the best person you can be."

What I have in mind is something that's rarely discussed in our consumer culture, which is about entitlement, as in the mantra that Lucinda Williams wrote in her catchy song "Passionate Kisses": "Shouldn't I have this, shouldn't I have this, shouldn't I have all of this ... Give me what I deserve, 'cause it's my right."

To a child of the culture of entitlement, the following may be akin to telling a sugar-loving tot, "Perhaps your mission in life is not to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner." But it's striking me more and more, especially as I spend time with religious faithful and people who do charitable work that perhaps what I think are the most important things for me to accomplish in life are not necessarily those that God considers most important.

Everything we do here on Earth counts, for our salvation and that of others. There are certain things that we can do here that are unique to this life, and we should cherish the blessings of earthly existence while we can. But — what seems like an eternity for us is less than the blink of an eye in Heaven. Moreover, there are no marriages in Heaven. Neither are there parent-child relationships in Heaven as there are here. When we are greeted by our "children" in Heaven, it will be our spiritual children — those whom we have helped come to the faith — which, for a single person, could well exceed the number of children of a married one. So, while missing out on marriage in this life may feel like a tragedy, it won't affect one's future happiness.

The hope in which I strive to live, then, is that Jesus, through Mary, will enable the graces He has given me through the gift of conversion to come to full flower. This is the "hope [that] maketh not ashamed," as Paul writes in Romans 5, "because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

That love from God is expressed, as Paul says, through the Holy Spirit, which the Apostle writes in 2 Corinthians is what conforms the faithful to Jesus' image: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."

Make no mistake about it, I want to be married and experience the love and companionship of a husband on every level — physical, emotional, and spiritual. And, sure, I think about it a lot. But when I think about the short time we have on Earth — and time flies when you're over 35 — I feel the need to focus on discerning God's will for my life from day to day. It's a will that requires me to become more loving to everyone — as opposed to becoming more attractive to that special someone out there.

I have no idea how I can accomplish such a directive. Certainly, I can't do it from my own efforts; it's obvious from my blog that I stumble at it daily. But I look at the lives of saints like Maximilian Kolbe and I have to hope and trust that Jesus, through Mary, will grant me the grace to, as St. Maximilian put it, love without limits.